San Francisco 49ers: 5 Things We Learned Versus Baltimore
In addition, the game matched of the league's two top teams, which was far more than ever expected when these two teams were put together on Thanksgiving. Baltimore won a tough, hard-fought battle, by a score of 16-6.
The 49ers now have a record of 9-2 and lead the NFC West by five games, with only five remaining. They are a lock to make their first playoff appearance since the 2002 season.
Looking forward, we also must learn some things from games that have already been played. Read on to see five of the things we learned about the 49ers during their game against the Ravens.
5. The 49ers' Wide Receiver Corps Is Weak
The San Francisco 49ers' wide receivers have a lot of room for improvement. This unit consists of Michael Crabtree, Braylon Edwards, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams. Josh Morgan was lost for the season with a broken leg.
Crabtree has been playing well of late and has shown strong signs of progress in his relationship with quarterback Alex Smith. Against the Ravens, Crabtree caught six passes for 54 yards.
Edwards is clearly not healthy. He was slowed early this year by a knee injury that required surgery. Following his return, Edwards injured a shoulder and has been ineffective. He is having trouble getting open, because he simply can't run and cut the way he is used to.
Edwards should be given a week or two off. Let him heal up and hopefully he can become a factor in the playoffs.
Ginn had a long touchdown pass against the Ravens called back due to a very questionable penalty call. He had two catches for 21 yards. As is his norm, he also dropped a pass, which should have been a completion. Ginn drops more passes than any 49er receiver I can ever remember. He also does not like to go over the middle and does not catch the ball in traffic. He is a fine return man, but a poor wide receiver.
Two weeks ago, against the Cardinals, Williams looked like he was emerging. However, against the Ravens, Williams totally disappeared. He was unable to get open and did not have any receptions. On one ball thrown his way, Williams looked as though he was afraid to get hit and did not make a strong effort to catch it. He regressed with a very poor game against the Ravens.
The 49ers need more production from their wide receivers. Their inconsistency is worrisome and this group simply needs to play better if the 49ers hope to advance in the playoffs.
4. Jim Harbaugh Is Excellent at Preparing His Team
One thing that was made abundantly clear following this game is that Jim Harbaugh and his staff do a tremendous job preparing the 49ers to play.
I say this because they had no time to prepare for the Ravens on Thursday night. Following their game on Sunday, the 49ers watched film on Monday, basically had one day of practice, which consisted more of mental reps than actual physical practice. Then the team flew across the country on Wednesday.
This lack of preparation time was evident, as the 49ers were not equipped to handle the Ravens' constant pressure on Alex Smith.
This underscores just how effective Harbaugh and his staff are when they have a normal week of preparation time.
It is my personal belief that any team playing on any Thursday night should get their bye week the weekend prior to their Thursday game.
3. The 49ers' Defense Is Championship-Caliber
The San Francisco 49ers allow the fewest points of any team in the NFL. We saw first-hand against the Ravens just how good this unit is.
With the offense struggling, the 49ers' defense kept them in the game. They played great, although they appeared to tire in the fourth quarter, when they gave up 10 points. This can be attributed to the short week.
The Ravens gained only 253 net yards for the game. I was very impressed by the defense and am comfortable saying that they are of championship-caliber.
2. The Offensive Line Is Still Very Precarious
The San Francisco offensive line played a very poor game against the Ravens. Alex Smith was under siege the entire game and was sacked nine times. On several other plays, he was running for his life and pressured immensely.
Right guard Adam Snyder injured his hamstring in the first quarter and, although he tried to play for one series in the second, he was forced to come out of the game. His replacement, Chilo Rachal, was terrible.
The right side of the 49ers' line simply could not hold up to the pressure the Ravens were bringing. Both Rachal and tackle Anthony Davis were severely over-matched. If you watched the game closely you will note that in almost every instance the right side of the 49ers' line was breaking down first.
Baltimore stacked the line to stop Frank Gore and they were successful. Gore had 14 carries for only 39 yards. The Ravens dared Smith to pass, then when he tried to, they pressured him relentlessly.
Although is is not entirely his fault, when Rachal started the first two game with the 49ers, they allowed 11 sacks. Then he was replaced by Snyder and the line began to solidify. Rachal returned on Thursday, and the 49ers proceeded to allow nine sacks.
You can expect future opponents to try to attack the 49ers in much the same way as the Ravens did. They will test the offensive line and it will be up to the 49ers to prove they can handle it. The play of the offensive line will be the key to the success of the 49ers over the remainder of the season.
1. You Can Trust Alex Smith
Alex Smith was 14-for-24 for only 140 yards, although a long touchdown pass was negated due to penalty. He also had one interception, although that can be attributed to Smith and Braylon Edwards not being on the same page on a route.
Smith's numbers were quite pedestrian, although I was pleased with his effort. He moved well and eluded pressure several times, or he would have been sacked even more than the nine times he was.
He also did not make major mistakes, by turning the ball over with fumbles or interceptions.
As I mentioned, on the one interception he did throw, there was a communication breakdown between him and Edwards. Edwards also made virtually no attempt to break up the pass play when it was apparent that the defensive back had a better shot at the ball.
This shows me how much Smith has matured as a quarterback. In prior years, there would have been two or three more fumbles and interceptions caused by the relentless Baltimore pressure.
If the 49ers' offensive line had been able to withstand the pressure of the Ravens' pass rush, there would have been opportunities for big plays down the field. After watching this game and seeing how he handled the pressure, I feel a lot more comfortable with Smith leading the 49ers' offense.
Through All The Adversity, The 49ers Still Had A Chance To Win The Game
The San Francisco 49ers faced a great deal of adversity against the Ravens and still had a chance to come away with a win.
They had to fly across the country on short rest, with little time for preparation. Their offensive line was like a sieve, and the Ravens' pass rushers had their way with them.
Two very questionable penalty calls cost the 49ers one touchdown and an interception, by Tarell Brown, that would have ultimately taken away a Ravens' field goal.
Those 10 points were the margin of victory for the Ravens. It was a very tough game, and I came away feeling that the 49ers almost overcame the adversity and won the game.
I actually feel more confident about the 49ers now than prior to this contest. With normal preparation time and their stellar defense, the 49ers will have a good chance to win any game they play.