NFL Week 12: 3 Keys to a San Francisco Victory over the Baltimore Ravens

Patrick HightowerContributor INovember 24, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after a tackle against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on November 20, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As the San Francisco 49ers (9-1) prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens (7-3), one debatable question for football fans to answer is this: Which team wants to win this game the most?  

The Baltimore Ravens certainly consider this Thanksgiving evening game an important one for a few reasons. First, the Ravens need this victory to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers (also 7-3). This is especially true since the Steelers play the Kansas City Chiefs (4-6) in Week 12. Many would agree that the Steelers will be heavily favored in that matchup. Therefore, the Thanksgiving game against the 49ers is extremely crucial. It is also important to note that a Ravens loss could give the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) a chance to sneak into the AFC North Division race.

With the 49ers traveling across three time zones to face an opponent with a very stingy defense such as the Ravens, along with having no time to recover physically from a victory against the Arizona Cardinals (3-7) last Sunday, and topping that off with a team that desperately needs a win to stay atop their AFC North division, many would say that the home-team Ravens have a slight advantage. But, there are some trends, and some game-plan tactics, that the 49ers could implement in order to leave Baltimore with a victory.

The 49ers could certainly take a page out of the game plan from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who defeated the Ravens on Monday Night Football on October 24. In other words, defensively, the 49ers could put “eight men in the box” to bottle-up Ravens running back Ray Rice. With the Ravens’ suspect passing game, even with wide-receiver Anquan Boldin, if 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman can maintain their leadership abilities and hold yet another opposing running back under 100 yards, the 49ers will definitely be on the right track towards a victory.

Another trend to observe is this: How well the 49ers move the ball and put points on the board against the Ravens defense depends on one thing—the presence (or absence) of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

According to ProFootballTalk at, Ray Lewis is once again listed as questionable. Last week, when listed as questionable, Lewis did not play.  If Lewis does play, the 49ers have two obvious, but important, choices to make. Concerning the 49ers running game, assuming that the 49ers will rely on running back Frank Gore to carry most of the load, they can scheme to run directly at Ray Lewis to test the durability of his injured foot; or the 49ers can plan for more of an “east to west/corner to corner” style of running game with Frank Gore and the speedy running back Kendall Hunter. By doing this, the 49ers will know right away if Lewis’ foot is able to move laterally to deliver big hits to stop the 49ers running game.

If Ray Lewis is not going to play, expect to see a 49ers offensive game plan similar to their game against the New York Giants back on November 13. In this game, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was able to get the football into the hands of eight different 49ers players. Without the Ravens’ defensive captain Ray Lewis, if it becomes difficult for the Ravens defense to communicate with one another on the field, expect the 49ers offense to have little difficulty getting the ball to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis.

Expect this Thanksgiving game to deliver in all aspects. Football fans will see plenty of clutch catches, solid tackling and momentum-changing plays on both sides of the ball. The Ravens and 49ers' kickoff time is Thanksgiving Day, November 24, at 5:20 p.m. Pacific Time on the NFL Network.