Welcome to the third and final part of "How should the 49ers attack the Ravens?"
This is our defensive edition, entailing the challenge that San Francisco has ahead of them with Joe Flacco and this Baltimore offense. This offense has outscored Andrew Luck and the Colts, Peyton Manning and the Broncos, as well as Tom Brady and the Patriots, so the Niners will have to be on their game.
Let's get started.
Despite what the consensus may be, this could be a high-scoring game. The Ravens are playing exceptional on the offensive side of the ball and have been since Jim Caldwell took over for Cam Cameron.
With this Ravens team, it's going to be about stopping the run on early downs and giving them a bunch of hard-to-convert third-and-longs. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are tough runners between the tackles, and Rice in particular has exceptional burst.
John Harbaugh knows that in order to have success against the 49ers, you have to be able to run the ball - or at least attempt to run the ball. The Ravens are a balanced team with a multidimensional offense.
San Francisco's defense has success against teams when they shut down the run and make offenses one-dimensional. When teams get behind and are forced to keep throwing, that's when the 49ers' pass rush heats up and they can put the clamps down.
Moreover, they have to be more aggressive to the ball than the receivers. The tandem of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith present a very real challenge. Both guys are hot in the postseason and Joe Flacco is showing complete trust in them.
They have been attacking the football, making spectacular grabs even when covered. They use their bodies to box out the corners and position themselves to make the catch. And together, they run all the routes, so they will make you defend the entire field.
The 49ers secondary can expect a chess match.
It would help immensely if the 49ers were able to generate a consistent pass rush. This defense has smothered quarterbacks in the past, but have been on a bit of a cold streak. They have let up an awful lot of points this postseason, mainly because the quarterback had time in the pocket.
One of the premier match-ups in this game will be Aldon Smith versus Bryant McKinnie. The second-year pass rusher will be pitted against one of the most established tackles in the game. McKinnie has been a pillar anchoring the left side for Flacco and the Ravens.
McKinnie's best asset is his strength. He wants Smith up close and personal so he can use his weight to bury the young linebacker. However, Smith will be a challenge for McKinnie because of his array of pass rush moves.
Smith can use his speed to get around the edge, while using his long arms to keep McKinnie at bay. Between his arm length and slipperiness as a pass rusher, it will be extremely difficult for the tackle to get hands on him.
I would expect the tight ends and backs to be chipping Smith early and often. This is why the pass rush must come from all over, and it will be up to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to get creative with the schemes.
The only other thing one can ask is that the 49ers stick to their sound fundamental approach to the game. This means tackling and covering well. Any mental mistakes like penalties or blown assignments could be the difference in this game.