By Samuel Njoku
The streak of division games have come to an end. Baltimore (1-4) is in unfamiliar territory and due to their record, almost every game is a playoff game from here on out. Next up, their Super Bowl opponents from 3 years ago in the San Francisco 49ers.
Similar to Baltimore, San Francisco (1-4) has also struggled mightily to start the season. With only one win to speak of, they are also in do-or-die mode with the Seahawks and Cardinals perform well in the NFC West.
49ers on Offense
Colin Kaepernick was supposed to lead the new wave of dual threat quarterbacks in the 21st century and effectively do away with the pocket passer. That hasn’t quite worked out the way 49ers fans had hoped and has led to a poor record to start the season and modest QB rating of 76.8. If San Francisco wants to get back on the right track, they’ll have to rely on Kaepernick’s arm to get it done. That isn’t as difficult a task as one may think with the way Baltimore has played on defense so far. But a pedestrian offense attacking a ineffective defense can yield mixed results.
One factor will have to be former Ravens WR Torrey Smith. He has the ability to stretch a defense and can make things difficult for Baltimore if he’s able to break free from the line of scrimmage untouched. Expect the Ravens to get very physical with Torrey Smith while giving Anquan Boldin space to work with and dare Colin Kaepernick to make a play. If Baltimore shows improvement in the secondary, expect San Francisco to lean on Carlos Hyde in an attempt to keep Baltimore on their toes.
49ers on Defense
Super Bowl XLVII seems like only yesterday for both the Ravens and the 49ers. But the defenses have changed such a great deal since then. San Francisco’s defense recently gave up 525 yards of total offense to the New York Giants. That’s incredible. Since the front office decided to rid themselves of Jim Harbaugh, the team has been abysmal. Though far from spectacular in 2014, this team has fallen on hard times this season. Fortunately for them, they face a Ravens offense with a few offensive pieces missing. They’ll focus heavily on stopping Justin Forsett, a player who has recently caught fire with back to back games over 100 yards.
If they can find a way to contain Forsett, it will make things difficult for Joe Flacco to move the ball through the air. If they can’t stop the run game, Flacco could have a chance to gash this defense for huge chunks of yards. Kamar Aiken and newly activated receiver Jeremy Ross can make plays on the field if the 49ers underestimate them. It’ll be interesting to see what both coaching staffs have in mind for Sunday.
49ers Players to Watch
The story that everyone will be talking about is WR Torrey Smith facing off against the team who drafted him. It’ll be an emotional game for both parties for sure as he’s widely considered to be one of the most popular players in the history of the teams short tenure. From an on-field standpoint, Smith can be a game changer. The Ravens have dealt with Torrey Smith in practice over the years and will need to transfer that knowledge into the game on Sunday.
On defense, NaVorro Bowman can still be a dangerous player even though his team as a whole is struggling. Last week the Ravens got back Eugene Monroe and the improvement on the field was obvious. The Ravens will need to do their best to keep the front 7 of San Francisco from disrupting running plays as well as keep their 120 million dollar investment clean when inside the pocket.
There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of intrigue in this game, but nothing can be further from the truth. The winner of this game clings on to slight playoff aspirations, while the loser is likely turning their attention to 2016. With both teams with talent on both sides of the ball, this is as close to a playoff game as one can expect to have in October. In the end, I think injuries to Baltimore will be too much to overcome.
San Francisco 49ers win a close one 27-24
Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. Samuel Njoku is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.