OWINGS MILLS – The San Francisco 49ers have emerged as the masters of the turnover game.
Behind an opportunistic defense that has already intercepted 15 passes; the 49ers (9-1) lead the NFL in turnover margin with a plus-17 differential heading into Thursday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens (7-3) at M&T Bank Stadium.
The 49ers have also recovered 11 fumbles while taking care of the football on offense with only nine turnovers.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers is tied for the league lead with five interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
So, will the Ravens adopt an even more cautious approach than usual? Not necessarily.
“You have to go play,” said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who has thrown 12 touchdowns against eight interceptions. “When you watch the film, you can see that teams turn the ball over on them. It’s not our job to pay attention to what other teams did and what they did against other teams. Our job is to go out there, execute our game plan and worry about what we can control.”
Led by All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis and speedy inside linebacker Navorro Bowman, the 49ers rank first in the NFL in rushing defense. They’re allowing only 73.9 yards on the ground per contest.
They have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown.
“They’ve got some good guys,” Flacco said. “Obviously, where they’ve been really established is in the run game. So, that’s where they’ve been really good.”
The 49ers also have a formidable pass rush headlined by rookie outside linebacker Aldon Smith.
With a team-high 7 ½ sacks, the first-round draft pick from Missouri ranks second in the NFL among rookies behind Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller.
“It’s going to be an issue,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Their defensive line, their front seven, the pressure they get, I think they have really good pass rushers. It’s a pressure defense in a lot of ways, bringing ‘backers, playing different coverages in behind it. Pass protection will be a big challenge for us.”
Defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have four and three sacks, respectively.
“Their linebackers are pretty good,” Flacco said. “They’ve got two of the best guys in the middle with No. 53 [Bowman] and No. 52 [Willis]. They’re pretty good, and their front seven has really been able to stop the run really well.”
R. LEWIS HOLDING OUT HOPE: Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis issued a statement regarding his uncertain status for Thursday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Lewis was limited Monday and Tuesday due to the toe injury that sidelined him against the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s expected to attempt to play Thursday despite the injury.
Reporters haven’t been able to watch Lewis practice during the portion open to media, but he’s still walking with a slight limp.
“I apologize for not being available as I normally am on a day like today, but I am taking every opportunity to get treatment on my foot to prepare to play on Thursday,” Lewis said. “Anytime you see your team on the field, you always want to be out there with them. As the leader of your team, it doesn’t sit well with me to be on the sidelines.
“But I was the biggest cheerleader out there on Sunday, and I was truly proud of the way we played as a team. I am doing everything in my power to get back as fast as I can, whether that’s this week, next week or whenever it is, I am doing everything I can to be out there with my team. I want to play Thursday night, and I am making some progress.”
Not practicing for the Ravens: cornerback Chris Carr (back) and defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion).
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) was limited as well as safety Haruki Nakamura (thigh).
Rookie running back Anthony Allen participated fully for the second consecutive day.
The 49ers made no changes to their injury report.
Running back Bruce Miller (concussion) didn’t practice again.
The following players were limited: running back Frank Gore (knee), wide receiver Braylon Edwards (knee), wide receiver Michael Crabtree (foot), offensive tackle Anthony Davis (ankle) and cornerback Chris Culliver (shoulder).
MODELL MISSES THE CUT: Former Ravens majority owner Art Modell won’t be under consideration this year for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Modell didn’t make the cut to 26 semifinals after making the initial list of 103 candidates.
Modell was one of the 18 contributors up for selection, but only former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf and former New York Giants general manager George Young are still eligible.
Modell’s candidacy has faced major obstacles after moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, a controversial business decision that alienated him from the city of Cleveland.
He completed his sale of all but one percent of the franchise to Steve Bisciotti seven years ago.
Modell hasn’t been a finalist since 2001.
Last year, he was a semifinalist.
BACK IN BLACK: The Ravens are going to wear their black jerseys and white pants for the second time this year after sporting an all-black look against the New York Jets earlier this season.
The Ravens have been a consistent winner when wearing the black jerseys, going 8-2 in franchise history.
They’re 5-2 in the color combination of black jerseys and black pants, and 3-0 in black jerseys and white pants.
And they’re 5-0 under Harbaugh while donning the black jerseys.
"I’m a uniform guy,” Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I like you can wear different things. I always wanted to kind of like wear the throwback with the old Ravens logo. I always want to change the uniform up. It’s good any time that you can have some variety, kind of give the fans a different look.”
AWARD TIME: Running back Ray Rice and rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith have both been nominated for awards.
Rice is up for the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week after rushing for 104 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
And Smith is up for the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week award after catching a career-high six passes for 165 yard and a touchdown.
GETTING READY: Carr insists he’ll be able to play Thursday despite a back injury that sidelined him for the past two days.
“I’ll be ready,” Carr said. “It seems the past three years it’s happened to me once or twice a year. I think it always happens to me once or twice a year. It seems it always happens once during training camp and once during the season. Just for some reason, it locks up for two or three days. I’m fine, I’ll be out there. I’m preparing like I’m going to be out there and I think I will be.”
EVANS GETTING HEALTHIER: Flacco predicted that veteran wide receiver Lee Evans will have a bigger role going forward.
Evans saw limited action against the Bengals with no catches on one pass thrown in his direction after returning from a seven-game convalescence from a left ankle injury.
“At least we got a little bit of work in when he first got here,” Flacco said. “If you throw a guy in there, especially like Lee, he has fresh legs, he can run as it is, it’s really just about having confidence in him doing the right thing. As long as he’s doing the right thing, he should be in position, and there’s no reason why we can’t connect.”
HANDSHAKE: Suggs said he’s looking forward to watching the postgame exchange between brothers John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh made headlines when he vigorously shook Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s hands and clapped him on the back after the 49ers’ win earlier this season. He angered Schwartz and a brawl nearly broke out.
“It’s going to be fun, all the politics that have to do with this game between the two coaches,” Suggs said. “Regardless of the end result, I can’t wait to see the handshake. That’s going to be awesome.”
Part of the Ravens’ motivation lies in knowing that their coach badly wants to beat his younger brother.
“We really want to win bad for him,” Suggs said. “Everybody saw the ESPN special during the offseason with them two. We kind of saw them get after each other like they did when they were little. It’s going to be fun to be part of another sibling rivalry.”