Lost in the hype of the Harbowl is the game between the Ravens and 49ers on Thanksgiving which promises to be one for the ages. Many people circled their calendars lured by the first time ever NFL faceoff between two brothers standing on opposite sidelines as head coaches. Now with the way both teams have been playing, it’s about more than just hype.
The 49ers and their 9-1 record have exceeded anyone’s expectations – even possibly Jim Harbaugh’s. The fact that his team has had so much success through the first ten games makes this brotherly battle even more interesting.
Not only do the coaches look like spitting images of each other, so do their teams. A dominant, inside linebacker wearing #52 happens to play for the 49ers, his name is Patrick Willis. The offense is led by a top tier running back and their first-round quarterback [Alex Smith] has been criticized throughout his whole career, just like Joe Flacco.
When looking at their comparative stats, the Ravens and 49ers mirror each other with their on-field play as well.
Through the first 10 games, both teams have scored an identical 256 points. The quarterback play has been comparable where Smiths touchdowns (13) tops Flacco’s (12), however, the biggest stat is Smith’s four interceptions are half that of his counterpart. Frank Gore isn’t as big of a threat receiving the ball as Ray Rice but on the ground, the 49ers have one fewer touchdowns than the Ravens.
Which Ravens defense shows up on Turkey Day solely depends on Ray Lewis’ injury status. Lewis missed Sunday’s game versus the Bengals and in a memo sent to the media, he clearly didn’t know when he was going to be able to return. One thing for sure, if there is any chance Lewis can tough out the pain, he’ll be on the field. The Ravens defense surrendered 483 yards against the Bengals with Lewis playing the role of cheerleader instead of linebacker. Lewis’ value in pass defense should not be understated. Without his menacing presence in the center of intermediate zones, opposing receivers will attack the middle of the field more freely. The threat of violent collisions isn’t as great when 52 is on the sideline.
Likewise, the 49ers have some holes that can be exploited by the Ravens offense. Surprisingly, the 49ers haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Ray Rice is arguably the best back the 49ers have seen this season so their shutout could be in serious jeopardy. The one area the Ravens must exploit to win this Thanksgiving matchup is the 49ers secondary. The 49ers have allowed double the passing touchdowns (14) the Ravens have all season and Joe Flacco will be forced to utilize this offense’s new (and not so secret) downfield weapon, Torrey Smith.
Regardless of the hype created around Harbowl, this game will be a lot more fun to watch than originally anticipated. While many will be focusing on how similar the guy in the 49ers hat looks like the Ravens coach, most of us will be drawn to how competitive this game really should be.
It’ll be impossible to pick turkey out of your teeth with your fingernails because there’s a good chance you won’t have any left at the end of this game.