The Ravens (2-2) travel to San Francisco this week to take on the 49ers (2-2), who are on a 2 game losing skid since starting their season with wins over the Cardinals and Rams. The niners will be without their franchise quarterback, Alex Smith, who dislocated his shoulder in the opening minutes last week when Seattle lineman Rocky Bernard landed on him following a hit. The Nest notes a bit of a coincidence: Ravens fans who saw the hit were reminded of a similar hit that occurred (with similar results) just across the bay, by Tony Siragusa on Rich Gannon in the 2001 AFC Championship game. Connecting the dots, the Ravens quarterback in that game was Trent Dilfer, who just happens to be Alex Smith’s backup in SF this year.
Dilfer was ineffective, to say the least, in relief, as the Seahawks dropped the 49ers 24-3. Our old friend Trent will be making the start against his former team this Sunday, which of course stirred up a media frenzy over the already overplayed Dilfer-Brian Billick feud. The rift between the two has been played up whenever Trent’s teams came to town, when he was with the Seahawks and again when he started against the Ravens in B-More in 2005 for the Cleveland Browns. Trent has been quite outspoken regarding his animosity and hard feelings toward Billick (despite complete opposite views on the city, fans, players, and organization in general), whom he blames for letting him go following the Super Bowl. His most recent barbs came just this year, during Super Bowl XLI media week. However, Dilfer has, for the first time in the nearly 7 years since he left the Ravens, chose to take the high road, saying that he plans to clear the air with Billick before the game. So hopefully Trent, Brian, the media, and the players, will be able to focus on the task at hand, winning a ballgame.
Each team comes in fighting to stay above the .500 mark on the season. The 49ers were, for all intents and purposes, handed their first win by the Cardinals, and got their 2nd against the hapless Rams in St. Louis, before taking beatings the past two weeks at the hands of the Squealers and the aforementioned ‘Hawks. On paper, this should be an easy win for the purple and black. The 49ers, already ranked dead last in the NFL in total offense, are without Smith, while highly hyped RB Frank Gore is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. The Ravens defense, black and blue as it currently is both physically and mentally, will benefit from the (rumored) return of CB Samari Rolle. Having both #1 cornerbacks back on the field should allow Rex Ryan to turn up the pressure on Dilfer, blitzing him relentlessly just as the Seahawks did last week, and as the Ravens did in 2005 when they forced him into 3 turnovers. Keep an eye on this. If the Ravens fail to get pressure on Dilfer, as they did on Derek Anderson last week and Kurt Warner the week before, the Ravens may well leave the west coast at 2-3.
On defense, the 49ers rank 11th against the pass (213 ypg), but 25th against the run (130 ypg). Please, please, please, Brian: RUN THE BALL. The team of Willis Mcgahee and Musa Smith should be able to have a field day against this SF team, and the Nest would even like to see Mike Anderson active to give the Ravens yet another set of legs to pound the ball with. The Ravens will likely be without Todd Heap in the passing game, yet another reason to run, run, run. If the Ravens come out pass-happy again, and Sore-groin Steve is tossing it all over the (5 yards down-) field, be nervous B-More fans.
An X-factor in this game could be SF head coach Mike Nolan. Nolan, a former Ravens defensive coordinator, is in his 3rd season in the Gay city. We saw what happened last week when former coaches meet their old team, as an inferior Cardinals team coached by former Pittsburgh OC Ken Whisenhunt found a way to stop the Squealers high-flying offense. However, Rex Ryan’s defense is nothing like the basic 3-4 Nolan used when he was here, and enough faces have changed on both sides of the ball that this should not be much of an issue. Mike and his suit have been gone too long for any familiarity to make a difference.
The Ravens should win this game easily. However, we have been taught to know better this season. Look for the 49ers to hang around until the very end, due to the reluctance of the Ravens coaches to stick with the run, as well as continued miscommunications in the secondary.
Ravens 20 49ers 17