What must 49ers do to beat Ravens?
SANTA CLARA — Lots of well-intentioned, reasonable people expect the 49ers to lose this game.
Nothing against the 49ers, but they’re playing in Baltimore against the Ravens, who are 5½-point favorites. They have the MVP frontrunner, quarterback Lamar Jackson. And the Ravens played on Monday Night Football just a few days ago and won 45-6. Lots of well-intentioned, reasonable people remember that game. It’s fresh in their minds. That’s why they’re picking Baltimore.
The Ravens have the NFL’s No. 1 offense, but the 49ers have the NFL’s No. 1 defense. They’re two elite teams on the way up, possibly the two best teams in the league. This could be the most important game of the season. Something very important will happen.
Here’s what the 49ers must do to beat the Ravens, and prove those well-intentioned, reasonable people wrong:
1. Pick up the Ravens’ blitzes: The Ravens blitz more than any other team, and they’re excellent at blitzing. They confuse the opposing quarterback and offensive line. Often, one of the Ravens’ blitzers breaks through the line completely untouched, then clobbers the quarterback.
“They attack,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “They try to get after you every play. You’ve got to be ready for anything. They can do crazy blitzes. It’s usually some controlled chaos by them. ”
Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t thrive in chaos. Seven of his 10 interceptions this season have come when the opponent has blitzed, because he tends to throw dangerous passes off his back foot when he’s under pressure. Against the Ravens, he needs to get rid of the ball quickly, or simply go down and take a sack. No turnovers.
Fortunately for the 49ers, Garoppolo should be prepared.
“It’s similar to what we saw last week against Green Bay,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk explained. “The Ravens have a ton of different packages, a lot of different personnel groupings. They’re bringing blitzes from everywhere. It’s nice that we got a little preview already.”
2. Decipher the Ravens’ pass coverages: Reading coverages isn’t Garoppolo’s strength.
He has a lightning-quick release and throws a beautiful spiral. But usually once or twice a game, he delivers a pass directly to a defender after misreading the coverage or telegraphing a throw.
Garoppolo can’t make those rookie mistakes against the Ravens. They specialize in making quarterbacks misread coverages.
“They do a great job at disguising it with the safeties, the linebackers all of it tied together,” Garoppolo said. “You can’t really predetermine anything until the ball is snapped.”
Some of Garoppolo’s most egregious interceptions this season happened because he predetermined a throw before the snap. Meaning he guessed someone would be open based on the defense he thought he saw, but he guessed wrong.
Sounds like Garoppolo knows he can’t guess against the Ravens defense.
3. Don’t chase ghosts: Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator when Jim Harbaugh was their head coach.
Roman still uses the same system he used in Santa Clara. It’s a smash-mouth, run-first offense with lots of tight ends and fullbacks, mixed with a college-style option run game.
To make the system even more complex and unique, Roman uses pre-snap shifts and motions more than any other team. His offense looks like Three Card Monte, and defenders don’t always know where the ball is. This may particularly affect young, inexperienced defenders such as 49ers rookie linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair. The Ravens will try to make those two chase ghosts.