The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens get going at 1:25 p.m. PT on Sunday, which means one of the 1-4 teams will manage their second win. I suppose there could be a tie as well, but odds are pretty good we see a W. I took a few minutes to chat with the folks at Baltimore Beatdown to exchange some thoughts on why each of our teams might win on Sunday.
Why the Ravens can win
For the exact same reason the San Francisco 49ers can. Sheer desperation and the emotions that such a thing brings out on the football field. The line between 2-4 and 1-5 is a thin one, and it's the difference between a glimmer of playoff hopes, or the reality that your team's best accomplishment will be a high draft pick next year. Every single soul in the Ravens' locker room doesn't want to be a part of that latter category, and the road to recovery starts against their former Super Bowl opponent, a team I'm sure they'd love to defeat again.
But enough with the overused storylines. Let's actually look at some of the real reasons the Ravens can win this contest.
Colin Kaepernick: Week 5 brings perhaps the best quarterback matchup yet for this abysmal secondary. I'm not saying this secondary can shut down this 49ers' offense, but rather, do their best job at damage control. This team has made Derek Carr and Josh McCown look like some of the best in the game, and even a retooling of the secondary won't be enough to fix it. But, Colin Kaepernick might just be able to make this Ravens' secondary look mediocre at best. No promises however.
Run Forsett, Run!: Okay, so it might not even be Justin Forsett running the ball, but it is still a mismatch the Ravens must attack. This team has finally found its offensive mojo in the run game, ammasing 372 yards on the ground over the past two weeks. The top-tier offensive line is healthy and performing, and the backs have gladly taken and performed with the large number of carries given to them. Even if Justin Forsett isn't carrying the rock, rookie Buck Allen should do just fine in his place. He's already broken off some nice runs, and the Ravens drafted him to be a starter sooner rather than later. Expect whomever is in the backfield to rack up the yards against the league's 20th-ranked run defense.
Fire the Crockett Rocket!: Once again, it might not even be Crockett starting, but my point still stands regardless. Steve Smith is a long shot to start, and the lack of offensive weapons outside of Smith are non-existent. This means whoever plays TE for the Ravens automatically gets a huge boost. Should Crockett play, he will without a doubt be the team's first or second receiving option. With San Francisco being the league's eigth-worst team against the TE position, expect an aireal attack via the 'Crockett Rocket'.
Front Seven Needs To Keep It 100: The Ravens face an unfamiliar threat in Kaepernick's legs. The mobile option quarterback is something that is somewhat foreign a team that plays in the usually conservative AFC North. Not only are Kaepernick's legs a threat, but so are those of Carlos Hyde, who is averaging 4.5 YPC this season. While on paper this team is good against the run (10th best), anything can happen against this potent 49ers offense that is just hitting its stride.
Why the 49ers can win
It has been a rough past four weeks for the 49ers. The offense finally got things slightly on track against the New York Giants, but even that was thanks in part to an awful Giants defense. Colin Kaepernick finally seemed to get some of his passes going, but the consistency needs to improve. We saw him hit Anquan Boldin with some perfect looks, and we saw Geep Chryst use some screen passes early on to get his confidence under him.
There are two keys on offense for a 49ers win. The first is the offensive line needs to get on track. Andrew Tiller looked solid at right guard, and ideally the 49ers give him a more full-time crack at the role in Week 6. That does not entirely shore up the struggles at center, but it gets the line going in the right direction.
The second is getting Kap some easy completions. That can include quick screens like we saw last week, some first-read passes, and generally just things that do not let Kap get too far into his own head. He showed last week that as his apparent confidence builds through the game, good things can happen. He still could make some bad decisions, or miss some easy targets, but it's a slow-building process.
The 49ers defense has had serious problems this season. They looked good against the Vikings in Week 1, and did solid work against the Packers in Week 4. The problem is they were shredded in Weeks 2 and 3 against the Steelers and Cardinals, and then again in Week 5 against the Giants. In that Giants game, Eli Manning shredded the middle of the field. The 49ers pass rush was unable to get a lot of pressure, and it cost them throughout the game, but particularly on that final drive.
The 49ers acquired Gerald Hodges in a trade a week and a half ago, and he might be active on Sunday. Coverage is reportedly a strength of his, and one option to shore up the middle of the defense might be getting him out there when the team goes into their nickel. The Mangini play-calling actually seemed fine last week on that final drive. The problem really might have just been about execution. The 49ers need to figure out a way around that. They might just be doomed this season to talent issues, but the pressure will be on Eric Mangini to figure out an alternative. It might mean just doing whatever they can to get more pressure on Flacco. With questions about Justin Forsett and Steve Smith, question marks at both positions might just open the door for the 49ers to get to him.