The San Francisco 49ers square off against the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night in yet another chance for the 49ers to "make a statement" to the rest of the league. As long as the 49ers keep winning I suppose statements will be made whether they care or not. The only statement that really matters at the end of the day is raising the Lombardi Trophy. Everything along the way is just window-dressing for the media.
As the 49ers get ready for their quasi-national debut, one area where they have a distinct advantage is in special teams. They are coming off a subpar effort in the kicking game, but the real advantage will come in the return game. Football Outsiders ranks the 49ers third in kick returns and and fourth in punt returns. They rank the Ravens 31st in kicking and 21st in punting.
Ted Ginn Jr. has not taken any returns to the house since the opener against the Seahawks, but he has put together a very solid season. Given how awful things were with Arnaz Battle and company returning punts and kicks in the past, it is almost a 180 in performance. Ginn ranks fourth in kick returns with a 28.2 return average, and 8th in punt returns with a 11.4 return average.
I would argue he remains one of the more underrated returners in the league, in part because of his high draft status. A lot of people still think of him as the big name coming out of Ohio State. Given that the 49ers gave up a fifth round pick for Ginn, it's been a home run deal.
The 49ers could be in for a significant defensive battle against the Ravens. Even if Ray Lewis is sidelined, that is still a stout Ravens defense. If the 49ers can benefit from their special teams advantage and control the field position battle, the Ravens defense becomes a bit less of a concern. Still a tough defense, but a short field can defang some of the toughest of opponents.