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Ravens vs. 49ers Preview: Is the Harbowl Hype Getting Old Yet?

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To answer the title, it's already gotten old to Jim Harbaugh, and it only took a question or two for him to feel that way in his teleconference with the media this week. The NFL obviously expected this to be a big game, but I don't think many people predicted the 49ers having the better record of the two teams. I also find it a bit annoying that it's an NFL Network game while the Dolphins-Cowboys game is on network television. I'm sure the NFL views NFL Network it as a nationally televised game, but not everyone gets NFL Network. My grandma doesn't, which is why I'll have to DVR the game.

Anyways, this should be a great game, unless you aren't a fan of defensive slug fests. The Ravens have been a bit bi-polar to say the least this season, so it will be interesting to see which team shows up. The 49ers did seem to get the short end of the stick, though. They will have to travel through three time zones on a short week. Harbaugh admitted they have their backs against the wall, but this staff seems to thrive on that. Remember when the lockout was supposed to kill the 49ers season?

Here's a closer look at Thursday's match-up after the jump.

Football Outsiders Rankings (Through Week 10)

San Francisco 49ers (9-1)
Team Offense: 18th
Pass Offense: 9th
Rush Offense: 20th
Team Defense: 7th
Pass Defense: 13th
Rush Defense: 1st
Special Defense: 1st

Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
Team Offense: 20th
Pass Offense: 19th
Rush Offense: 26th
Team Defense: 1st
Pass Defense: 1st
Rush Defense: 2nd
Special Teams: 30th

Well, the Ravens defense is pretty scary, but it may be less scary if Ray Lewis can't go. What stands out to me is the Ravens have a Hall of Fame/pro bowl caliber players at every level of their defense. On the line they have Haloti Ngata, who is probably the best nose tackle in the game right now. At the linebacker position they have a great pass rusher in Terrell Suggs and and a future Hall of Famer in Ray Lewis. Finally, in the secondary they boast Ed Reed. Reed might actually scare me the most. He baits quarterbacks into bad throws better than anyone.

Greg Roman and Co. aren't going to have much time to come up with a plan to beat this defense, but if any staff can do it, it's them. They have proven that this season with some great game-plans. The offensive line has been fantastic in pass protection the last three or so games, and it will need to hold up against the Ravens. Alex Smith also deserves credit. His pocket presence looks vastly improved this season.

Getting Frank Gore going would vastly help the passing game, but it's not something I would depend on. The Ravens are among the league's best in stopping the run. Winning the battle in the trenches will be key. What game is it not key in?

Defensively, I'm not as worried, as the 49ers lead the league in turnovers and forced fumbles. I expect the defensive formula to not change much. The 49ers are going to continue to trust the defense to get pressure with four pass rushers and play coverage.

Ray Rice is a great running back and is threat in both the running and passing game. Luckily for the 49ers, they are equipped to shut down both. If the Ravens can't get Rice going on the ground, look for them to set up some screens for him. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman both have the speed necessary to run that down.

The one weakness of this defense seems to be defending the deep ball. Joe Flacco has a strong arm and can make the deep throws, as evidenced by some of the games Torry Smith has had this season. It's imperative that the 49ers don't give up too many big plays. In a tight, defensive game, they can be the difference.

Key Matchups

49ers secondary vs. the deep ball

I just covered it so I won't get into any more detail than that.

49ers offensive line vs. Ravens pass rush

If the 49ers can keep Alex Smith upright, it will minimize the risk of any bad throws that can be intercepted by Ed Reed and those other guys he plays with. Limiting turnovers and letting Smith go through his progressions is key.

49ers front seven vs. Ravens offensive line

Ray Rice is a huge part of the offense. He's their Frank Gore. I'd rather put the game in Flacco's hands, who has been up and down this season. It's also worth mentioning that the more times he throws, the worse the Ravens do (Yes I know, it's an obvious statement). Shutting down the run and pressuring Flacco with four pass rushers should give the 49ers offense enough breathing room to win the game.


49ers win 16-13

Both defenses are great in the red zone, so each team will only get one touchdown, but David Akers will make one more field goal than Billy Cundiff.