The Baltimore Ravens came into Harbowl I sporting a 15-1 home record with QB Joe Flacco at the helm in the team’s last 16 games. The Ravens started out 5-0 at home this season, meanwhile the San Francisco 49ers came to Baltimore with a 4-0 road record. Those four victories all coming during their previous trips to Eastern Time Zone stadiums. Something was bound to give.
Grading the Ravens 16-6 victory over San Francisco
Joe Flacco didn’t play a bad game, but really started finding his rhythm in the 3rd quarter. In what might have been his most impressive drive of the season, Flacco led the Ravens on a 16 play-76 yard drive, hitting seven different receivers, capped by an eight-yard TD throw to TE Dennis Pitta at the start of the 4th quarter. As the game went on, his throwing became more accurate with pressure in his face. Flacco finished with 161 yards on the night and converted some huge 3rd-down plays in the 2nd half.
Flacco checked-down to RB Ray Rice a few times which is good to see. He didn’t have to win the game for the Ravens, but had a big part in the victory.
Running backs: B
I think everyone realized big gains by Ray Rice were going to be few and far between in this game, but give credit to Rice and the coaches for sticking to it. Rice ran hard, rushing for just 59 yards on 21 carries, but by sticking to the game plan, it brought the 49ers linebackers to the line of scrimmage.
RB Ricky Williams was the definition of change-of-pace back in this game and had quality runs in the 2nd half, giving Rice a breather on 1st and 2nd downs. That allowed the Ravens to pound the rock, and keep Rice fresh, wearing down the Niners defense. FB Vonta Leach played well, flattening a few of the 49ers defenders.
Wide receivers/ Tight ends: C+
Anquan Boldin led the team with four catches for 63 yards, finding soft spots in the 49ers zone early on in the game. Torrey Smith had two catches for 23 yards, but the key was that both players worked the middle of the field extremely well. Lee Evans only had one catch for eight yards, but it was a drive-sustaining catch late in the 3rd quarter that eventually led to the only touchdown of the game. Having both Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta playing at high levels gives Flacco a solid safety blanket.
Offensive line: B
This was one of the concerns I had heading into this game, would the line give Flacco enough time to throw, and collectively as a group they played well together. The line allowed zero sacks against a talented defensive line and kept Joe upright and making plays. Offensive guard Marshal Yanda played exceptionally well, getting into the 2nd level, pushing the pile numerous times. The line held their ground and by the 4th quarter started having their way with the 49ers defensive line.
Defensive line: A
What can you say? This is the way we thought the line would play, and after being dominated at times last week against the Bengals, set the tone and dominated the 49ers up front. Once the defense shut Niners RB Frank Gore down, they forced QB Alex Smith to make plays. The Ravens pressured Smith all night, and that led to nine sacks, tying a Ravens franchise record. DE Cory Redding recorded 2.5 sacks to go with two tackles. DT Haloti Ngata returned to beast mode, recording two sacks.
The Ravens were without both LB’s Ray Lewis and Dannelle Ellerbe, but it didn’t matter. It’s safe to say the 49ers offensive line did not graduate from Ball So Hard University, because LB Terrell Suggs had a hell of a game. The man played possessed, recording three sacks and received the Puddin’ Pie award (no he did not eat the pie, he’s watching his weight) for his efforts. 49ers left tackle Joe Staley had no answer for Suggs, and the team got a big effort from reserve LB Albert McClelland who recorded two tackles.
What a difference a week makes. Granted, the Ravens generated a great pass rush tonight to help things, but the secondary played much better than last week. They played quick and very physical against the Niners big set of receivers. CB’s Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams tackled better and got hands on passes. Webb chipped in with an interception just before halftime. Safety Tom Zbikowski recorded a sack on 3rd down in the 1st quarter. Safety Bernard Pollard had six tackles, providing solid coverage in the secondary.
Special Teams: B
The Ravens were decent at not allowing big plays from Ted Ginn, Jr. who has explosive skills in the 49ers return game. Punter Sam Koch backed the 49ers up with his punts. Billy Cundiff seems back on track, connecting on three field goals. The Ravens return game showed promise as Lardarius Webb could have found the end zone on two occasions. David Reed still struggles in all facets of special teams.
The Ravens balanced the pass and run well as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has a game plan that will be very useful for the Ravens during the stretch run. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano had his guys ready to play as the defense was fantastic. Special Teams was one area the Ravens had worries in, but they have started to right the ship. The team had this game circled on the calendar, head coach John Harbaugh wanted this victory bad, more for his team, but for himself too. The Ravens got through two very tough games against good opponents, and did it without their emotional leader, Ray Lewis. The Ravens now control their own destiny as the leaders of the AFC.
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