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One area where the 49ers offense has the advantage over the Ravens defense

Baltimore is susceptible to passes to a position that you can’t be to when you’re playing the Niners

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan raved about the Baltimore Ravens linebacker duo of Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen. Smith is one of the few linebackers in the NFL who can hold a candle to Fred Warner.

Smith has one more tackle for loss and batted pass, but Warner has forced three more fumbles and has one more sack. Smith has missed a significantly fewer number of tackles this season, but Warner averaged nearly two fewer yards per target in coverage.

The intent is evident in both players game, and that’s true for Dre Greenlaw and Queen. Shanahan sees similarities between the linebacker duo:

“Similar. I think those are the two guys who jump off the tape and I think they’re the most comparable to our guys that I’ve seen this year and a couple years. To me, those two guys make the defense go. They’re big.

They can run and they can hit and not just because they’re big because their intentions are that way. You can tell they like playing football. They’re very smart players too. They’re good in coverage. They’re two of the better zone droppers in the league and two of the better man-to-man guys also. So, they’re as good as it gets.”

Baltimore does an incredible job of funneling an offense to their strength. Targeting Smith is about as wise as throwing at Warner. Smith has completely changed the Ravens defense.

There’s one area where Baltimore has been susceptible this season: Defending passes against running backs. For a team with these two linebackers and superstar safety to be Kyle Hamilton, that may sound surprising. Baltimore ranks 24th in the NFL in DVOA to running backs.

When you look at some of the offenses the Ravens have played during the past month, they just dump the ball off to their backs or throw screens to them. Christian McCaffrey has lined up as an actual wide receiver on 146 snaps this season. He’s been targeted beyond the line of scrimmage 18 times this season.

Here’s at look at how pre-snap and last-minute motion puts McCaffrey in favorable positions against the opposing defense:

(10:29 time stamp)

Teams have gone out of their way to target Queen this season. He has six games this season with at least six targets. There are seven games when Queen allowed at least five receptions and another six games when he gave up at least 40 yards in coverage.

Avoiding Smith and catching Queen in coverage against McCaffrey will keep the 49ers offense ahead of the chains. It’s a difficult matchup for Queen. It should come as no surprise that McCaffrey has the second-highest DVOA for running backs through the air.

Referencing the 49ers aerial attack from the video above, they have a couple of other parts in this game that bode well for them. The Ravens have the ninth-lowest adjusted sack rate in the NFL paired with the fifth-lowest blitz rate.

So, in theory, Purdy should have time to scan the field against a Ravens defense that’ll pre-dominantly play a mixture of zone coverage. Baltimore is a bend but don’t break defense that forces offenses to settle for field goals.