We’ll talk about what to expect when the 49ers have the ball, and when the Niners defense has to stop Lamar Jackson. Before we talk about all the stars involved in this game, let’s talk about some of the less-heralded players in the game. Derrik Klassen of Football Outsiders will join us this week. Derrik does a really nice job covering all teams, but he’s a Ravens fan at his core. Let’s start with the X-Factors.
On defense, it’s Josh Bynes, who is coming back from injury. Bynes has been Baltimore’s best coverage linebacker this year. It has allowed Martindale some of the creative freedom he has in terms of asking his linebackers to take on difficult assignments. Maybe more so than any other team in the league, Baltimore will ask their linebackers to hit tough landmarks, and Bynes has proven extremely capable of playing in space like that. He is no star, but he’s one of the handful of “glue guys” that keeps Baltimore’s defense intact so the stars (Thomas, Peters, Humphrey, Judon) can shine.
I’ll stay with linebacker and go Dre Greenlaw. I’m a believer in getting better by game reps, and that’s been the case for Greenlaw. It’s only been a few games, but his recognition and coverage have dramatically improved. Against Baltimore’s offense, Greenlaw’s eye discipline will be tested more than ever. He’ll likely be responsible for the quarterback keeping the ball on the zone read, as well as picking up Mark Andrews crossing the field on play-action. Oh, and here’s Mark Ingram running right at you. This game will tell us a lot about the 49er’s linebackers. They’ve been fantastic tacklers in the open-field all year. Greenlaw has only missed two tackles all season. He’d like to keep it that way after Sunday.
As for the offense, it’s fullback Patrick Ricard. Ricard isn’t the pass-catcher that Kyle Juszczyk is, but Baltimore loves playing out of 21 and 22 personnel because of Ricard’s blocking ability. Ricard is as dangerous as an iso blocker between the guard and tackle as he is arcing around the edge to lead the way in space. In fact, Juszczyk is probably the only other fullback in the league who is as effective a blocker. Ricard is also a rotational player along the defensive line, which makes him one of the rare two-way players in today’s day and age.
Daniel Brunskill was close, but given how much Baltimore brings the blitz, I’m going with Tevin Coleman. He’s been the 49ers third-down/two-minute back, and Coleman has thrived in pass protection this season. He understands where rushers are coming from, which is half the battle. Coleman hasn’t had any issues preventing linebackers from getting to Jimmy Garoppolo. Another reason I’m going with Coleman is that he gives the offense a chance explosive plays. If Kyle Shanahan catches Baltimore in a blitz, Coleman may not have to do much for that to happen. Even in the open field, Coleman may only need to beat one person for a big play. The Ravens have allowed the fourth-fewest receiving yards to running backs. Coleman can make his presence felt in multiple ways.