A little over a week ago, we asked you which game on the San Francisco 49ers schedule you were looking forward to the most. Of the four games listed on the poll, the Ravens had the highest percentage at 33%. That’s surprising, considering the impact the Saints and Seahawks game has. The matchup against Baltimore should feature the best brand of football we’ll see this season. Not just two of the best, but two of the most physical teams in the NFL. It also helps that there are several matchups to look forward to in this game. We’ll narrow it down to four. Let’s start in the trenches.
Nick Bosa vs. Ronnie Stanley
The Ravens lost their starting center, Matt Skura, earlier this week. Baltimore is at its best running the ball the further away they get from the center. San Francisco’s goal should be to make the Ravens one-dimensional. You’re not going to stop their running game completely, but if I’m Robert Saleh, I do everything I can to force Baltimore to run in between the guards.
D.J. Jones should be a force on Sunday. Arik Armstead lines up all over the defensive line. Lately, due to injuries, he’s played more and more on the edge. I’ll take Armstead against a slower Orlando Brown, who didn’t practice Thursday due to illness, every day of the week. The marquee matchup will be rookie Nick Bosa against left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Two top-ten picks in the NFL Draft that have each lived up to the hype. In pass protection, Stanely hasn’t allowed a sack all season. He’s only allowed one quarterback hit.
In the three games against Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, Bosa saw his role change. It was new, and he lost contain on a few plays. That also happened on one play against Aaron Rodgers when he kept it on play-action. Bosa will be tasked once again with keeping contain against Lamar Jackson. Bosa will have to alter his plan of attack, rushing Jackson as well. Bosa has been a pain in the side of just about every offense he’s faced this season. Only six players in the NFL have more pressures than Bosa this season. It’d be a great time for Bosa to give Stanley his first sack of the season.
Deebo Samuel vs. Marcus Peters/Marlon Humphrey
The Ravens like to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage. The 49ers should see more man coverage than they’re used to. Deebo Samuel has been on a tear as of late. The offense didn’t need him against Green Bay, but that won’t be the case against Baltimore. Peters played San Francisco once this year. He gave up a few catches but also had an interception. He’s been lights out with Baltimore. Peters is allowing a quarterback rating of 36.7 in five games as a Raven. He has three interceptions, three pass breakups, and hasn’t allowed a touchdown.
Samuel has grown so much as a receiver since Week 1. He’ll need to showcase his skillset on Sunday. Contact has been an issue for the 49ers wideouts all season, and that goes for Samuel as well. He was great with a free release, but you can’t expect to see much of that Sunday, not if Baltimore is smart. I’ll be watching to see how Samuel is off the line, and if he can create separation at the top of his routes when it’s time to create separation.
Marlon Humphrey is known as a physical cornerback, as well. He has followed receivers into the slot. On the season, Humphrey has a success rate of 67%, which is good for fifth in the NFL. I’m fascinated to see how Samuel and the 49ers’ wideouts deal with the length of the Ravens starting secondary.
Fred Warner vs. Mark Andrews
If not for the tight end in San Francisco, Mark Andrews would be celebrated as the best in the league this season. Andrews is in the top-five in just about every stat you can think of. Andrews is tied for the league-lead in touchdowns.
Warner’s ability in coverage this season has been more impressive than any stat could indicate. He recognizes routes like he’s been in the league for a decade. Taking away Jackson’s security blanket will get him off his first read. When that happens, it allows the Niners pass rush to get home. Warner won’t be in man coverage every snap against Andrews, but Warner will be in plenty of situations where the Ravens run play-action, and he’ll have to pick up Andrews crossing the field. That’s probably the most important thing for San Francisco’s linebackers.
Jimmy Garoppolo vs. the blitz
Garoppolo is completing 65.4% of his passes when blitzed this season. Seven of his ten interceptions have come against the blitz this season. They’re not all on Jimmy G, but he’s had some interception luck as well. The Ravens blitz more than any team in the league. Number of times Garoppolo has been blitzed the last three games: 7, 25, 17
Number of times Baltimore has blitzed the last three games: 24, 20, 22.
They are going to bring pressure early and often, considering those games above were blowouts. Garoppolo has made plenty of plays with his legs, and that will need to continue Sunday. He doesn’t need to scramble for 20 yards, but keeping plays alive while staying ahead of the chains will be critical for the 49ers’ success.
Jimmy played a clean game against Green Bay by not putting the ball in harm’s way. That needs to continue against Baltimore, and the pressure looks they’ll bring.