[The 49ers boast a 45.2 opposing QBR this season (sixth in NFL), and the suddenly pass-happy Joe Flacco has thrown it 388 times (third-most in NFL). Whose pass rush/protection unit has the advantage?]
The 49ers have a fierce run defense, so when Flacco drops back to pass, that will be when the real challenge takes center stage for both teams. Since San Francisco hasn't had any problems stopping the run and leads the NFL in takeaways and turnover ratio, I believe Flacco will have his hands full. The 49ers like to bring the pressure in passing situations with new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
When bringing pressure, the 49ers have left opposing QB's with an average completion percentage of 33.3% and 3.3 average yards gained --- this is elite in today's NFL. However, Flacco has managed to stand tall and make plays under that kind of pressure. This is also because Flacco has been well protected by a mammoth offensive line.
Bryant McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Marshall Yanda and Michael Oher have been opening lanes for Ray Rice and providing enough time for Flacco to take the Ravens to 7-3, which is good enough for 1st in the AFC North. With an offensive line like that, it's difficult to determine where to attack.
If the 49ers hope to generate pressure, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks could be key but there will need to be contributions from other positions as well. Smith moves around quite a bit but mostly plays on the right side of the defensive line. In that case, he will be facing the McKinnie-Grubbs side of the line. And while I think McKinnie is a terrific player and has been for years, Smith may have the advantage.
Smith is younger, faster than and perhaps just as strong as McKinnie. Smith has an array of pass rush moves that he will use on the Ravens left tackle to get to Flacco. Even though McKinnie has experience, Smith athletically presents a problem for the aging and injury-prone vet.
I also like the idea of sending NaVorro Bowman on stunting or delayed blitzes where he's coming behind Ray McDonald. Bowman is hungry and not afraid to get his hands dirty so whatever the team asks of him, he will execute to the best of his ability. The 49ers will need to get in Flacco's face and make him uncomfortable behind center in order to prevent them from finding a rhythm.
This is easily a game that will be won in the trenches and the two teams facing off are arguably the best at it. The 49ers and Ravens have become synonymous with physicality and that's what this game will be about.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Enjoy the game.
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