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49ers' Loaded Defensive Front Poses Next Big Challenge to Ravens' Offense


Can the Ravens' offense be stopped by anyone?

That question is being legitimately asked by leading voices around the NFL media landscape after Baltimore's latest offensive romping in Los Angeles featuring six straight touchdown drives.

The Ravens have averaged 45 points over their last three games, rolling over opponents at a rate unseen – certainly in Baltimore – ever before. They've demolished some of the league's best defenses.

But here comes the latest big test.

The San Francisco defense is No. 1 in the league, allowing just 248 yards per game. It's No. 1 in pass defense and No. 2 in points allowed per game and No. 2 in third-down defense.

The same question was being asked a month ago before a showdown with the Patriots' top-ranked defense and the Ravens offense put up 30 points.

Can the 49ers stop the unstoppable? Here's what the Ravens see across the line of scrimmage.

"Speed – all 11 to the ball, that popped out on the screen, and their front four is dangerous," quarterback Lamar Jackson said. "They've been No. 1 in almost all aspects, statistical-wise, and it shows on film."

The 49ers' defensive front is what makes the challenge a little different this week. It's arguably the best in football, stockpiled with five first-round picks: rookie Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas.

Ford (hamstring) has been ruled out, so Bosa, Armstead and Bucker will lead the way with Thomas coming in relief.

"They have first-round picks coming off the bench," Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. "They've really invested quite a bit in that area, and it shows on tape."

The Ravens have stockpiled talent in the secondary with four first-round picks – Earl Thomas, Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters – but the 49ers have taken a different strategy by focusing on pass rushers.

Armstead leads the group with 10 sacks through 11 games, but Bosa isn't far behind with eight sacks. He's been flat-out dominant at times off the edge.

"He is extremely disruptive. Their defensive line is taught in a style that is very aggressive, and he certainly fits that bill," Roman said. "The guy has a motor that goes and goes and goes. He's a buzzsaw."

What will be interesting to watch is how that pass rush approaches the Ravens, however. Edge rushers have to be careful not to get too far up the field versus Baltimore because it can leave rushing lanes and huge gains for Jackson.

While the 49ers defense has plenty of accolades, it had a tough time stopping mobile Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray in both matchups against him this season. San Francisco also ranks 19th in the league in rush defense, allowing 111.1 yards per game.

The Rams had plenty of superstars on their defensive front last week, headlined by back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Donald finished with just one assisted tackle.

"We've faced some really good fronts up to this point. These guys coming up, they're no slouch," right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. "They're very talented, they've got a lot of statistics – a lot of pressures and sacks. We're going to have our hands full. It's the NFL and you're going to have to bring your lunch pail every Sunday. But we're excited for the battle."

Wide receiver Willie Snead IV and others also took notice of the physicality of the 49ers defense. The Ravens pride themselves on being the more physical team on the field, including on offense. This week, keep your eyes on the trenches.

"Fast, aggressive, physical. Their front seven is pretty stout," Snead said.

"And they come in here with that swagger like they expect to win. It's going to be a huge challenge for us, and we're looking forward to it. We respect the heck out of them, because, shoot, they're 10-1. They deserve that. So when they come to The Bank, they're going to get our best, and we expect to get their best."

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