49ers vs. Ravens: 4 Things Baltimore Can Take Away from the 'HarBowl'
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, many people find it fitting to feel thankful for their families. The Harbaugh family in particular has many reason to be thankful for their family as they have become the first family to produce two brothers that have become head coaches in the NFL and played against each other. Both John and Jim have done excellent jobs thus far coaching in Baltimore and San Francisco respectively.
But at least for last night, the older brother was the better one.
The Baltimore Ravens emerge victorious from the first-ever meeting between the brothers' teams, appropriately dubbed the "HarBowl." The final score was 16-6 in a game that was every bit a defensive battle as fans of both teams have gotten used to seeing. For the national audiences these games may be considered boring, but for Ravens fans there is nothing like a good old defensive game that ends in a victory.
Last night was special for another reason as the Ravens tied a franchise-record nine sacks. Alex Smith was repeatedly under duress as his usually strong offensive line had no answers for the Ravens' defensive front. It was a Thanksgiving feast for a hungry defense ready to prove itself without the injured Ray Lewis playing.
Over the next several slides I will discuss what the Ravens can take away from this win.
The Defensive Front Is Ferocious Even Without Ray Lewis
With Ray Lewis sitting out this game, it seemed there was some reason for concern on the defensive side of the ball. Even though both the 49ers and the Ravens clearly have elite defenses, the Ravens have found it difficult to replace their leader as he sits out trying to recover from a toe injury. Even with the win last week, the Ravens had allowed 483 total yards of offense to a Cincinnati Bengals team led by a rookie quarterback.
Well, the Ravens produced an historically good performance tonight against the 49ers offense. They sacked Alex Smith nine times, tying a franchise record. Terrell Suggs led the way with three sacks while Correy Redding had two-and-a-half and Haloti Ngata had two.
Suggs was everywhere tonight, gathering three tackles, three sacks and forcing a fumble. Although no one can replace Lewis when the inevitable day comes that he and Ed Reed retire, the defense likely will fall under the very capable leadership of Suggs. At 29-years-old, he is one of the league's top defensive playmakers and tonight he showed he is still in his prime.
The defensive front also deserves credit for shutting down the 49ers' run game. That was a key matchup going into the game, seeing how the Ravens would find and stop 49ers' running back Frank Gore. Gore was held in check as he only finished with 39 rushing yards and nine receiving yards.
The longest run of the night was nine yards. Now that is a return to the normal defensive play of the Ravens.
The Offense Didn't Need to Do Much to Win
To be fair, this game was expected to be a field-goal fest. When two defenses that are this good play each other, it's foolish to expect many points. But thanks to the amazing play of the Ravens' defense, the offense had to do very little to get the win.
Thankfully, this time Cam Cameron didn't give up on the running game. Ray Rice had 21 carries for 59 yards going against a team that has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season. That trend continued last night despite good field position, but still both Rice and Ricky Williams were able to get the short yardage to keep drives alive and get the Ravens in field position.
Joe Flacco spread out the ball, giving it to eight different receivers. The reliable Anquan Boldin led the team in receptions with four and yards with 63. Tight end Dennis Pitta caught the touchdown pass that was in many ways the difference in the game.
Flacco had a good night given the circumstances. He finished 15-of-21 for 161 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The offense as a whole was very crisp and effective with no turnovers at all allowed to the 49ers.
The game was close at halftime with the score tied at 6-6. The difference manifested itself with the Ravens' offense which got a touchdown and a field goal after halftime. With the way the defense was playing, they didn't need to do much, but they did enough to defeat one of the best teams in the NFL.
Goal Line Offense Struggles
The goal line was not a friendly place for the Ravens yesterday. They were unable to punch in touchdowns despite very good field position during their first tries on the 49ers' side of the field.
The one that hurt the most was the second field goal where at one point the Ravens were on the 49ers' 1-yard line. However they had to settle for a 23-yard field goal as the 49ers kept their streak alive of not allowing a rushing touchdown this season. Had the Ravens scored, they would have put up a lead on a team that was struggling offensively and the game would have been less close.
Although it was a difficult situation, the Ravens have to capitalize on those situations. That's why Vonta Leach was brought here and why there is a power running game. The Ravens have to keep running the ball a lot if they want to keep winning and in the future they will not always have the luxury to settle for field goals.
Home Field Advantage Played a Part
The 49ers drew a difficult schedule traveling-wise this week. They had to travel three time zones only to play a football game four days later.
Still, the 49ers had won every road game prior to last night, four of which came on the east coast. Although the traveling disadvantage didn't ultimately cost them the game, it had to have some factor. Especially when considering how good the Ravens are at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens are now 6-0 at home and barring an upset, should finish the season undefeated at home (their final two home games are against the Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts.) They have now won 15 of the last 16 at home. Four of their home wins this year have been by 10 points or more.
This is part of the reason why winning the AFC North is so important this year. For whatever reason, the Ravens have been significantly better at home this year, even losing to far inferior teams while they play on the road. To have homefield advantage in the playoffs for the first time under the Harbaugh era would give them a better chance to win against the AFC's best teams.
A first-round bye would be huge as well. Every year the Ravens seem to claw their way into the playoffs only to be rewarded by daunting road trips every week they are still in the playoffs. It's no wonder they haven't reached a Super Bowl in a while.
At this point both the AFC North and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs is theirs for the taking. Even if they didn't look it tonight, the 49ers are a very good team and beating them definitely means a lot for the Ravens. Now they need to come out and show the same intensity against the Cleveland Browns 10 days after this game.