After losing a very close and winable game this past Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers will be looking to improve on that performance and close out the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Levi Stadium.
The Ravens, like the 49ers, are also 1-4. It’s hard to believe that both of these teams were in the Super Bowl just under 3 years ago, but that’s how the NFL works.
Both teams have injuries and deficiencies and will be looking to rebound and get back into their respective division races.
When the Ravens have the ball:
Quarterback Joe Flacco is 12th in the NFL in passing yards and at the virtually the same place in every other category as Colin Kaepernick. A lot of those yards have gone to ageless wide receiver Steve Smith Sr, who may be back this week.
If Smith plays, the 49ers will have to focus most of their efforts to ensure that he doesn’t make a lot of big plays, but that will also depend on how much pressure they can put on Flacco.
Another injury to watch is the ankle of running back Justin Forsett. Like the situation with 49ers back Carlos Hyde, the Ravens could be holding him out of practice as a precaution.
At any rate, the 49ers have to assume that both Smith and Forsett are going to play. The success of the defense will rest mostly upon the shoulders of the front seven to limit the run and get after Flacco and not put undue pressure on the young corners of the 49ers.
The key will be keeping the Ravens under 20 points and stopping big plays. They cannot afford penalties that allow the Ravens to extend drives and they can’t let Flacco feel comfortable enough to step up in the pocket and make big plays downfield. The players to watch will be Aaron Lynch, Ahmad Brooks (who looks like he will be playing) and rookie Arik Armstead in the pass rush.
When the 49ers have the ball:
On the surface, it looked like the 49ers had a much better performance on the offensive side of the ball. After all, Kaepernick completed over 65% of his passes, had no turnovers, and threw for 2 touchdowns. Carlos Hyde had nearly 100 yards rushing and a touchdown and Anquan Boldin caught 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.
There were good things that happened on the offensive side of the ball, most notably the debut of right guard Andrew Tiller.
While the hope is that the offensive line continues to improve thus enabling the offense to improve, Colin Kaepernick has to get better as well. As David Neumann from NinersNation detailed here, there were still several missed opportunities for passing plays and he is still missing receivers that are open for whatever reason.
This has to improve not only for this game’s sake, but also for this season and seasons to come.
The Ravens don’t have the personnel they once had, but they are still well coached and the 49ers will need a strong showing from their offensive line and running game.
If Kaepernick is ever going to get his comfort level back, he has to have more time in the pocket and less time worrying that he will be hit after dropping back for a mere two seconds.
The Bottom Line…
The 49ers have a great chance to win this game, but they will have to continue to play mistake-free on the offensive side of the ball and the defense will have to play better, especially up front. What would really help would be an impact play from the defense or special teams to aid the offense.
Until we see more consistency from the entire team, I’ll pick the 49ers to win a close game this week.