49ers vs. Ravens: 4 Rookies in the Spotlight on Thanksgiving

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent INovember 24, 2011

49ers vs. Ravens: 4 Rookies in the Spotlight on Thanksgiving

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    When the 49ers travel to Baltimore on Thanksgiving night, it is The Harbaugh Bowl. However, there are also four rookies to keep an eye out for in addition to the play-calling.

    Both teams have great defenses, and although San Fran allows a lot of passing yards, most of them come in garbage time. As for the Ravens, they have a defense that takes after their intense head coach and the 49ers are well on their way to being much of the same.

    Offensively both teams have the ability to throw and run effectively, so it'll be interesting to see how they matchup against the defenses.

    All that being said, the following four NFL rookies will have an impact because although it's an inter-conference game, playoffs implications—in terms of seeding—are at stake.

Aldon Smith: LB, 49ers

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    Although he's limited in playing time, San Fran rookie LB Aldon Smith has recorded 7.5 sacks in addition to his four pass deflects and one forced fumble.

    His pass rush ability is arguably the best on the 49ers and he's been a solid contributor to their No. 1 ranked rush defense. Against the Ravens, expect Smith to play even more as stopping Ray Rice while getting pressure on Joe Flacco is the key.

    Once frustrated, Flacco tends to get antsy and is prone to fumbling or throwing picks. That said, expect Smith to be given that responsibility as he's one of the better young pass-rushers in the game.

    Plus, if San Francisco wants to get a big road win, slowing down the Ravens potentially explosive and dynamic offense is crucial. And all that begins with pressuring the QB. 

Torrey Smith: WR, Ravens

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    The 49ers may have a deceivingly weak pass defense. However, most of the yards given up have come in garbage time, so don't think they can't shut down a potent pass offense like Baltimore.

    Still, Frisco is vulnerable to giving up big plays in the passing game as evidence by the Dallas game from Week 2.

    Defending the pass is their biggest defensive weakness, so expect Ravens rookie WR Torrey Smith to shine.

    Or at least have multiple opportunities to shine. Regardless of how the ground game is working, Smith will takeoff deep and Joe Flacco will send it deep.

    And as quickly as Smith can accelerate, his top speed is perhaps even more impressive. In turn that's a big help to the pass protection also, because Flacco then only needs to take no more than a five-step drop to let it fly.

    Smith is fast enough to run underneath and literally catch up to the ball, so if Frisco wants to minimize that they must play bump-n-run coverage with safety help over the top. Nonetheless, this rookie can fly and it'll be interesting to watch him against another solid defense.

Jim Harbaugh: Head Coach, 49ers

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    Sure it's Jim Harbaugh who played many years in pro football, but the fact is that he is a rookie head coach.

    To that end, this is the biggest game through the 2011 season thus far for his 49ers and after coaching at Stanford for four years, San Francisco "drafted" him so to speak this past offseason.

    And after a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 2010, Harbaugh has turned around one of the NFL's most historic franchises and made them Super Bowl contenders. Against his brother on the road this week it's surely going to be exciting to see how he does some play-calling.

    As long as the 49ers win, they can remain atop the NFC with Green Bay in the race to the No. 1 seed. That's ridiculously impressive with such a young team, especially after last season.

Jimmy Smith: CB, Ravens

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    Ravens rookie CB Jimmy Smith may have only seen limited playing time thus far however, he's been a solid man-coverage defender for Baltimore.

    Last week, he picked off his first NFL pass against Cincinnati in addition to recording three tackles. Sure that's minimal compared to his teammates, but not bad considering the Ravens have a sick defense across the board.

    To that end, Smith may see limited time early in this game because he's not a run-stopping CB. However, the Ravens will soon force San Fran into many passing situations which is where Smith becomes useful.

    There, expect Baltimore to extend their gameplan to some nickel and dime-back packages to prevent any passing threat from QB Alex Smith. Because although he hasn't thrown the rock much, Alex Smith can be more effective than most think.

    So, don't be surprised when Jimmy sees a bit more action in this game also, because being that he is a rookie, the 49ers will attack him. Should be great to watch this young and potential corner against some of Frisco's savvy vets.


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