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How the 49ers should attack Baltimore’s offense

Derrik Klassen joins us once again to answer four questions about Sunday’s game

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49er Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

On Friday, we went over an X-Factor on both sides of the ball with Derrik Klassen from Football Outsiders. He’s back today to give us an idea of how to attack the Ravens offense, what makes them go on that side of the ball if Baltimore’s defense is legit, and what their biggest advantage is in this game.

1) You’ve seen every Ravens game, how would you attack this offense?

Man coverage is out the window. Every team that’s faced Baltimore this year has dropped their man coverage percentage (except the Bengals; they are bad) because of how damaging Lamar Jackson can be when defenders turn their back and give him space. Defenses have to play zone, specifically in ways that can keep things interesting over the middle. “Creeper” blitz packages and rangy coverage linebackers can go a long way in minimizing the Ravens offense, in part because Jackson is much better over the middle than he is on breaking routes to the sideline.

Jackson is still going to be able to pick apart zones, play around blitzes, and find security blankets like Mark Andrews over the middle, but clogging the area between the numbers and forcing Jackson to speed up his process is how you knock him down from great to good.

And in this game, in particular, getting pressure up the middle with contain on the outside might work. Baltimore’s tackles are excellent, so rushing straight through them isn’t always going to work. Baltimore is, however, missing their starting center and San Francisco has a monster defensive line. Attacking the shaky interior offensive line to speed up Jackson’s process while trying to contain him in the pocket is as good a bet as any at minimizing his ability to take over the game.

2) What’s been the biggest revelation for Baltimore’s offense, aside from Lamar’s ascension to stardom?

Mark Ingram’s added value in the passing game has been a massive upgrade over everything the Ravens had last year. Ingram can actually bring in passes a bit further down the field and/or make plays in space. Nobody Baltimore had last year could do that, so even if they don’t go to him very often, it’s a nice piece they have in the toolbox.

The addition of rookie Marquise Brown has been the real difference-maker, though. In part because of Jackson’s rookie inaccuracy issues, the deep game was never really unlocked with now-Bills WR John Brown last year. It seemed he could never get on the same page with Baltimore’s QBs. “Hollywood,” on the other hand, has shown a connection with Jackson from the start. Brown is the only player who opens up the vertical game for Baltimore consistently, so when he is on the field, intermediate threats such as Andrews and Nick Boyle get plenty of space to work within the 1-15 yard area.

Brown has the highest yards per target (min. 20 targets) on the team at 8.95 YPT and is tied for the team-lead in receiving touchdowns with Andrews at six TDs.

3) The Ravens defense took off once they acquired Marcus Peters, what else has changed that’s helped this unit and do you believe they’re legit?

While Marcus Peters was a huge get and had been playing some of the best ball of his career, his arrival meshed perfectly with a number of other things.

First, Baltimore wasn’t healthy early in the season. CB Jimmy Smith (back Week 9) and LB Josh Bynes (back Week 5) have both been key returns for the Ravens. Smith, in particular, was huge in tandem with Peters because it took Baltimore from having to play a handful of depth players to having arguably the most talented secondary in the league.

Baltimore’s scheme is also one of the most creative and multiple in the league. They run a ton of blitzes, pressure packages, and aggressive hybrid coverages. When they were missing key players early in the year while also trying to integrate some new players into the system, a scheme as complex as Don Martindale’s was bound to have issues as they tried to perfect it. Now that everyone has had more time to acclimate, particularly star free safety Earl Thomas, the Ravens have very quickly become one of the most talented and well-crafted defenses in the league.

4) Baltimore blitzes like crazy. Jimmy G, in my opinion, is at his best against the blitz. What’s Baltimore’s biggest advantage on this side of the ball?

The raw talent in the secondary right now is a major advantage over most teams, but to me, it’s how they move pieces around. Particularly when the Ravens look to blitz or pressure, they will bail linebackers off the line of scrimmage or safeties from the box into deep alignments, and so on. Martindale is willing to ask his players to haul ass around the field, in part because the confusing pressures and rotations should be enough to buy his player’s time to get to their landmarks.

Jimmy G, for as good as he can be, has some issues locating moving pieces and being a little blind over the middle of the field. While he has zero issues with being scared against blitzes or panicking around bodies in the pocket, Baltimore’s ability to so effectively move pieces around him bait him into a few regrettable throws. It could be a bit of a boom-or-bust game for both sides in that regard.