Each Wednesday we are going to look back on the 3 things that transcribed in last week’s game that changed the tides then look forward to the game coming up. Last week’s 16-6 loss in the “Harbowl” stopped the San Francisco 49ers 8 game winning streak, but gave them a lot of time to prepare for the division match-up versus the Rams.
The Baltimore Ravens defense dominated our offensive line at the point of attack. QB Alex Smith, who was sacked 9 times on the night, played decent for the lack of protection. I don’t know if it was the lack of game planning due to the short week or if the line was relaxed because they heard Ray Lewis was a scratch, but it was horrible to say the least. The running game couldn’t get established and the passing game never had a chance with the lack of time to throw the ball.
Penalties can kill a good team, and they did so last Thursday night. I should end the paragraph there, but for the sake of argument I must continue. The biggest play of the game was the 75 yd would be touchdown to WR Ted Ginn Jr. that was taken off the board due to an unnecessary chop block performed by OG Chilo Rachal and RB Frank Gore. Many fans, including myself who thought it was ticky-tacky, were upset by the call, but by rule it was the correct call. That wasn’t the only big penalty of the game as a defensive pass interference call took away a would be interception. In all, the 49ers committed 7 penalties for a total of 97 yards that drastically changed the outcome of the game. Coaches are always a part of the blame for penalties, and Jim Harbaugh will need to fix this moving forward.
The defense was solid, so you might be wondering why they made this list. Holding a team to 16 points and only 16 first downs for the game on the road is normally impressive, but when the defense needed to step-up on third down they flat out couldn’t do it. The Ravens offense was able to convert 3rd downs into first 7 out of 15 tries. The Ravens converting 47% of the time is higher than what the Patriots have done all season (45%). Joe Flacco isn’t Tom Brady, and the defense can’t allow this to happen against good teams if there is any chance of succeeding in the playoffs.
For the first time since week 3 we get to see how the Niners come out after a loss. If they respond the same way by going out and winning 8 straight, they’ll be Superbowl champs…
Playing the Rams at home after a week and a half off is the perfect bounce back game. Those big guys on the offensive line will be angry after their performance and nothing makes a lineman happier than when you line up and dominate the opponent with a solid ground attack. The Rams are coming off a loss against the Cardinals in which they allowed Beanie Wells to break free for a Cardinal record 228 yards and a score. This coming on just weeks after St. Louis gave up 253 yards to the Cowboy’s rookie running back Demarco Murray. Somewhere right now Frank Gore is smiling.
Stopping the pass hasn’t been a problem for San Francisco this year, and it shouldn’t be here with Sam Bradford still limited with a high ankle sprain. The problem though is the Rams were able to pass on this defense last year with some efficiency, in fact enough where Bradford was able to set an NFL record for completions by a rookie in a game. Bradford and the Rams offense will be getting WR Danario Alexander back from a hamstring injury. The Rams don’t have anything to play for in a season that was supposed to be their break out year, which makes them dangerous. Watch for misdirection and aggressive play-calling to try and catch the defense off-guard.
Get Alex Smith back on track. He has 3 interceptions in the same number of games and might be hearing footsteps after being sacked a franchise tying 9 times. We don’t need him to have a big performance but a QB getting gun-shy in December is disastrous for a team almost guaranteed to make the playoffs. Getting 200 yards, a high completion percentage, no turnovers, and most importantly a clean jersey should get him back on track and feeling good.
Overall there is no reason why the 49ers shouldn’t take care of business come Sunday. They are better in all 3 phases of the game, are at home, and had extra time to prepare. The 49ers would also like to go ahead and wrap up the division now because they end the season 3 out of 4 on the road. With the division out of the way, the Niners can turn their attention to playoff seeding and a first round bye.