Did 49ers Reveal a Blueprint to Beat the Ravens?
Just how well are the Ravens playing? The question of whether there is a blueprint to beat them is being raised, based off a game they just won.
Heading into Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens had won their previous five games by double digits, including the past three by at least 34 points. So red flags were raised after the Ravens beat the 49ers by three, were held to 20 points (nearly 14 below their average), and allowed 174 rushing yards.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the 49ers (10-2) are really good, and even if they actually did provide a blueprint on how to beat – or at least compete with – the Ravens, it's not like every team is as talented as San Francisco.
The "blueprint" question with the Ravens is a recurring theme, especially regarding their offense. Remember when the Los Angeles Chargers had success against the Lamar Jackson-led offense in last season's AFC wild-card playoff game and the narrative was that Jackson and the offense had been "figured out?"
This season, the question became how the Ravens offense would fare against teams who had already played them. Well, four weeks after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-17, the Ravens beat them, 49-13.
NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund examined what conclusions can be drawn from the 49ers' game plans against the Ravens.
The 49ers' top-ranked defense held the Ravens' No. 1 scoring offense to 20 points and Jackson to 105 passing yards, both season lows. Frelund attributed much of San Francisco's success on defense to pressuring Jackson.
"In the 11 games before their Week 13 matchup, Jackson had been under pressure on 21 percent of dropbacks and had a 90.4 passer rating and averaged 7.1 yards per attempt when under pressure. In other words, it hasn't been a big source of weakness," Frelund said. "But not all pressure is created equally. Of the Niners' 25-percent pressure rate, they were able to disrupt or come within 5 feet of Jackson at a higher rate, which decreased his probability of completing passes. This led to Jackson having a 72.9 passer rating and only a 5-yard per attempt average when pressured by San Francisco."
Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler doesn't believe other teams will be able to duplicate what the 49ers did against the Ravens.
"The 49ers didn't deliver the NFL with a blueprint for slowing down the Ravens," Schisler wrote. "No team has the athleticism up front that the 49ers have. Let's not also pretend that the weather didn't slow things down for both teams."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec credited Jackson for finding a way to lead the Ravens to victory.
"Jackson wasn't very sharp Sunday and he acknowledged that he struggled in the cold and wet conditions. But his compete level and focus were off the charts and we were reminded that his competitive spirit and belief in himself might be his most impressive qualities," Zrebiec wrote.
"He didn't whine or complain to the officials when the 49ers got a few borderline hits on him. He even tried to calm down his coach after one of them. He didn't get bogged down after a few of his poor throws or when he allowed the ball to get ripped out of his hands at the 49ers 20-yard line. He just kept coming, kept attacking the 49ers, and when the Ravens needed a play on that final drive, and everybody knew the ball was going to be in his hands, Jackson still delivered."
As far as what the 49ers did on offense against the Ravens, Frelund pointed to the success they had running the ball on the outside.
Zrebiec wrote: "It's a copycat league and teams will continue to challenge the Ravens on the edges until they consistently stop it. [San Francisco Head Coach Kyle] Shanahan designs and directs a really good run game and he has the personnel to do it. Not every team can do what the 49ers do and not every team has Shanahan designing and calling the plays."
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the team will need to tighten up its run defense.
"We're going to have to look at that, and that's something we're going to have to get squared away," Harbaugh said.
Here's the bottom line: If a team as talented and well-coached as the 49ers had the blueprint for beating the Ravens and still didn't win, that bodes well for Baltimore going forward.
"The Ravens were challenged by the 49ers and came out with a win," Schisler wrote. "No team in the NFL matches up better against the Ravens than the 49ers."
Peter King on Justin Tucker: 'I Want That Guy on My Team'
After Justin Tucker's walk-off, 49-yard field goal in the rain, fans and pundits were again reminded of just how valuable he is to the Ravens.
"It's not as if Ravens fans take Tucker for granted; before the rise of Jackson, he was probably the most popular player on the team. It's not uncommon for football people to describe him as the greatest kicker in NFL history," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "But every so often, we need a contextual reminder of how much Tucker's brilliance means.
"On Sunday, the 49ers trotted out Robbie Gould, a kicker who'd missed seven of his 20 field-goal attempts in 2019. The New England Patriots, another consensus top-four contender, relied on Kai Forbath, whom they'd signed because Nick Folk needed an emergency appendectomy four days after he'd missed twice in a narrow Week 12 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Would either team have felt confident betting on its kicker to win a game from 49 yards out in Sunday's soggy, blustery conditions at M&T Bank Stadium?
"He's so good so often that we rarely bother commenting, until we're reminded how other teams, even excellent ones, are living."
NBC Sports' Peter King marveled at Tucker's businesslike approach as well as his incredible consistency.
"There's something about Tucker that makes you say, 'I want that guy on my team,'" King wrote in his weekly Football Morning in America post. "He was happy, but not blown away with emotion. This is his job, and he's the most accurate kicker ever, and he knows there will be other kicks this big. And bigger."
Unsung Chris Wormley Comes Up Big
Ravens defensive end Chris Wormley doesn't get his name in headlines often, but there's no denying the important role he played in the Ravens' win.
The 6-foot-5-inch Wormley came up big in the fourth quarter when he batted down 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's pass on fourth-and-1, ending San Francisco's drive in Ravens territory with the game tied and less than seven minutes remaining. The 49ers would not get the ball again.
"In any context, Wormley was one of the game's heroes," Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "He had a half-sack, tied a season-high with four combined tackles and made the deciding play on the Ravens' final defensive stand.
"To Wormley, that fourth-down snap was no different than all the others during the course of a game or a career he's built on steadiness. He was filing his role, trying to push the pocket, when he saw Garoppolo rear his arm back. Then Wormley did what he was supposed to do — and he launched the Ravens toward a win over another title contender."
After the game, Harbaugh praised Wormley, who was selected by the Ravens in the third round in 2017.
"It was a great play," Harbaugh said. "'Worm' did a great job. I tell you what, this kid, this kid works so hard, just every single day. He's a very serious guy. To make that play, and to see that reward is really good."