Ravens, 49ers both feature formidable pass rushers

OWINGS MILLS - "When it's third-and-long in this league, you had better hold on to your shorts." That football truism from Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto definitely applies to the San Francisco 49ers' pass rushers and blitz-oriented scheme.

Colletto made his statement minutes before heading back to his office to study more film of swift defensive end Andre Carter and outside linebacker Julian Peterson.  Meanwhile, 49ers offensive line coach Patrick Morris was likely plotting how to derail the Ravens' sack artists for Sunday's encounter at M&T Bank Stadium between two of the best third-down defenses in football.

Led by bookend outside linebackers Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs, Baltimore (6-5) ranks first in the league in quarterback sacks with 31 followed by the 49ers' second-place total of 30.  Boulware and Suggs had two sacks apiece in a 44-41 overtime win over the Seahawks as Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was captured six times. A first-round draft pick, Suggs has eight sacks after setting an NCAA single-season mark with 24 last year at Arizona State. A Pro Bowl selection, Boulware has 5 ½ sacks even though he draws double-team blocking. "We take the attitude that's it's a race to the quarterback," Suggs said. "If I don't get him down on the ground, then I know Pete is there to put some heat on, too."
While the Ravens tend to create pressure with their defensive line primarily when Boulware and Suggs operate as rush ends, San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora, Jr. relies heavily upon blitzes from his linebackers and defensive backs.

Baltimore has given up 31 sacks this season. "They blitz more than a lot of the teams we've played," Colletto said. "They have good quickness and good pass rushers. You have to account for everybody."

San Francisco (5-6) never had much a chance to blitz during last week's 20-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Behind running back Ahman Green, the Packers rambled for a team total of 243 rushing yards on 48 carries as the Green Bay offensive line pounded the 49ers' undersized front seven. Carter had the lone sack. There weren't many third downs, or passes even though the Packers feature Brett Favre under center. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Bryant Young looked like everything except for a past all-star performer.

NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis can't wait to run against a defense that gives up an average of 160.5 rushing yards in going 0-5 on the road this year. "It was beautiful," Lewis said of how the Ravens' passing game took defenders away from the line of scrimmage last week. "I looked out there and I saw seven people in the box. I hadn't seen that since Pittsburgh."
In long-yardage situations, Baltimore will have to watch out for Carter and Peterson. Both are long-limbed athletes who resemble basketball players. They have combined for 10 sacks.
"They are very impressive," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "This is maybe the most athletic, fastest defense we've faced."

Quarterback Anthony Wright was sacked six times against Seattle with a few coverage sacks caused by receivers not gaining separation or him waiting too long.  "We're obviously concerned," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "The 49ers are all hustler type guys. We've got to step it up. "We gave up six sacks last week and not all of them were our fault, but we take any sack on our shoulders."

Baltimore sports a significant weight advantage over the 49ers.  The Ravens have the heaviest offensive line in the NFL, averaging 329.5 pounds, behind the 345-pound Mulitalo, guard Bennie Anderson (6-5, 345) and tackles Jonathan Ogden (6-9, 340) and Orlando "Zeus" Brown (6-7, 365). Carter is only 6-4, 265 pounds and is flanked by 268-pound end John Engelberger with smallish tackles in Young (6-3, 291) and Travis Kirschke (6-3, 292).

Are the 49ers simply too small to grapple with the Ravens? "I think that's our advantage," Mulitalo said. "We are the typical big, physical line, so I think that can work to our advantage."
Meanwhile, the 49ers' banged-up offensive line has allowed 21 sacks. 

The Ravens' fourth-ranked defense only had 33 sacks all of last season. Fifteen of their 31 sacks this fall have come on third down. With 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia returning from an ankle injury, it remains to be seen how elusive he'll be for the Ravens to chase down. "Garcia is pretty quick," Suggs said. "You can't give anyone all day back there to throw."

NOTES: Wide receiver Marcus Robinson, who was added to the injury report Thursday because of pain in the lining of his chest wall, feels better. "It was nothing big-time like the thorax," trainer Bill Tessendorf said. "He felt great this morning and did some running around."

San Francisco offensive guard Ron Stone, already questionable with a hamstring pull, didn't make the trip to Baltimore. He has the flu and is running a high fever. 
Peterson also has the flu and was spotted wearing a surgical mask this week by San Francisco reporters in a possible quarantine measure.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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