The 49ers hadn’t lost since September, so the question is, how will they respond after their 16-6 humbling in Baltimore? The Niners do have the benefit of trying to get back on track while playing one of the worst teams in the NFL at home when they host the 2-9 Rams on Sunday, but San Francisco’s offense may have to start making some adjustments against opposing defenses that know what’s coming.
The Ravens may have discovered a formula for stopping the 49ers during last Thursday’s “Harbaugh Bowl” in Baltimore. It includes selling out against the run, and plenty of pressure with the blitz against the pass. The 49ers allowed nine sacks against the Ravens and they did it with plenty of blitzes and overloaded pressures.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said there was no common theme to the sacks. First, the Ravens fooled the 49ers on three of the sacks. Secondly, individual breakdowns occurred on three others, and lastly quarterback Alex Smith held the ball too long for the other trio.
The 49ers have been excellent preparing for blitzes, and given a full week of practice and preparation, they are not likely to have rushers coming free. However, the team could have a problem on the right side of their line if guard Adam Snyder is out for a prolonged period of time with a pulled hamstring.
Snyder sustained the injury in the second quarter, tried to come back and was clearly limited. He sat for the second half, and that's when Smith was sacked five times. He was also called for an intentional grounding penalty.
Despite his struggles on Thursday night, Harbaugh said he has full confidence in Chilo Rachal to replace Snyder.
Rachal looked lost and his inability to recognize pressures seem to also have a effect on right tackle Anthony Davis, who had his worst game. Part of Davis' troubles could have been attributed to the ankle injury he sustained four days earlier against the Cardinals.
The 49ers run game and pass protection picked up significantly following Rachal's benching after the first month of the season. With Snyder, running back Frank Gore ripped off a team record five games of 100-plus yard rushing performances. The pass protection also improved.
Harbaugh might be propping up Rachal, because the next option is rookie Daniel Kilgore, a fifth-round choice from Appalachian State who has yet to be active for a game this year.
The 49ers are having a difficult time adjusting to defenses that are selling out to stop their run game. Not only are teams loading the box against their heavy run formations, they are also bringing their linebackers and defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage.
In the last three games, Gore is averaging a little under three yards a carry. In the prior five games, he was well over five yards.
The response is to throw, but in the last two games, quarterback Alex Smith has missed a number of open receivers and has thrown a pair of touchdowns in the end zone.
Smith vented some frustration after the Ravens loss, a game in which he only threw for 140 yards and no touchdowns.
"No one was OK with this," Smith said. "That's a big difference from previous years. We invest in each other so much, and that's why we're winning."
That investment might have to include better play from the quarterback.