Kyle Barber from Baltimore Beatdown is our resident Ravens expert and joined us to talk about Lamar Jackson, Baltimore’s injuries, Roquan Smith, and the game.
1) How will the injuries to Mark Andrews and Keaton Mitchell affect how Baltimore prepares to attack the San Francisco defense?
The Ravens had enough horses to mitigate the loss of Andrews. I don’t want to sound like his absence was all free and clear, but they did get the production they’ve looked for out of No. 2 tight end Isaiah Likely in his stead.
But, the season-ending injury to Keaton Mitchell is a significant blow. His speed, burst and production since becoming more involved in the offense was tremendous. He was averaging a 20+ yard carry per game and was a home-run hitter.
The Ravens have needed such a player, and he brought it to such an impressive degree. He ends his rookie campaign with 47 carries for 396 yards and two touchdowns. He was averaging 8.4 yards per attempt on nearly 50 carries.
This will be hard to overcome in their matchup with the 49ers defense, whose inside linebacker group rivals the Ravens for the best in the NFL.
2) Linebacker Roquan Smith has been a top linebacker in the league since joining the Ravens last October. What has the trade for Smith meant to the Baltimore defense, and how has he made an impact on their top-ranked unit?
He’s arguably the best or second-best player on the Ravens’ defense. He’s a classic field general who is also one of the top soldiers. He locked down the field’s center, free’d up Patrick Queen to capitalize more on his athleticism in coverage and in blitzing, and paired with the current pass rush unit and Kyle Hamilton have helped to become a top-tier defense. Roquan’s proven that off-ball linebackers are worth top dollar, but only the elite ones.
3) Lamar Jackson detractors have pointed to the quarterback’s abilities from the pocket, but he has shut down those claims with another excellent season of passing. How has Jackson’s game developed under new OC Todd Monken’s offense, and what can an opposing defense do to stop him?
He’s poised, patient and processes the field. He also has the weapons to do so, and the scheme to complement his style. Jackson’s always desired to hang back in the pocket. Before, he didn’t have the playmakers. Now, he does, and Monken’s scheme amplifies Jackson’s ability to work in tandem with his many receivers.
Jackson, for the past couple seasons, has hung in the pocket looking for the open receiver to a fault. With his speed and acceleration, he should be taking off maybe a bit more. It was to his detriment he stayed back. But now, he has the receivers to get open and generate chain-moving plays.
4) DC Mike MacDonald is getting head coach buzz with his squad’s performance so far this year. What makes this unit so difficult to attack and are there any holes that the 49ers may exploit that worry you?
I think this unit top-to-bottom is one of the best we’ve seen from the Ravens over the years. They have pass-rush production from outside linebackers, interior defensive linemen and even the backers and corners coming off the edge or slashing through gaps. They have PQ & RS roaming the middle of the field, and safety Kyle Hamilton is arguably the best player on the field already, with his versatility, football IQ and physical traits. Apologies for the purple Kool-Aid, but I think you can be one of the few to understand you’re seeing an upper echelon squad.
Yes, there are things to exploit, though. The run defense has been shaky. They finally locked it down last week against the Jaguars and Travis Etienne, but that guy is not a comparison to Christian McCaffrey. I worry about the rushing attack off the left side, for some reason, that’s where the Ravens have allowed the most yardage and chunk plays on the ground.
5) The total for this game is 47.0 on DraftKings Sportsbook, despite it being a clash of two of the top defenses. Do you think the over or under hits and will either be more advantageous for the Ravens chances of victory?
I think the under is a safe bet, personally. Two ramped-up defenses on Monday Night. Both will be looking to show out. Points will be a premium for the Ravens, and I am guessing it won’t be a cakewalk for the 49ers offense. That said, each time they’ve been “challenged,” they’ve dog-walked their opponent. So, hopefully, that’s not the case on Monday.