BATTLE PLANS: Ravens v. 49ers



1.      Quick screens and draws  

The Ravens were able to tap back into their screen game against the Bengals, with varying success. However, when they were able to hit on a play, it went for a first down.

Against a fairly aggressive San Francisco front seven, screens and draws to Rice might be the best way to get him the ball. The 49ers are the best in the league against the run, so using Rice to run straight ahead will be a tough proposition.

On the other hand, getting Rice involved in space on the perimeter could be an advantage, especially if he catches a quick screen from an empty formation. Cam Cameron will need to get creative with how he gets the ball in Rice’s hand. That could mean using him on an end around handoff or a quick screen from the bunch formation.

Along with Rice, look for the other receivers – particularly tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta – to be involved on quick patterns from the backfield.

2.      Test the safeties      

The dirty little secret in San Francisco is that as good as their defense is, it can be exposed on the back end. The Niners rank 23rd against the pass and they’ve given up a lot of deep passes.

Offenses that have been able to push the ball downfield have isolated cornerback Tarell Brown. Moreover, safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldston can be influenced by the quarterback’s movement.
Quarterback Joe Flacco will need to be mindful of two things. One, he has to be aware of where cornerback Carlos Rodgers – the best and most dangerous defensive back – is at all times and throw away from his side. Rodgers is having a Pro Bowl year.

In addition, Flacco will have to use his eyes to hold the safeties away from the side he wants to attack.

His receivers should be in attack mode and run right at the Niners safeties on deep patterns all night. Either the safeties will be too occupied to help out in their deep coverage responsibilities, or they can be isolated and beat downfield.

3.      Throw away from the middle 

As previously mentioned, attacking the perimeter and deepest layer of the field might be the best bet for making plays against an outstanding San Francisco defense.

The other reason to test those areas is to stay away from the inside linebacker duo of Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. These two linebackers have the speed to run with tight ends and they don’t come off the field on third down.

They also create a lot of havoc when the ball is near. They are playmakers who can strip or dislodge the ball. Crossing their paths enough times is asking for trouble.
The offense needs to avoid turnovers, and these backers are turnover magnets. Avoid them at all cost.


1.      Stop Gore on early downs

The driving force for the 49er offense remains Frank Gore – otherwise known as the Inconvenient Truth. The truth is if Gore is effective on early downs, the Ravens will be in trouble.

Gore is having a great season, but he’s also had plenty of chances thanks to head coach Jim Harbaugh’s recommitment to running the ball in San Francisco. Also, Gore runs behind a San Francisco line that is a run-blocking force.

The task of slowing down Gore will be very difficult, as the 49ers run a variation of inside and outside run plays to get Gore involved. In addition, tailback Kendall Hunter is a nice change-up and brings a different level of shiftiness to complement Gore’s slashing, power game.

By slowing down the San Francisco rush attack on early downs, the Ravens will force quarterback Alex Smith to throw on third down.

  1.  Force Smith to throw deep

Smith’s breakout season under Harbaugh has been well chronicled by the media. The former number one pick has thrived under Harbaugh’s tailored passing attack. Harbaugh designed offensive plays that play to Smith’s strengths, including more rollouts, and quick, underneath throws.

However, one area that Smith is not as consistent in is the deep game down the sidelines. Smith hasn’t displayed the arm strength or timing to air it out to that area of the field.

The corners should sit on the intermediate routes to take away Smith’s underneath throws, forcing him to throw deep against man coverage.
The Baltimore defensive backs have been burned deep, just as recently as last week. But it remains to be seen if Smith truly has the ability to stretch the field.
  1. Double cover Davis

Although he’s not as prolific in the passing game as he normally has been, tight end Vernon Davis remains a dangerous weapon in San Francisco’s arsenal.

The former Maryland star has incredible speed and he can get behind defensive backs, let alone linebackers.

The best way to truly limit Davis’ effectiveness is to commit two defenders to him at all times. The first defender – whether that is a lineman or linebacker – should get a hit on Davis within the five yard limit. The second defender should run with Davis once he releases.

One-on-One Matchup to Watch 

Justin Smith versus Ben Grubbs: Justin Smith has always been a highly underappreciated player. But this season, he is having a banner year. As a rusher, he has an incredible motor and is relentless. He is equally tough against the run. Grubbs is playing pretty well since returning to the lineup against the Steelers. He’ll have a huge task to keep Smith in check on Thanksgiving.


This entry was posted in Battle Plans, Game Preview by Dev Panchwagh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh
Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens' keys to success against each upcoming opponent. Dev started modestly as a sports...more

3 Raves on “BATTLE PLANS: Ravens v. 49ers

  1. jws on said:

    Interesting thoughts,however Rice must be successful running or pas action passes do not work. Flacco has had only one quality game,the, first one. He is never aware of his surroundings or have a mental clock when to move or throw the ball away. Cam must still stick with the run game and use the shot gun to win this one and Flacco needs to step up get more consistent and accurate to be considered a quality top 10 qb. a ggod pass rush will put their qb ,Smith in aturnover mood. They have not played many good teams and refs gave them Lion game. Ravens win big 41 -24 !

  2. ravcolt on said:

    Flacco cannot throw the five-yard pass well. He can throw the deep pass excellent. Therefore, despite the fact the screen is a formidable weapon, it needs to be joined by many deep balls to different receivers. Also, the Ravens must be able to complete a third and two the majority of the time. This has been the offense’s achilles heel – not converting the easy third down. Not the mark of a championship team, and needs to be the team’s biggest offensive improvement through the end of the year.

  3. Luigi on said:

    “Interesting” JWS, at least you picked the winner but coming from a know-it-all with all those contacts you’d think you would know that this was going to be a defensive struggle.

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