Who has the edge between the Ravens and the 49ers?

Aaron Wilson does a detailed position by position breakdown of the Ravens and 49ers offense, defense and special teams. Who has the edge between the Ravens and 49ers in tomorrow's game at M&T Bank Stadium?

Ravens offense: Total (20) Rushing (2) Passing (32). The Ravens wanted to become more explosive vertically this fall. Surprisingly, they finally achieved that goal last week against Seattle by throwing the football downfield to targets whose names aren't Todd Heap, the Pro Bowl tight end. He had one catch as Marcus Robinson caught four touchdowns in quarterback Anthony Wright's second start as Travis Taylor and Frank Sanders combined for six receptions for 123 yards. 

Quarterback: Anthony Wright has always demonstrated above-average mobility and arm strength. Last week, his decision-making and leadership caught up with his athleticism to engineer a dramatic comeback victory.

Running backs: Jamal Lewis is presented with an early Christmas gift: A finesse defense that allows opposing running games to average 160.2 yards and 4.5 yards per carry in losing all five road games.

Receivers: All of a sudden, this much-maligned unit is being talked about in a positive light. Without Marcus Robinson, the Ravens would have been blown out last week when the defense faltered.

Offensive line: The heaviest blockers in the league have a considerable edge in heft and attitude over a San Francisco front seven that's long on pursuit and short on bulk.

49ers offense: Total (11) Rushing (5) Passing (16). The 49ers popularized the West Coast offense under Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh. This team hasn't thrown the football nearly as well this fall as starter Jeff Garcia struggled initially before hurting his ankle. He returns this week. However, running backs Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow have become even more prominent in the offense during his absence. The running game ranks fifth overall as Hearst and Barlow have combined for 1,264 yards and five touchdowns. Regardless, San Francisco will likely miss the playoffs for only the fifth time in its last 23 seasons.

Quarterback: Jeff Garcia has missed the last three weeks with an ankle injury. How rusty will he be?

Running backs: Barlow's size and physical style complements Hearts's shiftiness.

Receivers: Terrell Owens has caught a touchdown in each of the last three games. Tai Streets shouldn't be overlooked.

Offensive line: Effectiveness has been dulled considerably by injuries.

Quarterback edge: 49ers

Running back edge: Ravens

Receivers edge: 49ers

Offensive line edge: Ravens


Ravens defense: Total (4) Rushing (10) Passing (8). Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Ravens are in an attack mode with four mobile linebackers led by Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware to go with an active secondary led by Chris McAlister and Ed Reed. Reed has already intercepted six passes and has 11 in 27 NFL games. Against the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins, the Baltimore defense held opposing quarterbacks to a combined average of a 34.8 rating. Marc Bulger and Brian Griese went 26-for-48 for 236 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

Defensive line: Major audition looms for rookie Jarret Johnson in Tony Weaver's absence at left end. Veteran Riddick Parker will provide some assistance.

Linebackers: Ray Lewis is on pace to record a career-high 222 tackles, a dozen more than his team record he set in 1997.
Secondary: Chris McAlister will require help over the top from safeties Ed Reed and Gary Baxter because of Terrell Owens' route-running and speed.

49ers defense: Total (12) Rushing (9) Passing (14). The 49ers made the Packers' running game resemble the vintage Vince Lombardi teams headlined by Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. It was simply ugly. Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport did whatever they wanted as Green Bay totaled 243 yards on 48 carries. The 49ers tried to stack nine and 10 players at the line of scrimmage, but Green Bay countered by pounding the left side of the San Francisco line. The Packers used a three-tackle alignment and occasionally had three tight ends in the game.

Defensive line: Andre Carter is the best overall player on a unit that has slipped significantly from the glory days of Charles Haley and Dwaine Board.

Linebackers: Julian Peterson is a versatile athlete. Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich get by on grit and intelligence.

Secondary: Excellent size at cornerback, although Mike Rumph can be picked on deep. Safeties Tony Parrish and Zach Bronson represent a solid tandem.

Defensive line edge: Ravens

Linebackers edge: Ravens

Secondary edge: Ravens


Ravens special teams: Kicker Matt Stover won last week's game in overtime after tying the score minutes before in regulation. Lamont Brightful is reading his blocks adeptly.
49ers special teams: Cedrick Wilson is dangerous as a return man, but the punting and place-kicking are a mess.

Special teams edge: Ravens

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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