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Ravens Eye View: Was the Ravens' Defensive Gameplan vs. 49ers a Preview for Dolphins?

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) during an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif.
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) during an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Baltimore's 33-19 win in San Francisco may have shocked some, but it didn't surprise the Ravens.

The Ravens went into the game confident they could beat one of the best teams in the league on both sides of the ball.

Of course, five interceptions were a massive factor in deciding the game. But beyond that, here's a dive into the tape to see how the Ravens beat the 49ers:

The Ravens defense played a lot of zone.

Like the rest of the league, the Ravens have primarily been a zone coverage team. They've run zone on 71% of their plays this year, which is about middle of the pack.

Part of Baltimore's defensive strength is it's ability to play both zone and man, so the Ravens can adapt to the opponent's strength either way.

Against the 49ers, who use a ton of pre-snap motion to confuse defenses, create mismatches, and hopefully get coverage busts that leave receivers wide open, the Ravens played a lot of zone so they didn't have to match all that motion.

Baltimore played zone on 82% of its defensive snaps, the second-highest rate of the season for the Ravens (behind Week 4 vs. Browns). That, combined with the Ravens' pressure up front, caused all kinds of problems for 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy.

Despite only blitzing on 22% of plays, the Ravens generated pressure on 53% of Purdy's drop-backs.

Purdy finished with his second-lowest completion percentage (56%) of the season and threw four interceptions. His average completion probability was 65%, per Next Gen Stats, so the Ravens defense held him well below what was expected.

The question is whether the Ravens will deploy a similar strategy Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, who have the league's top-ranked offense (411.5 yards per game), leading the NFL in passing (275.1) and points (30.9) per game.

The Dolphins are the only team in the NFL that uses more pre-snap motion than the 49ers (79.9% of plays).

They also have a bevy of big-play weapons, led by Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle (dealing with an ankle sprain) through the air, as well as and Raheem Mostert and De'Von Achane on the ground.

Marlon Humphrey shined back in his slot cornerback role, allowing Kyle Hamilton to remain versatile.

Another wrinkle in the Ravens' defensive plans was using Marlon Humphrey more in the slot, a position he has thrived at in previous seasons.

Humphrey had played just two snaps in the slot this season. He lined up there on 21 snaps versus the 49ers, helping to defend against running back Christian McCaffrey and putting another physical player around the ball.

Humphrey stepped into the slot in part because Arthur Maulet was sidelined by a knee injury. Macdonald could have used Hamilton exclusively in the slot, but they wanted to continue to line him up across the defense.

Hamilton was an X-factor in this game and he rose to the challenge, snagging two interceptions and the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

The Ravens had excellent offensive scheme on two touchdowns.

The Ravens scored three touchdowns on six trips inside the red zone.

On two of them, they broke out some very crafty offensive scheme and it was executed beautifully.

Gus Edwards' 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down was a huge play in the first half, and it left 49ers All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa distraught because he was fooled on the play.

On Zay Flowers' 9-yard touchdown that essentially put the game out of reach in the third quarter, the fake toss right to Gus Edwards drew five 49ers defenders and left Flowers wide open behind the defense for an easy score.

Wide receivers, Lamar Jackson continue to make second plays at an elite level.

Last week, Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken called Lamar Jackson a "two-play quarterback" because defenses have to defend the original play, and then the off-script play Jackson and the Ravens offense are creating on the run.

Baltimore's receivers have been drilling that second play, making art out of chaos.

Flowers keeps getting better.

Rookie wall? Flowers has juked his way around that wall.

Flowers led the Ravens with nine catches for 72 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 14 targets.

That's a very good sign for the first-round pick's ability to keep making plays in the playoffs. It was a huge stage and he thrived on it. Flowers did have a couple drops, which he will work to clean up.

Baltimore's receivers are putting on a clinic with their route running.

Extra points:

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