Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Ravens

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's intra-conference battle between the 49ers and Baltimore Ravens at Monster Park in San Francisco, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, injury impact, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the big game.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 Pacific
SITE: Monster Park in San Francisco
SURFACE: Grass
RECORDS: 49ers 2-2, Ravens 2-2
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots

SERIES: 3rd meeting. Series tied, 1-1. The Ravens routed the 49ers in their last meeting in 2003, beating them 44-6 in Baltimore. The Ravens picked off a season-best four passes - all of which came off deflections - leading to 24 points. It was a game dominated by the Baltimore defense, which didn't let San Francisco cross its 43-yard line in its final 10 drives. In the Ravens' only trip to San Francisco, they lost to the 49ers, 38-20, in 1996.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens have scored just two offensive touchdowns with eight turnovers in two road losses this season. They are averaging 27.2 rushing attempts per game, but are expected to ratchet up the ground attack in an effort to set up more play-action for QB Steve McNair. RB Willis McGahee's production has increased every week, and he will be counted on against the 49ers' 25th-ranked run defense. ... The 49ers rank dead last in passing (118.0 yards per game), have reached the red zone just seven times in four games and have been forced to turn to backup QB Trent Dilfer, who will be playing behind an offensive line struggling in pass protection. The 49ers always lean heavily on Gore, but expect Dilfer to take shorter drops in an effort to get rid of the ball quicker in the short and medium passing games.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- The passer rating of backup quarterback Trent Dilfer when he took seven-step drops against the Seahawks. On those pass plays, Dilfer completed four of 15 passes for 37 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. 2,821 -- Miles from Baltimore to San Francisco, the Ravens' longest trip of the season.

QUOTES TO NOTE
"We have to learn from that game and focus on Baltimore. This is a big week for us to show how the team can bounce back, particularly the offensive line." -- 49ers rookie RT Joe Staley after the team's lackluster 23-3 loss to the Seahawks.
"At some point, you have to have a sense of urgency. I'm not one to think we're 2-2 and we're OK. You say that all year and then you're sitting outside of the playoffs, saying 'What happened?' Every game is important. Every game could mean the difference between making the playoffs and home-field advantage. We have to tighten these things up because we have a lot more quality opponents coming through." -- Ravens' linebacker Bart Scott, on the state of the team after dropping to 2-2 this season.

49ERS GAME PLAN: Niners QB Trent Dilfer is probably going to have to implement the same philosophy that he used during the Ravens' Super Bowl season of 2000. The 49ers offense ranks last in the league, yet they somehow the team is 2-2 this season. The Niners recorded their two victories by taking care of the ball. Dilfer's main task might be to hand the ball to RB Frank Gore. The 49ers' offensive line must do a better job of creating running lanes for Gore. In passing situations, the linemen have to protect better than they did last week against the Seahawks. The 49ers had protection breakdowns across the board, as they allowed six sacks. San Francisco has to run the ball in the neighborhood of 60 percent of the time against the Ravens. Defensively, the 49ers' main focus will be on stopping the run. They could use a bigger defensive line. Last week against the Seahawks, the 49ers scrapped their 3-4 defense and played primarily in the nickel with four defensive linemen. The 49ers believe cornerbacks Nate Clements and Walt Harris will be able to match up with the Ravens' wideouts. They will have to do a good job against the running of Willis McGahee, who has gained 376 yards on 80 carries for a 4.7-yard average. With the confidence the 49ers have in their corners, look for S Michael Lewis to creep closer to the line of scrimmage to give the 49ers an eighth man in the box.

RAVENS GAME PLAN: The Ravens defense has been too tricky the past two weeks and this is the game where they'll get back to their basic aggressive style. Expect lots of blitzes and loading the box. The Ravens are focused on stopping Frank Gore and will dare Trent Dilfer to throw over the top. Offensively, the Ravens have been too reliant on the pass. There's a sense that they'll get back to running the football against an average 49ers run defense. If they establish a running game, they will use the play action to create big plays.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- 49ers RB Frank Gore, who is the biggest threat on the team's offense, vs. Ravens run defense, which ranks fourth in the league yielding just 71 yards a game. Playing Dilfer, the Ravens will load up the box and continue their strong play against the run. The Ravens have held starting running backs to 67 yards or less this season. They have allowed just one rushing touchdown in 11 games. Gore has struggled this season, failing to gain more than 81 yards in a game this season. He fumbled twice last Sunday, losing one. He has not scored a touchdown in his past two games.
--- 49ers FB Moran Norris, who has excelled as a lead blocker, vs. Ravens MLB Ray Lewis, who leads the Ravens with 50 tackles in four games.
--- 49ers LG Larry Allen and C Eric Heitmann, who have experienced problems with miscommunication picking up stunts, vs. Ravens DT Haloti Ngata and OLB Terrell Suggs, who have a combination of power and speed that provides a test for offensive linemen.
--- 49ers LB Patrick Willis, who leads the 49ers with 51 tackles and has played consistently in the run game, vs. Ravens RB Willis McGahee, who has gotten off to a strong start in his first season with his new team. McGahee's production has increased every week. He gained 104 yards on 14 carries, but the Ravens will make more of an effort to give him more carries. McGahee should have plenty of holes against a San Francisco run defense that ranks 25th in the NFL. The 49ers, though, contained the Seahawks' Shaun Alexander, who carried 25 times for 78 yards last Sunday. McGahee has recorded five of his career 15 100-yard games against NFC West teams.
--- 49ers CBs Nate Clements and Walt Harris, the strength of the 49ers defense, vs. Ravens WRs Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, who have yet to have a reception of 20 yards or more this season.
--- Ravens secondary vs. 49ers QB Trent Dilfer. The Ravens have struggled to get any consistent pass rush without Trevor Pryce (broken wrist). But they should be able to get to Dilfer after the 49ers allowed six sacks. The Ravens aren't scared about Dilfer beating them downfield and they'll blitz more than they have the previous couple of weeks. In Dilfer's last start against the Ravens (2005), he was 16-for-30 passing for 147 yards. But the Ravens' starting secondary has just two interceptions this season after combining for 19 interceptions and scoring four touchdowns last season.

INJURY IMPACT
49ERS:
QB Alex Smith sustained a grade-3 right (throwing) shoulder separation. The 49ers say no surgery will be required. The results of the MRI examination were confirmed by Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala. Smith will not play this week against the Ravens. He is expected to miss several games. The 49ers say Smith's availability will be on a week-to-week basis. TE Vernon Davis sustained a partially torn MCL in his right knee Sept. 23 and expected to miss at least one more game with the injury. WR Jason Hill, a rookie who was expected to start seeing more practice time, might be available this week. He began seeing action in practice on a limited basis. The 49ers might opt to give him another week of rest with the bye week approaching. TE Billy Bajema re-aggravated his right ankle sprain against the Seahawks and might not be available against the Ravens.
RAVENS: DT Trevor Pryce (broken left wrist) is out until after the bye week (Oct. 28). He will be replaced by Dwan Edwards. CB Samari Rolle (undisclosed illness) is not expected to start, although he hasn't been ruled out. He will be replaced by Corey Ivy. TE Todd Heap (hamstring) did not practice and could miss his first game of the season. That would mean more playing time for Daniel Wilcox. LB Terrell Suggs (pink eye) did not practice Wednesday but should start Sunday. TE Daniel Wilcox (sprained foot) did not practice but said he expects to play. He could start if Todd Heap is unable to play. OT Jonathan Ogden (toe) had a full practice but did not work with the first team. He likely won't play Sunday. He would be replaced by Adam Terry. WR Derrick Mason (knee) had a full practice and will start. QB Steve McNair (groin) had a full practice and will start. PR-KR Yamon Figurs (shoulder) was limited in practice and is regarded as questionable. He could be replaced by Corey Ivy, but the Ravens might experiment with receiver Demetrius Williams as the punt returner.


PERSONNEL NEWS

RAVENS

--- WR Derrick Mason missed practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday with a knee injury. The Ravens' leading receiver could be a game-time decision. If he can't play, it would increase the playing time for Mark Clayton.
--- WR Mark Clayton could see increased playing time if Derrick Mason (knee) is out. Mason missed Thursday's practice and could be a game-time decision.
--- TE Todd Heap missed a second straight day of practice with a hamstring injury. That could mean more touches for Daniel Wilcox, who is also not at full strength with a sprained foot.
--- TE Daniel Wilcox isn't at 100 percent because of a sprained foot but he could receive more touches because Todd Heap (hamstring) might miss his first game of the season.
--- QB Steve McNair could be limited Sunday if the Ravens are without their top two targets, tight end Todd Heap and receiver Derrick Mason. Heap hasn't practiced because of a hamstring injury and Mason was out Thursday with a knee injury.
--- RB Willis McGahee might get his most carries of the season because the 49ers have struggled against the run and the Ravens could be missing two of their top targets (tight end Todd Heap and receiver Derrick Mason). Heap hasn't practiced because of a hamstring injury and Mason was out Thursday with a knee injury.

49ERS
--- LT Jonas Jennings was excused from practice Thursday and will not be available for Sunday's game against the Ravens. Jennings was excused to deal with a "private matter," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. Jennings will return to the team at some point, Nolan said.
--- QB Alex Smith is still sore but he feels he has shown good improvement after sustaining a separated throwing shoulder on Sunday. Smith said he hopes to begin throwing a tennis ball next week and quickly work up to throwing a football. Though it seems unlikely, Smith said he hopes to play Oct. 21 against the Giants.
--- LT Adam Snyder will start Sunday against the Ravens, as he takes over for starter Jonas Jennings, who is dealing with a personal matter. Snyder will make his 11th start at left tackle since coming into the league in 2005.
--- WR Jason Hill saw limited practice time this week, as he recovers from a left hamstring strain. When Hill, a third-round pick from Washington State, is fully recovered, he has a chance to get some playing time as the 49ers' No. 3 wideout.
--- OT Patrick Estes was re-signed this week, a month after the 49ers let him go to sign DL Atiyyah Ellison off the Ravens' practice squad. With injuries to tight end Vernon Davis and Billy Bajema, Estes could see action as a second TE in short-yardage situations.
--- RB Michael Robinson is on alert that he will be the team's No. 3 QB on Sunday against the Ravens. Trent Dilfer will start at QB with starter Alex Smith out with a right shoulder separation. Shaun Hill is the backup. Robinson started at quarterback for Penn State his senior season, and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.


INSIDE THE CAMPS

RAVENS

The Ravens had been hopeful that defensive lineman Trevor Pryce would return by next week. But Pryce, the Ravens' sacks leader from a year ago, has a different timetable.

Pryce, who hasn't played since fracturing his left wrist in the third quarter of the Ravens' win over the New York Jets on Sept. 16, said he did not think he would be ready to play before the team's bye Oct. 28.

"After the bye," Pryce said of his projected return. "I'm almost 90 percent sure I'll play against Pittsburgh (on Nov. 5)."

That prediction seemed to contradict coach Brian Billick's assessment that Pryce might be healthy enough to play against the Rams. "Obviously, he's out for this week (against the San Francisco 49ers), but that's encouraging maybe for next week," Billick said.

Pryce's absence has figured into the Ravens' lack of a pass rush this season.

Through the first quarter of the regular season, the Ravens have come up with six sacks, which is tied for the eighth fewest in the NFL. Sunday's 27-13 loss in Cleveland marked the first time since November 2005 that the Ravens have failed to produce a sack, ending a 24-game streak.

The main reason for the Ravens' inability to rough up quarterbacks is because they're too banged up themselves. Without cornerback Samari Rolle, who is out with an undisclosed illness, the Ravens aren't taking the same risks with their blitzes and are playing more defenders back in coverage.

And without Pryce, the Ravens have struggled to get any pressure with just four linemen going after the quarterback. So the Ravens need to blitz to get any pressure but they really can't gamble because their secondary is prone to give up the big play.

"I am not a catchall, trust me," he said. "It's not a lack of a pass rush. The pass rush is fine. I think quarterbacks -- and good defenses get this -- they get rid of the ball quicker. The routes are short, you're not holding the ball, you let stuff go before the route is done. Good defenses have that problem."

Pryce, who had the stitches removed from his left wrist this week, said he dislocated his wrist and ripped the ligaments. Pins are still in the wrist to accelerate the healing process, but Pryce said once those are removed he should be ready to play.

"I won't be limited," he said. "I won't put any (limitations) on myself. If they (the coaches) think he can't do this or he can't do that, that's different. But it won't be because of me."

Sunday's game at the San Francisco 49ers will be a litmus test for this defense.
The Ravens now have gone six quarters without a sack, a streak of 47 passes. But the 49ers have allowed the fourth-most sacks in the league (15), including six last Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks.

This is a prime opportunity for the Ravens to break out of their rut, especially the linebacker crew. Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott have no sacks this season after combining for 19 last season.

The most revealing statistic is that cornerback Corey Ivy leads the Ravens with two sacks, which shows that the Ravens have failed to get to the quarterback unless they send a defensive back. That's why the defense is on pace for just 24 sacks, which would be less than half of last season's total (a franchise-record 60).

49ERS

The 49ers' offensive line was the most glaring weakness in the team's lackluster 23-3 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday.

The line surrendered six sacks while committing seven penalties. The 49ers got beaten in every imaginable way, as they totaled just 184 yards of total offense. And, now, the 49ers will be playing without their starting left tackle. Jonas Jennings was excused from the team Thursday and will Sunday's game to deal with a "personal matter," coach Mike Nolan said.

"Even though I don't have an exact time right now -- obviously, we have the bye next week -- he will return at some point," Nolan said. "As is always the case, our most important interest is the well-being of our players. It's a personal issue, but he won't play this week."

Backup Adam Snyder will take over in the starting lineup for Jennings. The offensive line will try to get back on track against the Ravens on Sunday after a poor showing against the Seahawks.

Offensive line coach George Warhop has staunchly defended his linemen. He said the 49ers' line has played one poor game. He said he was satisfied with how the unit played in the first three games.

Quarterback Alex Smith sustained a right shoulder separation on the 49ers' first offensive series when a mix-up on the offensive line led to a sack. Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard landed hard on Smith while recording the sack.

Running back Frank Gore, who rushed for 1,695 yards last season, is off to a slow start. He has rushed for just 254 yards in four games, with a 3.7-yard average. The 49ers are facing a lot of defenses designed to stop the run.

"We can control what we can control," Warhop said. "Sometimes if there's an eighth (defender) there and we can't block him, he's there. In terms of the run game, I have no issues with the run game. It'll come. It'll move along and get better and better and better."



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