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Ravens Insider: Ravens vs. 49ers scouting report for Week 16: Who has the edge?


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The Ravens beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-7, becoming the first AFC team to clinch a playoff berth. The 49ers won their sixth straight, 45-29 over the Arizona Cardinals. Who will have the advantage when the AFC’s best and NFC’s best meet on Christmas night?

Ravens passing game vs. 49ers pass defense

Lamar Jackson was pressured 13 times in the Ravens’ win over the Jaguars but consistently used his legs to buy extra time and made the play of the game when he spun out of a potential sack and hit tight end Isaiah Likely for a 26-yard gain to set up a touchdown. Likely has stepped up in Mark Andrews’ absence with 14 catches on 19 targets for 193 yards and two touchdowns over the past three games. The 49ers have covered tight ends well and shut down the middle of the field better than any defense in the league, per DVOA. Will the Ravens respond by trying to get Likely outside, where he he’s made some of his biggest plays? Their wide receivers faded from the game plan in Jacksonville after Jackson connected with Rashod Bateman on a few early plays. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken turned to his run game to secure the victory in part because his tackles, particularly Ronnie Stanley, struggled to keep the Jaguars’ young edge rushers off Jackson. Stanley left the game in the fourth quarter to be examined for a possible concussion, but even before that, he was struggling to plant on his injured right knee. The Ravens have rotated Patrick Mekari in for Stanley and Daniel Faalele in for right tackle Morgan Moses, who appears to be dealing with lingering effects from a shoulder injury that cost him three games in October and November.

The Ravens’ tackle play will be in the spotlight against San Francisco’s gifted defensive front, which features five first-round draft picks, led by edge rusher Nick Bosa (10 1/2 sacks, 33 quarterback hits), who’s in the class of Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt as a game wrecker. The 49ers rarely blitz, because they don’t have to, ranking top 10 in the league in sacks and pressures thanks to the one-on-one gifts of their defensive linemen. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he could have defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave, elite interior pass rushers who were out for last Sunday’s win over the Cardinals, back to face the Ravens, though neither practiced Thursday. The rich got richer when the 49ers traded for 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young midway through the season. Behind their monsters upfront, they have the league’s best all-around linebacker in Fred Warner, who’s as good in coverage as he is against the run. If there’s a relative weakness, it’s on third down, where the 49ers rank 22nd in the league. Their coverage on outside routes is good, not great, but Jackson best throws are often to the middle.

EDGE: 49ers

49ers passing game vs. Ravens pass defense

San Francisco has the third most efficient offense through 14 games since 1981, per DVOA. Second-year quarterback Brock Purdy is the Most Valuable Player frontrunner because he throws accurately (69.8%), avoids mistakes (29 touchdowns to seven interceptions) and benefits from the league’s best quartet of playmakers. The Ravens have covered deep passes better than any team in the league, but wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (59 catches, 1,090 yards, six touchdowns) will be a nightmare challenge for cornerbacks Brandon Stephens and Marlon Humphrey. Deebo Samuel is just as devastating in his way, because he averages 9.4 yards after the catch every time he touches the ball. And don’t forget the league’s best tight end, George Kittle, who averages 15.7 yards per catch and is nearly as great a YAC threat as Samuel. Or running back Christian McCaffrey, who ranks second on the team in receptions (57) and first in touchdown catches (seven). Purdy holds the ball longer than the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, so Ravens pass rushers will have more opportunities to get home, but he’s protected by Hall of Fame left tackle Trent Williams. No one has stopped the 49ers since they came back healthy from their Week 9 bye. They have averaged 34.5 points over a six-game winning streak, and Purdy has thrown 17 touchdown passes with just two interceptions in that span.

The Ravens will counter with elite virtues of their own. They’ll take on the league’s most efficient red zone offense with their No. 2 red zone defense, which has allowed just 15 touchdowns on 40 possessions. They excel against screens because linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen move so quickly side to side and because of safety Kyle Hamilton’s range and length near the line of scrimmage. They bring pressure not just from the edge, with Odafe Oweh, Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, but from the middle, where defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is looking to extend his 11-game sack streak. They have blitzed less in recent weeks, but exotic pressure designs are another tool in coordinator Mike Macdonald’s bag. The Ravens allowed a 65-yard touchdown pass against the Jaguars but have coordinated well in zone coverage most of the season. Their tackling will need to be on point against Kittle and Samuel, who can turn seemingly innocuous passes into touchdowns. The Ravens have allowed just 4.5 yards per pass attempt. This will be their greatest test.

EDGE: Even

Ravens running game vs. 49ers run defense

The Ravens lead the league in rushing and rank second in yards per attempt but lost their top big-play threat, Keaton Mitchell, to a season-ending knee injury. Justice Hill runs hard and can bounce to the outside, but his 4.4 yards per carry pale compared with Mitchell’s 8.4. Gus Edwards has thrived near the goal line with 11 touchdowns, but he’s averaging a career-low 4.1 yards per carry. The Ravens will hope to receive a spark from veteran Melvin Gordon III, who ran well in an early two-game glimpse and has been waiting in the wings. Their running game will hinge more than ever on Jackson, who led the team with 97 yards on 12 carries against the Jaguars. He’s a threat to scramble, but it will be interesting to see if Monken leans more on designed runs for his quarterback now that the playoffs are near.

If the 49ers have a weakness, run defense is it. They rank 18th in rush DVOA and have allowed 4.3 yards per carry. The Cardinals, with a dangerous running quarterback in Kyler Murray, rolled up 234 yards on 30 carries last Sunday. Warner is great. So is Bosa. But the rest of San Francisco’s stars up front are better as pass rushers than run stuffers. Starting strong safety Talanoa Hufanga, one of the team’s top tacklers before he went on injured reserve, is missed, though Ji’Ayir Brown has filled in well.

EDGE: Ravens

49ers running game vs. Ravens run defense

Shanahan has always featured the run heavily, and the 49ers are elite here as well, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. McCaffrey is the league’s top all-around running back, with 1,292 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground to go with his receiving production. No one else gets the ball much, but Samuel is a threat when he does, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

The Ravens have been vulnerable to the run, allowing 4.3 yards per carry, but if there’s good news for them, it’s that they’ve defended zone concepts — Shanahan’s preference — better than straight-ahead power. The lateral playmaking of Smith, Queen and Hamilton will be key as will solid edge setting from Clowney, Oweh and rookie Tavius Robinson.

EDGE: 49ers

Ravens special teams vs. 49ers special teams

Justin Tucker made all three of his field goal attempts in windy Jacksonville and is up to 27 for 32 on the season, with four of his five misses coming from beyond 50 yards. The Ravens have averaged 14.4 yards on punt returns and will hope for another big one from Tylan Wallace, who finished off the Los Angeles Rams with a 76-yard runback while filling in for Devin Duvernay. Punt coverage remains the Achilles heel, though the Ravens are up to eighth in special teams DVOA.

The 49ers rank 24th, with a weak return game and a rookie kicker, Jake Moody, who has made 18 of 21 field goal attempts but has struggled on kickoffs.

EDGE: Ravens

Ravens intangibles vs. 49ers intangibles

Both teams have clinched playoff spots. Both are riding high, with the 49ers having won six in a row and the Ravens having won eight of nine. The 49ers are 5-1 at home, the Ravens 6-1 on the road. Purdy is the leading candidate for MVP, Jackson No. 2. Shanahan and John Harbaugh have both guided teams to the Super Bowl and believe they have good chances to get back this year. Neither team desperately needs a win, though both would like to take the next step toward clinching a first-round bye in the playoffs.

EDGE: Even

Prediction

The Ravens have the running game and speedy defensive playmakers to keep the 49ers from running away with it. They will need to keep Jackson from being swarmed and score touchdowns when they reach the red zone. San Francisco is the best team in the league and simply has more room for error given its quartet of All-Pro skill players. 49ers 31, Ravens 26

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