The rugged defense of the Baltimore Ravens is difficult enough to prepare for during a normal week.…
Game breakdown: 49ers/Ravens 'Harbaugh Bowl'
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. EDT SITE: M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore SURFACE: Field Turf RECORDS: 49ers 9-1, 2-0 in NFC West, 7-1 in NFC, 2-0 vs. AFC North; Ravens 7-3, 3-0 in AFC North, 5-2 in AFC, 2-1 vs. NFC West LAST WEEK: 49ers defeated Arizona Cardinals 23-7; Ravens defeated Cincinnati Bengals 31-24 NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: No. 20 in total offense, No. 8 in total defense. Ravens: No. 15 in total offense, No. 4 in total defense TV: NFL Network, Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan SERIES HISTORY: Fourth regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 2-1. Among the low points of Dennis Erickson's two-year tenure was a 44-6 waxing in Baltimore on Nov. 30, 2003. The 49ers are 2-0-1 in Thanksgiving Day games, but they haven't played on Turkey Day since Nov. 23, 1972. The Ravens have yet to play on Thanksgiving. The Ravens have never lost at home against the 49ers. The Ravens won the last meeting 9-7 on Oct. 7, 2007. The offense managed just three Matt Stover field goals, while the defense contained the 49ers to just 163 yards. San Francisco quarterback Trent Dilfer connected with wide receiver Arnaz Battle on a 23-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but a Joe Nedney field-goal attempt from 52 yards missed the mark, and the Baltimore offense chewed up the rest of the clock to escape with the win. KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens won't know if ILB Ray Lewis (toe) will play until game-time Thursday. Lewis could be invaluable against the powerful 49ers offensive line and RB Frank Gore (4.6 yards per carry). Baltimore will unleash a vicious blitz package to test the resolve of QB Alex Smith and the communication of a line burned for 14 sacks in a three-game stretch in September – but only 10 total since. Smith must accurately gauge S Ed Reed's intentions before the snap to avoid being baited into a game-turning pick, but with average receivers outside TE Vernon Davis is often the target to move the chains and in the red zone. The Ravens need to be wary of getting away from RB Ray Rice, even against the NFL's top-ranked rush defense, as it clears windows to hit lightning-fast WR Torrey Smith (20.3 yards per catch). FAST FACTS: The 49ers' Jim Harbaugh and the Ravens' John Harbaugh are the first brothers in NFL history to face each other as head coaches. ... The 49ers can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a loss or tie by Seattle. ... Rice has a team-high 51 receptions, and at least five grabs in eight games this season. BY THE NUMBERS: 87 -- The number of offensive plays the 49ers ran last week against Arizona, which tied a franchise high for a single game. 3 -- The number of Ravens with at least 500 receiving yards: Anquan Boldin (684 yards), Torrey Smith (590) and Ray Rice (513). No other team in the NFL has three receivers with 500 yards each. QUOTES TO NOTE "We made up our mind that this day is about the 49ers and about the Ravens." -- Jack Harbaugh, on why he and his wife, Jackie, won't be in the stands watching their sons coach against each other. "I think that they are 4-0 on the East Coast. They have made this trip four times, and they have won four times. So, I would say advantage, 49ers, in that case." -- Ravens coach John Harbaugh, on whether he could sympathize with the 49ers having to make a cross-country flight to Baltimore to play Thursday night after playing Sunday. 49ERS GAME PLAN: The Ravens or so variable on defense, the 49ers have a choice on how to attack offensively. Against the Bengals' standard formation, the Ravens went with four and even five defensive linemen. Against the Steelers' three-receiver sets, they went with a two-man line, four linebackers and five defensive backs. The 49ers have gone to three receivers more frequently, but they also like their "hammer" package, which uses three tackles and three guards. RAVENS GAME PLAN: With the 49ers bringing the NFL's stingiest rush defense, conventional wisdom suggests that the Ravens would be wise to focus on their aerial plans. But the Ravens attacked a Cincinnati run defense ranked second in the league, and TB Ray Rice recorded his third 100-yard game of the season. Baltimore should stick to that strategy, using the run to set up QB Joe Flacco for some play-action. All 14 touchdowns scored against the 49ers have occurred through the air. Defensively, the Ravens will center much of their energy on containing San Francisco RB Frank Gore. QB Alex Smith is tied with the Packers' Aaron Rodgers for the fewest interceptions by a starter, but Baltimore will try to put the onus on Smith. His favorite target is TE Vernon Davis, who leads the team in catches and receiving touchdowns, but the Ravens have yet to surrender a touchdown to a tight end this season. MATCHUPS TO WATCH ---- Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs, who lines up on the right and left, vs. 49ers OTs Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, who have been excellent in pass protection the last two weeks. Davis is hobbled with an ankle injury suffered in last week's game. After a hot start with six sacks in seven contests, Suggs has cooled off, recording no sacks in his last three games. --- Ravens WR Torrey Smith, who is a huge downfield threat, vs. 49ers CBs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, who are susceptible to the deep pass. --- Ravens WR Anquan Boldin, who leads the team in receiving with 684 yards, against 49ers CB Carlos Rogers, who is tied for second on the team in interceptions with five. Boldin likely will be shadowed by Rogers, who is experiencing a revival after joining San Francisco from Washington. Inside the camps 49ERS The sibling rivalry between John and Jim Harbaugh is the dominant story line in the 49ers-Ravens Thanksgiving night extravaganza. But hidden behind that is a matchup the NFL probably didn't expect when it scheduled the game back in April. This could be the best defensive struggle of the year. The 49ers enter the game with the league's best run defense and the eighth-best total defense. The Ravens are ranked fourth in total defense – fifth against the run and seventh against the pass. The teams are even better when considering the money stat – points. The 49ers allow the fewest points per game, and the Ravens are third in that category. "You look at what's going on over there, and it kind of reminds us of our own defense," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. "It's going to be a great challenge. Every yard matters in this game. It's going to be a slugfest." The man in the middle of this slugfest is 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The brothers Harbaugh fought over him as if he were the last yam at the Thanksgiving feast. When John Harbaugh was hired in Baltimore three years ago, Fangio was one of his only holdovers from Brian Billick's staff. Fangio became John's special assistant, and one of his duties was scouting the opposition and isolating matchups on both offense and defense. Meanwhile, when Jim was hired at Stanford, he was constantly trying to lure Fangio to The Farm as his defensive coordinator. "Well, number one is my family is in Baltimore, that's where my kids live," Fangio said as the reason he repelled Jim Harbaugh's job offers. "So that's the obvious reason, and probably the only reason at that point." With his kids older, Fangio relented and became Harbaugh's defensive coordinator last year, and that's when the Cardinal instantly became an elite college team, going 12-1 last season and earning a No. 4 ranking. Now the avuncular Fangio is revamping the 49ers' unit into a top NFL defense, and he appears concerned about the sudden spark in the Ravens' offense. "They have a really explosive and dynamic personnel group," Fangio said. "(Torrey) Smith is probably one of the fastest receivers in the league, if not the fastest. They have Lee Evans there now, so they've got two real speed burners outside. They've got a great inside receiver, when they move him in there, in (Anquan) Boldin, who's an accomplished receiver, as you guys know from his days at Arizona." Conversely, the 49ers have their two excellent tight ends, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, plus an emerging Michael Crabtree as a go-to receiver. Crabtree impressed coaches with his seven catches for 120 yards last week in San Francisco's 23-7 drubbing of Arizona. "Oh, he was phenomenal," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "(He) did a great job just catching the ball, run after catch, playing physical, exerting his will, very inspiring to us all. It was great that he was able to get those opportunities playing hard and playing fast. (I'm) looking forward to that continuing to build." The Ravens are out to destroy anything the 49ers are designing to build, and you can bet John Harbaugh's younger brother is out to do the same thing with Fangio now at his side. RAVENS For much of the 2011 season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has dominated the conversation regarding the NFL Rookie of the Year with a few votes for Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith and the Cincinnati Bengals duo of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. Torrey Smith probably won't figure into that conversation, but try convincing the Baltimore Ravens that the wide receiver hasn't been just as valuable to them as those other rookies have been to their teams. Smith ranks second only to Green in receiving touchdowns (five) among first-year wideouts, and Smith has already set a franchise record with 590 receiving yards. Smith was especially effective in Baltimore's 31-24 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, catching six passes for 165 yards and a 38-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. "Torrey is getting better each week as a wide receiver," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He did a great job, and he is a real difference for this offense against that team. They've been able to put some pressure on us with their coverage, lock us up pretty tightly, and get some pressure with their front four in past years. But with Torrey out there, he definitely has some speed and can hurt them in man-to-man coverage. That helped us out today." Smith, a second-round pick in April, was thought to be a developing player who could learn under the tutelage of starters Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans and make contributions when the offense employed a three-receiver set. But Evans has been plagued by a nagging left ankle injury that shelved him for seven consecutive games, forcing Smith's development to occur much faster than initially anticipated. Smith has not disappointed. He overtook Mark Clayton for the single-season receiving yards record with his performance against Cincinnati, and his 165 yards against the Bengals is also a single-game mark for a Ravens rookie. "I think we did envision the type of player he was going to be," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's why we drafted him. I think we did a good job of evaluating him. He's a really good person. He's a real hard worker. He's not a guy you get down on easily because he's hard on himself. He comes back and tries to improve every single week." Smith's evolution has been gradual. He enjoyed an explosive debut on Sept. 25 when he caught five passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the Ravens' 37-7 dismantling of the St. Louis Rams. Smith is still using his speed to beat opposing defenses deep, but he has also demonstrated a marked improvement in his route-running. "He's becoming a good one," Flacco said. "He is going to continue to get better and better as the year goes on. Part of that is dealing with a little bit of growing pains and having a breakout." Smith said in training camp he discovered he was running his routes without the efficiency and fluidity required in the NFL. After extensive work with wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, Smith said he is smoother in his routes and is beginning to develop a greater grasp of the offense's strategy. "To me now, it's just football, understanding the game plan, understanding my role, and basically understanding that every little thing you do is important," Smith said. "Every catch, every missed block, every penalty - everything is important. Those are things you can't afford, playing in this division. Week in and week out, you go against great defenses and great defensive backs. You really have to capitalize and take advantage of the opportunity when it does happen, because you really never know when it'll come about again." Evans returned for the first time against Cincinnati on Sunday, but he did not make a catch and was targeted just once. As he continues to re-acclimate himself to the offense, Smith will continue to be counted on to be the vertical threat the offense needs. "He stretches the field for us," running back Ray Rice said. "You've got to play us honest. For a guy like Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans getting back healthy, our receiving corps is only going to get better. He's a stretcher. He's going to stretch the field, and the thing that he's added to his game is he's catching underneath routes now. And that's big for us. Teams are going to notice that. Now he's starting to come up, catch underneath, and that's going to be big for us going forward." Personnel news 49ERS --- RB Frank Gore needs 61 yards to surpass Joe Perry as the team's all-time leading rusher. --- WR Kyle Williams caught all five passes thrown to him for 54 yards against Arizona, which may necessitate the 49ers going with three-receiver sets more often. Williams had five career receptions entering the game. --- DE Justin Smith, LB Ahmad Brooks, DE Ray McDonald and S Dashon Goldson all debuted against the Ravens. --- OT Alex Boone could get his first start if Anthony Davis (ankle) can't play. Boone needs work on his hand placement according to Jim Harbaugh, but the coach also said he has confidence in Boone. --- FB Moran Norris could be making his first start since September if Bruce Miller can't play. Miller is doubtful with a concussion. RAVENS --- QB Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns in the victory over the Bengals on Sunday, marking his first multi-touchdown game in seven weeks. Flacco's longest multi-touchdown drought in his career is seven contests. --- WR Torrey Smith owns the year's top two receiving-yards outings by a rookie with his 165-yard performance against the Bengals on Sunday and a 152-yard outburst against the Rams on Sept. 25. Smith's showing on Sunday ranks as the third most in a single game in Ravens history. --- LB Jameel McClain tied a season and career best when he made nine tackles Sunday. McClain also finished with nine tackles against the Seahawks. --- LB Brendon Ayanbadejo not only tied a season best with four tackles against Cincinnati, but he also had the first fumble recovery of his career. Ayanbadejo pounced on a fumble caused when Bengals WR Jerome Simpson punched the ball away from Jimmy Smith after the rookie cornerback made an interception in the third quarter. --- P Sam Koch finished with a gross average of 45.9 yards on eight punts and landed three of those boots inside the 20. Both the gross average and number of punts inside the 20 tied season bests.
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