This week, our own Matthew Stevens corresponded with David Fucillo, Editor of SBNation's Niners Nation. The two discussed everything under the sun about these two teams in the leadup to this matchup of two cellar dwellers.
1) The 49ers entered the season looking to take the next leap. They signed Torrey Smith to a decent contract and looked to have a defense that should be solid enough to win a bunch of games. Then the retirement parade came to town and it looks like the organization did a 180 and is now in rebuild mode. Is that accurate or is this still a team that can compete with the best of them?
It can compete with some teams, but I'm not sure with "the best of them." They seem to be in some purgatory between "rebuilding" and "reloading". They have some talented guys, they have some guys that are a long way from doing anything. This feels much like the "peak" of the Mike Singletary era. In that stretch, the team could hang around a lot of games, but were wildly inconsistent, and lost plenty of games accordingly. Realistically, this game could be the most winnable on the schedule until December. The offensive identity seemed to be one of a strong ground game, but the offensive line is wildly inconsistent. The defense seems to be blitzing and disguising, but the talent is just not there. Rebuilding is too easy a term for a team that just seems to be in purgatory.
2) Colin Kaepernick seems to have had a regression after his contract. The 49ers are sitting at 31st in passing yards per game while Kaepernick has thrown only 4 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. With the added weapons on offense, is this just an adjustment period while he gets used to the new offense or has Kaepernick just been figured out by defensive coordinators?
There are a couple possible reasons. The pro-Kap contingent points to the offensive line and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. The line has been a problem, but we might be seeing a necessary change at right guard. Chryst has had some questionable play-calling at times, refusing to go deep nearly enough for some fans. Of course, I do think Kap has hit a ceiling at this point. He has a ton of talent, but he struggles finding open guys further down his progressions, and he will laser in on a single player, making for easy picks. There is a ton of talent in his arms and legs, but he is just not harnessing them. I think he has enough talent that he will be able to overcome strong defensive game-plans, but he is going to remain wildly inconsistent.
3) Even though the passing game has yet to take off for the team, the running game is doing pretty well behind Carlos Hyde and even Colin Kaepernick. Meanwhile the Ravens have done a good job at stopping running attacks all season long, but have been awful through the air. How do you think the 49ers will attack the Ravens defense to get the best matchups and continue drives?
The 49ers ground game had a big performance in Week 1, and then a solid game in Week 5. Their best success comes running to the left side. The right side of the line is undergoing some change at right guard, but the 49ers best success remains on the left side. They won't run exclusively to the left, but the longer runs will come off Alex Boone and Joe Staley. They have moved Andrew Tiller in at right guard, at least in a rotation, but possibly full time. He is a better guard than Devey, so this could lead to more success for them on the right side.
4) The Ravens offense has not gotten a ton of press, but they are putting up points, sitting at 10th in the league per game average. The 49ers defense has been one of the worst this season, giving up tons of points and yards. Even though the Ravens offense looks to be without it's biggest weapons, do the Niners have anything up their sleeve that could stop the big bodied wide receivers that the Ravens have and the run game that has picked up the pace?
The key will be the pass rush. When they struggle to get pressure, quarterbacks light them up. The good news is they should have outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks back after he missed last week's game to deal with a death in the family. Brooks and Lynch are the best pass rushers on the team, so look for them to be the focus of the pass rush. The 49ers best chance of success is to go some basic nickel defense and man coverage in the secondary. When the 49ers do that, they find success. When they disguise things, they struggle. Of course, the Giants chewed them up over the middle, so all that might not matter.
5) Much has been made about this being a reunion of two teams that played in the Super Bowl not too long ago. The Ravens don't seem to have that mindset that they need to show up the 49ers again or that they need to win it for Jim Harbaugh, but what is the feeling in San Fran?
Nobody really views this as a Harbaugh seeking revenge. That being said, I think some 49ers fans (including myself) would pay good money to see Jim Harbaugh show up on the Ravens sideline to show up CEO Jed York. But beyond that, the 49ers disaster of a season keeps fans plenty pre-occupied. I'm sure having a Harbaugh on the other sideline is something people notice, but for the most part, it's no big deal.
6) What is your prediction for this toilet bowl?
I'll go with a 49ers win 24-20. They face a lot of tough games over the next month, but I think they can take advantage of this opportunity. If the team sticks with Tiller at right guard, that would hopefully boost the offense. The defense has played much better at home than on the road, which cold benefit the team. And here's hoping Justin Forsett and Steve Smith don't play!