Just how good are Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens? They’re so good, that the 10-1 49ers are 6.5-point underdogs heading into Sunday’s matchup. The last 10-1 team to enter a Week 13 matchup as the underdog was the 2007 Packers. They lost.
The Ravens are a fascinating spectacle that presents teams with a seemingly unsolvable puzzle named Lamar Jackson. With a 100% chance of rain for Sunday, how will the 49ers defense contain Jackson and the Ravens?
Kyle Shanahan talked about what makes Jackson so difficult as a mobile quarterback:
“He’s just different in that he’s a running back when he has the ball. You know, the other two guys, they can make a lot of plays with their legs and stuff, but eventually, they are going to slide and things like that. This guy, he’s a running back out there, and a quarterback when he’s throwing, but he can run hard. You’ve got to bring him down. He can take the hits and he also can deliver them.”
You cannot stop Lamar Jackson, but you can contain him
What makes Jackson such a challenge for opposing defenses is that he can kill you on the ground, and expose you through the air. His running ability is the most talked-about aspect of his game, while his arm strength and growth as a passer has been the cherry on top of his potential MVP campaign.
Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, Jackson (8 carries, 95 yards) ran wild on the ground while also throwing for five touchdowns. The Ravens humiliated the Rams on national television, with the 49ers looking on.
Jackson ran a 4.2 40-yard dash at the combine, and will be the fastest guy on the field Sunday. The 49ers have one of the fastest, most athletic defenses in football, and come equipped to contain Jackson.
The defense will certainly bring the pressure, that much we know. The problem is, that Jackson can avoid that pressure. One tactic that I saw briefly in the Ravens and Rams game Monday night, was the forcing of Jackson to one side of the field. The Rams rushed one side of the offensive line heavily, forcing Jackson to run to the other side, where Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam was sitting there waiting to wrap up Jackson.
The role that Ebukam played for the Rams that night, was that of a “spy.” In football, this “spy” role generally allows a defensive lineman or a linebacker to rush their offensive line counterpart while keeping an eye on the quarterback or running back, only then to be there waiting for the player (Jackson for example) to come around the other side, right into their arms.
Another way the 49ers can contain Jackson is through the air. The Ravens (rain or not) are going to run the ball, that’s a given. Fortunately for the 49ers, they have an elite pass-rush and a very solid group of defensive backs who have benefitted from consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Apply constant pressure on Jackson, and force him to throw the football. If the 49ers can force Jackson to throw more than the Ravens had planned, that may bode well for the 49ers defense.
Containing the other Ravens weapons
Aside from Jackson, the Ravens have other weapons that not only compliment but complete the Baltimore offense. Veteran running back Mark Ingram is a powerful, downhill runner that has put together a very nice season for the Ravens. Containing Jackson is one thing, but containing Jackson while also containing Ingram is a whole different challenge.
The Ravens rushing attack is a huge part of their offense, but who are they throwing the ball to? Just like Jackson, the Ravens have another offensive weapon who can out-run pretty much anyone. Wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has burst onto the scene as the Ravens No. 1 wide receiver. Brown (35 rec, 519 yards, 6 TD’s) will be the focus of the 49ers secondary.
Probably the most underrated part of the Ravens offense is their tight end. Jackson, Ingram, and Brown get most of the recognition, while tight end Mark Andrews has put together an excellent season thus far.
Just like the 49ers, the Ravens leading pass-catcher is their tight end. Andrews (50 rec, 643 yards, 6 TDs) is very similar to George Kittle, in that they both average 12.9 yards per reception, have similar reception totals and similar receiving yard totals. Put all of these offensive weapons, including Jackson on one field, and the 49ers defense will absolutely have their hands full.
Ravens defense versus 49ers offense
With everything the Ravens do on offense, their defense is a big reason why they are 9-2 on the season. They may not have the sack numbers that the 49ers do, but the Ravens defense applies pressure in other ways, blitzing as well as anyone in the league.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was asked about the Ravens defense, and how they disguise their blitz so well:
“Yeah, they do a great job at disguising it with the safeties, the linebackers all of it tied together. But yeah, it’s really about playing the play. You can’t really predetermine anything until the ball’s snapped and then read it out however they rotate or blitz or wherever it comes from and just feel it out.”
Back in October, the Ravens went out and traded for Rams cornerback Marcus Peters. Since coming over to the Ravens, Peters has made huge plays for Baltimore’s defense, including a few interceptions and a couple of touchdowns. Peters, along with former Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Marlon Humphrey make up a star-studded Ravens defensive backfield.
Up front, the Ravens have both Matt Judon (7 sacks) and Jaylon Fergusson who have helped the Ravens establish themselves as one of the best defenses against the run. The 49ers and running backs Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and possibly Matt Breida have a challenging task ahead of them, in a contest where they could rely on the running game.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup, the 49ers should be getting healthier. Last weekend against Green Bay, the 49ers were without defensive end Dee Ford, kicker Robbie Gould, left tackle Joe Staley, and Running Back Matt Breida. This weekend in Baltimore, they could be getting most of those players back just in time.
The Ravens lost a key part of their offensive line Monday night against the Rams. Center Matt Skura suffered a knee injury and will be out for the remainder of the season, a big blow to the Ravens offense. Rookie tackle Patrick Mekari will start in place of Skura.
- To prepare for Lamar Jackson, the 49ers tried to emulate the Ravens offense in practice. Robert Saleh told reporters Wednesday that wide receiver Richie James would act as Lamar Jackson in practice for the scout team.
- Shortly after the Ravens decimated the Rams on Monday night, safety Earl Thomas was asked about the upcoming matchup with the 49ers, and whether it may be a potential Super Bowl matchup. Thomas sort of shrugged it off and said:
- “You think the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl? It could be, let’s see…”
- 49ers cornerback and former Seahawks teammate Richard Sherman responded to Thomas’ comments: