5 Keys for the Ravens against the 49ers.

1. Run the football. As tempting as it must be for offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and Ravens coach Brian Billick to want to continue the increased passing profile that was responsible for the comeback victory over the Seahawks, it doesn't look like the ideal scenario for this football game.

The San Francisco 49ers are strong against the pass and excel at blitzing. In going 0-5 on the road, though, they have been completely awful against the run. The Green Bay Packers ran roughshod over the 49ers with 243 yards on 48 carries a week ago for the highest rushing total that a San Francisco defense has given up in a quarter of a century. Baltimore excels at smash-mouth football behind NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis. Lewis' shoulder is feeling much better and he has been lifting weights again. He already has tied his club record from his rookie season with 1,364 yards. His offensive line doesn't do a great job of protecting the quarterback, but is a brawny unit that isn't shy about mauling smaller defenders. Lewis needs just 39 total yards today to reach 5,000 yards of career total offense. San Francisco surrenders 4.5 yards per carry on the road and Baltimore averages 4.8 per carry and 161.9 rushing yards per game. It's fairly obvious what primary game plan the Ravens should execute.

2. Pick their spots through the air. The 49ers are adept at creating turnovers and sacks. They have a plus-12 turnover ratio and 30 sacks. It's critical that Baltimore remain careful while trying to build on last week's success by quarterback Anthony Wright and receiver Marcus Robinson. They might be on to something, especially a connection of chemistry that produced four touchdowns. However, it's worth keeping in mind that Baltimore exploited shorter cornerbacks who struggled with their technique and confidence. 

San Francisco covers well with Ahmed Plummer and has an enforcing safety in Tony Parrish. The potential weak spot is cornerback Mike Rumph, if he tries to play on a gimpy ankle, or Jason Webster, his likely replacement. No, Webster isn't as short as the character Emmanuel Lewis played in that old Alex Karras situational comedy. However, he's giving up at least four to five inches in height and several pounds to the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Robinson. 

3. Contain Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia. This is Garcia's first game back from an ankle injury and his mobility is an issue. Usually, he's as quick as any quarterback in the league outside of a healthy Michael Vick. His return, though, could spell increased opportunities for Terrell Owens. This duo quarreled earlier this season when Owens criticized Garcia in the press and they exchanged words in the locker room. If they're on the same page, it's a formidable connection for the Ravens secondary to grapple with. Franchise player Chris McAlister will be shadowing the talkative All-Pro Owens. In 64 regular-season games together, Garcia and Owens have connected for 48 touchdowns. That's the second most on the NFL's active quarterback-receiver touchdown combination list behind Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. Owens' versatile skills and size are difficult to combat. McAlister is one of the few cornerbacks with the athleticism necessary for this assignment.

4. Tackle Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow. Heart and Barlow have combined for 1,264 yards rushing and are on pace to finish with a total of 1,838 yards. They read the thunderous lead blocks of Fred Beasley, who's fast earning a reputation as one of the top fullbacks in the league. There should be some noisy collisions between Beasley and Ray Lewis. Baltimore allows 101.5 rushing yards per game.

5. Cut down on turnovers and penalties. Over the last three games, the Ravens have committed a total of 34 penalties for 280 yards with a dozen turnovers.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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