The Ravens and 49ers are both at a crossroads early in the season. Both teams sit at 1-4 and desperately need a win heading into Sunday's matchup at Levi's Stadium.
Here are five things to watch in the meeting.
Effectiveness Of The Running Game
The Ravens'ground game has found a groove the last two weeks against Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But now top running back Justin Forsett is nursing an ankle injury, and the Ravens just placed backup Lorenzo Taliaferro on injured reserve. That could leave rookie Buck Allen as the featured back against San Francisco, which would be a whole new level of responsibility for the fourth-round pick. Behind Allen, the Ravens just signed undrafted rookie Raheem Mostert this week and they could also promote Terrence Magee from the practice squad. That leaves the Ravens with an inexperienced backfield, even if the offensive line is clearing big holes in front of them.
Injured Players Returning
Injuries have taken a serious toll on the Ravens this year, but there's a chance they could get some key pieces back in the lineup. While Forsett and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (groin) may both miss this game, the offense could get wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and starting tight end Crockett Gillmore back in the mix. Smith, who suffered microfractures in his back against Pittsburgh, is the team's biggest playmaker.
Does Torrey Smith Make Ravens Regret Move?
Wide receiver Torrey Smith was a clear fan favorite during his time in Baltimore. The Virginia native and University of Maryland product was the best home-grown receiver in team history, but the Ravens couldn't afford to keep him when his contract expired this offseason. Smith went to San Francisco on a five-year deal reportedly worth $40 million, and Sunday will be the first meeting with his old team. He downplayed the significance of facing his old teammates, but Smith could certainly make the Ravens have some regrets about letting him walk if he has a big day. Both sides look like they could use the other this year, and the Ravens will likely rely on another 2011 draft pick – Jimmy Smith – to keep the 49ers receiver from beating them.
Performance Of New Secondary
The Ravens added three new cornerbacks to the 53-man roster this week. They signed free agent Shareece Wright and promoted Asa Jackson and Charles James from the practice squad. Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb (thigh) left last week's game with an injury and it's unclear whether he will be ready to return Sunday. If he's out, the Ravens could put Kyle Arrington in the starting lineup, and then have one of the newcomers as the third corner. Getting Wright ready to play in less than a week would be tall order, but the Ravens may need him to step into that role. Whoever ends up getting the nod, the Ravens need the secondary to play much better than last week when they gave up 457 passing yards to Browns quarterback Josh McCown.
Which Colin Kaepernick Do Ravens See?
When the Ravens faced the 49ers in the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick was the hot new quarterback who had jumped onto the scene that season. The explosive plays from Kaepernick that year seem like forever ago, and he's struggled mightily this season. Kaepernick has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions, and his passer rating of 78.6 ranks 32nd in the NFL. But if Kaepernick finds a way to play the kind of football the 49ers saw from him on that run to Super Bowl XLVII, then the Ravens will have a tough time figuring out how to stop that offense.