As Goob pointed out, the San Francisco 49ers roll into town this week looking like a mirror image of the Ravens in a lot of ways. More accurately, though, they look a lot like the Ravens USED to look. The slow, plodding, yet efficient ball-control offense headed up by a game managing quarterback and solidified by one of the game’s best defenses is just the blueprint that the Ravens rode to a Super Bowl victory back in 2000, and is not dissimilar to Joe Flacco’s rookie season of 2008.
For the Ravens to emerge victorious from the HarBowl, they have to manage to not get beat at their own game.
Don’t let San Francisco Control the Clock
San Fran comes into B’More at #6 in the NFL in time of possession, holding onto the ball an average of 32:09 per game. The Ravens, on the other hand, are 20th at 29:42, and have won TOP in just one of their last five games after starting the season 4-1 in that important stat. As long as you’re making big, explosive plays that result in, or at least lead to, touchdowns, as the Ravens were able to against Cincinnati, winning TOP isn’t as crucial. However, as we saw last week, losing the battle can still tire out your defense down the stretch and lead to some hairy moments, regardless of how large a lead you are able to build in the early goings.
The Ravens had only themselves to blame in the fourth quarter last Sunday, as they were unable to hold onto the ball and put the game away when given the opportunity. From the moment Torrey Smith scored his touchdown and Baltimore staked itself to a 31-14 lead, the Ravens picked up just one first down and were 0/2 on third down tries.
Inexcusably, those two third down failures came on 3rd-and-2 and 3rd-and-1.
For the day, the Ravens were just 2/6 on 3rd-and-2 or less.
That number will have to greatly improve on Thursday in order to keep the ball out of the hands of the 49ers, and keep the defense fresh for the fourth quarter.
Win the Turnover Battle
The 49ers are an NFL-best +17 in the turnover department. Quarterback Alex Smith has thrown just four interceptions to go with his 13 touchdowns, and as a team San Francisco has fumbled just 10 times all season, and they have lost just five of those ten.
On the other side, Joe Flacco matches those fumble numbers (10 total, 5 lost) all by himself. Throw in his eight interceptions and the other 10 times that Ravens players have put the ball on the turf, and they’ve given the ball away a total of 18 times – or twice as many times as the 49ers have.
On defense, the Ravens got back to their turnover-causing ways against the Bengals, picking off Andy Dalton three times. Even after a 3 INT day though, the Ravens still trail San Francisco in the pick department 15-11. These two teams are 1-2 in recovering opponents’ fumbles as well: the 49ers have recovered an incredible 11 of the 14; the Ravens are no slouches in that department either, scooping 10 of their 15 caused fumbles.
Winning the turnover battle will be no easy task against Jim Harbaugh’s stingy, opportunistic bunch. To improve to 8-3 though, the Ravens will have to at least match the Niners in stinginess quotient.
Controlling the ball – both by possessing it and by not giving it away – will go a long way to making sure the Ravens don’t get beat at their own game in the HarBowl.