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49ers 2019 opponent preview: Baltimore Ravens

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It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2019. Today it’s the Baltimore Ravens.

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

The first big change for the Baltimore Ravens was Ozzie Newsome stepping down at general manager and Eric DeCosta taking over. The other is what is going to generate some discussion: their plans for offense in 2019. Their once “elite” quarterback Joe Flacco was traded to the Denver Broncos due to the strong play of Lamar Jackson. Just one small thing: Jackson isn’t a typical pocket passer. He’s a read option quarterback.

The Ravens knew this and bumped Greg Roman up to offensive coordinator. You remember Roman as the offensive coordinator of the 49ers while Jim Harbaugh was head coach. While his offense was, well, “suitable” (and I say that loosely), he lost favor as time went on, with the majority of fans calling for Roman’s job. The goal of the Ravens is to run an offense similar to that ran in San Francisco in 2012-2014. An offense that highlighted all of Colin Kaepernick’s skills and none of his weaknesses. An offense that would have forced a loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII if the 49ers RAN THE [site decorum] BALL! An offense that looked like it was viable at the NFL level.

Yeah. That offense.

The thing to point out with this is that as time went on, the read option became less useful in the 49ers’ arsenal. There were plays outright blown up in the backfield when defenses got smarter. There’s a great Sports Illustrated article on the read option’s decline and the Harbaugh-era 49ers are discussed.

Current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has praise for the read option and thinks it still works, but that doesn’t mean he’s implementing it. The read option has shown itself as a great formation that can catch teams off guard, but when relied upon as a core formation, you’re not fooling anybody. At least, that’s what it looked like.

Now the Ravens are going to implement it once again. The difference is they aren’t trying to hide anything with Jackson the way the 49ers did with with Colin Kaepernick, they are going all-in on the offense. They got an offensive coordinator to run it, they have shifted players around to give Jackson the tools he needs.

Will history repeat? Will the AFC North figure the concept out as time goes on? Well, 2019 might be the year we see what happens when a team plans to go all in on such an offense.

Draft picks

Round 1: Marquise Brown (WR)
Round 3: Jaylon Ferguson (DE)
Round 3: Miles Boykin (WR)
Round 4: Justice Hill (RB)
Round 4: Ben Powers (G)
Round 4: Iman Marshall (CB)
Round 5: Daylon Mack (DT)
Round 6: Trace McSorley (QB)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Earl Thomas (FS)
Mark Ingram (RB)
Justin Bethel (CB)

Notable departures

Za’Darius Smith (OLB)
C.J. Mosley (ILB)
John Brown (WR)
Eric Weddle (FS)
Terrell Suggs (OLB)
Michael Crabtree (WR)

Notable trades

Joe Flacco (QB) to Denver Broncos

Well...damn. Look at that turnover. It’s not a good start for DeCosta. The Baltimore Ravens had a lot of familiar faces leave the team. Before we get to the familiar, let’s just look at one name familiar to 49ers fans: Michael Crabtree. Crabtree was released by the Ravens and remains a free agent as of this writing. He was selected with the 10th pick in the 2009 draft by the 49ers. Ouch. Hopefully he finds a quarterback who is hungry.

Now onto the Ravens’ mainstays. Terrell Suggs left for the Arizona Cardinals. Suggs has been one of the better linebackers in the league, but I’ll always remember him for this. Behind Suggs, C.J. Mosley left, as did Eric Weddle and Za’Darius Smith, all of which got some decent deals in the league. The Suggs dis one of the most painful as the Ravens were trying to extend him but Suggs stated he’d go elsewhere. The vaunted Ravens defense took an even larger hit with the other names following him out the door. All I can say is I’d hate to be a Ravens fan in 2019.

Have no fear though, there’s help on the way with Earl Thomas at safety and Justin Bethel coming in at cornerback. That helps the secondary. To help the running backs out, the Ravens signed Mark Ingram from the New Orleans Saints, because Gus Edwards wasn’t impressive, I suppose? One would think the signing hurts the Saints but they signed a cheaper Latavius Murray beforehand, so they were apparently fine with moving on.

Then there’s the trade, Joe Flacco. The once “elite” quarterback went to the Broncos for a fourth-round pick. A quarterback with a team-crippling contract at one point is now replaced and dealt across the country. Wow. All jokes we want to make aside, it’s another long-standing name off the Ravens squad.

So then there’s the draft. The Ravens grabbed Marquise Brown No. 1, considered by some pundits the best wide receiver in the class. He’ll be a nice replacement for John Brown and Crabtree. So nice, those two names may be forgotten at the end of the first game. The pick also helps, since the Ravens got to trade back and snag more picks as well.

After Marquise Brown there’s more wide receivers with Miles Boykin in the third round. Boykin is a heck of an athlete, but tape leaves him a bit of a wild card. That’s a description you don’t want. Still for a 6-foot-4 wide receiver with a 4.42 40, he’s got some upside.

They also took Jaylon Ferguson. The Ravens play in a 3-4 which Ferguson may not be a fit for, but that’s been said to not be a big deal. Ferguson’s tape was impressive, but given the 49ers’ needs and where they were picking (and with Nick Bosa), it was obvious ia selection wouldn’t be a possibility. Justice Hill is a bit strange since the Ravens not only grabbed Ingram in free agency, but have Edwards already waiting in the wings. Edwards didn’t play too bad at the end of the season last year and was seen as a great back for the offense the Ravens want to run.

Jumping to the sixth round, the Ravens took another quarterback to pair behind Lamar Jackson, because there isn’t anyone better to run this offense the Ravens want to run.

The matchup

The 49ers get the Ravens late in the season, so if this read option thing is working and Jackson hasn’t hit injured reserve from the possible punishment he could take with it, things could be interesting. This could be a fun game to watch, actually.

Defensively, the Ravens are not near as strong as they have been. On offense, the 49ers match up well to the Ravens defensive line. Don’t be surprised if you see Jimmy Garoppolo and company coming out with guns blazing to success, but there’s enough pieces there to keep the offense from being a total juggernaut on the field.

On defense is where it gets interesting. The game does have the bloody 10:00 AM start time which can only mean lethargism. Then there’s all these pieces for the read option and if the 49ers can play honest and keep up with it. All that combined, and I doubt it’s a good day for the defense.

Given the travel and how I think the Ravens offense will get through 2019 strong, I think the 49ers will take a loss late into the game. This isn’t me saying the read option will be sustainable, teams can and will figure it out when it’s used one play after another. 2019 should give a nice stretch of where the offense does do some damage in the league and everyone wonders if the read option is here to stay.

Of course in 2020 is where everything should start regressing for Jackson and the Ravens once again. The 49ers don’t have the Ravens in 2020, at least not yet, and 2019 I think Jackson, Edwards, and, uh, Roman will sneak a win from the 49ers.