Baltimore Ravens Host San Francisco 49ers for Best Matchup of the Season

The 9-2 Ravens return home to host the 10-1 49ers. Both teams are coming off blowout wins in primetime, and both teams are searching to strengthening their playoff positions.

All-time, the Ravens are 4-2 against the 49ers including a win in Super Bowl 47. The 49ers won the last battle 25-20 at home in 2015, but both teams have undergone massive overhauls since that fateful day.

Quarterback Battle:

Jimmy Garoppolo has been a steady passer for the Niners. He has 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season. Garoppolo is coming off his best game in terms of passer rating (145.8). Despite throwing three picks during the stretch, Garoppolo has turned into one of the better quarterbacks in the league in the last four games. Garoppolo has completed 68 percent of his passes, and he has averaged over 300 yards per game alongside 11 touchdowns. Garoppolo did most of his damage against a league-worst Arizona pass defense, but Garoppolo was the reason that the 49ers won the first of their two matchups, and Garoppolo led a last-gasp comeback to beat the Cardinals in the second matchup. Garoppolo is good.

Lamar Jackson has flipped the MVP conversation on its head. He had his sixth multi-passing touchdown game of the season and his third in a row as Jackson leveled the Rams with five end zone discoveries. With 12 touchdowns in three weeks, Jackson has tied Russell Wilson with a league-high 24 passing touchdowns. Jackson leads the NFL in touchdown percentage and QBR, and he has a ridiculous 147.8 passer rating in his last three games. Jackson has been otherworldly in the last three games. Jackson has been so dominant that the Ravens have been able to pull him in the fourth quarter of all three games. While Jackson will almost certainly have to play all four quarters against the 49ers, the presence of Robert Griffin III in the last three games reflects the utter dominance that the Ravens have possessed in recent weeks.

Running the Ball:

The Ravens and 49ers have zigged while the rest of the NFL has zagged. The Ravens and 49ers are ranked first and second in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. Of the nine players that average 5.0 yards per carry, four will be playing in this game: first-place Lamar Jackson, third-place Raheem Mostert, fourth-place Mark Ingram, and fifth-place Gus Edwards. Additionally, ninth-place Matt Breida was expected to play but will end up being inactive. Breida is not a guarantee to play, but even if he does not, there should be big runs all day.

Outside of being the best and second-best rushing offenses, the comparisons end there. The Ravens and 49ers run dramatically different rushing systems, and the Ravens have been historically efficient with their carries. The 49ers have a league-average yards per carry while the Ravens have the second-highest in NFL history.

The Ravens generally operate on an equal playing field due to the threat of Lamar Jackson as a runner. With Jackson as a threat, the Ravens can play 11-on-11 football while teams that do not run with their quarterbacks must account for an extra defensive player in a 10-on-11 alignment. With one broken tackle, the Ravens can break any run for the long run due to the sturdy blocking of three tight ends, two-way fullback Pat Ricard, and a strong offensive line.

San Francisco operates in a vastly different manner. A staple of the Shanahan offense, the 49ers attack with an outside zone scheme. The 49ers use the athleticism of their linemen and receivers to get advantages in numbers on half the field to move the ball. The wide receivers room is littered with willing blockers, and George Kittle is a tremendous blocker at tight end. The 49ers run the second-most motions before a run play (behind the Ravens), enabling blocking shifts to one side to pound the ball.

Pass catchers:

The 49ers and Ravens are oddly similar in terms of having a by-committee set pass catchers, but the 49ers have significantly more household names. In terms of wide receivers, the 49ers will have the likes of Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, and Marquise Goodwin. The Ravens will have the services of Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, and Miles Boykin. Both teams heavily utilize the tight end position with George Kittle and Mark Andrews among the league leaders in receiving at the position. Kittle is the best all-around tight end in the NFL as he poses as an elite blocker in the run while being a gazelle with the ball in his hands. Andrews is not as versatile, but the Ravens have two of the best blocking tight ends at their disposal in Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst. Andrews, Boyle, and Hurst pitch into the passing game, but most of the work goes to Andrews.

In the Trenches:

Both teams have faced injuries on the offensive line. Joe Staley, San Francisco’s left tackle, has been limited in practice, and he would likely not be at 100 percent if he plays. The Ravens lost center Matt Skura for the season last week. In a shotgun and pistol-heavy offense, it is alarming to lose the center, but the Ravens adjusted quite well against the Rams. The 49ers have a solid line, but it pales in comparison to the brutes of the Ravens line. Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda have played at an All-Pro level during the season, and they have been key in keeping Lamar Jackson safe while creating gigantic holes in the run game.

Moving to the defensive side, the 49ers simply have the best defensive line in the NFL. The 49ers have eight different players with multiple sacks (although Dee Ford will not play on Sunday). The four-man defensive line of Arik Armstead, DJ Jones, Nick Bosa, and DeForest Buckner can generate pressure like no other foursome in the league. The 49ers call the fewest blitzes in the league, but they lead the league in sacks and percent of rushes that end with a pressured quarterback.

The Ravens do not have the individual talent at pass rusher that the 49ers have. How do they compensate? Defensive coordinator Don Martindale blitzes on half of the defensive snaps. The Ravens’ defense has picked up in recent weeks, recording multiple sacks in all four games since the bye, but the pass rush is heavily reliant on effective coverage and blitzing. Matt Judon leads the team with seven sacks, and he has the most quarterback hits in the league. Judon has 12 such hits in four weeks.


The Ravens have one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Since acquiring Marcus Peters, the Ravens have intercepted a pass in each game and Peters has a pair of pick-sixes. Alongside Peters, the Ravens boast Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Earl Thomas, and Chuck Clark who have played at a high level in recent weeks. The unit has been as effective as any secondary in the NFL, and their success has enabled Don Martindale to blitz as much as he does.

The 49ers are nearly the polar opposite of the Ravens in regards to the relationship between their pass rush and secondary. San Francisco’s defensive front is so effective that the secondary is often helped by quarterbacks throwing from off-balance platforms. On the contrary, the Ravens’ secondary is so dynamic that they can be trusted in cover zero looks and not get burned as a blitz gets to the opposing quarterback. The 49ers have plenty of talent in their secondary with the likes of Richard Sherman and Jimmie Ward, but the work of the pass rush makes their lives easier.


The Ravens and 49ers are runaway freight trains. Many believe they are the best two teams in the NFL. In what could be a Super Bowl preview, I anticipate a slugfest with the rushing offenses exchanging blow after blow. I think the Ravens will prevail at home, but this game has serious potential to be the best game of the entire season.


Winner: Ravens
Spread: Ravens (-6)
Score: Ravens 35, 49ers 28
Over/Under: OVER 45.5

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