In preparing for Christmas Night’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, Niners Nation’s Ryan Bainbridge and I sat down for a short Q&A for one another’s publications.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. The San Francisco 49ers are the No. 1 rated team by DVOA, and according to the creator of DVOA, Aaron Schatz, are one of the best-ever in the DVOA era. Can you give a shortened version of what has them on such a dominant run this season?
DVOA is one of the most robust measures of team success and efficiency on a down-to-down basis versus league averages. San Francisco is great offensively at converting plays into new first downs or touchdowns and defensively are great at getting stops, forcing turnovers, or getting off the field after long drives. It’s no question the 49ers combination of dynamic players at every level of both the offense and defense and their coaching have hit a level of play that is rarely seen in the NFL.
Offensively, it starts with Brock Purdy. We haven’t seen a quarterback operate the Shanahan offense at this level since Matt Ryan in his 2016 MVP season. Purdy has shown he can throw the ball all over the field and make quick reads, progressions, and decisions to maximize each play. Defensively, the Niners have the front four to dominate most any offensive lines. DC Steve Wilks feels comfortable dropping 7 at all times, especially with the coverage skills of the two starting linebackers - Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Warner is the key to making it all work and having a terrific season as the leader of the unit.
2. We’ve heard a lot of pundits and talking heads’ opinions on quarterback Brock Purdy. But you’ve watched him each game. You likely know what makes him so effective, and also what might be his deficiencies, or ways for the Ravens to get him off his game. Can you talk a bit about both?
It seems like most people unfortunately fall on one extreme or the other when talking about Purdy. The constant debate about his abilities has really dampered what’s been a phenomenal season of quarterback play. As mentioned, Purdy has shown incredible quickness and decision making. He goes through his progressions with haste, is rarely fooled by opponent coverages, and seems to always have an answer no matter how a play develops. Those are intangibles that separate him from a lot of other starting quarterbacks in today’s NFL but people don’t like to point to those traits as reasons a QB could be considered “elite”. Purdy has also shown he can create when things don’t go to plan - something we in San Francisco have not had out of the position during the Shanahan Era.
I think a lot of Purdy haters will say there are plenty of deficiencies in his game that opposing defenses can take advantage of, but he has seemingly produced regardless of circumstances. Blitz him? He’s the best against the blitz. Don’t let him throw short? He will throw it over your safeties heads. Don’t give him the middle of the field? He will attack outside the numbers with confidence. Really right now there aren’t a ton of things that have shaken him. If I were the Ravens and had to knock him off his game, I would say getting interior pressure with four is a good place to start. And that’s something Baltimore looks pretty good at doing. Having safeties and linebackers that aren’t liabilities in coverage is another point of emphasis for stopping the 49ers passing attack, which again Baltimore possesses.
3. The 49ers offense has been the talk of the town, but their defense is also a top-tier unit. It would appear their production starts with the pass rush, but where does the success grow from there? If you were the Ravens offensive coordinator, how would you try put points on the board against this defense?
As mentioned, the success of the defense is spearheaded by the pass rush but captain’ed by Fred Warner. Warner is a phenomenal player in space and has fantastic instincts against the run and pass. However, San Francisco has been susceptible to strong rushing attacks this season. They’ve had trouble the past few seasons to defend against runs between the tackles, where their interior defensive line fails to anchor well enough for the linebackers to cut off the flow of the play. And more worrisome is that the 49ers tackling the last few weeks has been atrocious. The last three games the defense has missed 12, 14, and a season-high 16 tackles. Those numbers are concerning when gearing up for the number one rushing team and the best mobile quarterback in football.
4. Who are two 49ers players (one offense/ one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t household names?
There aren’t a ton of non-household names right now making an impact for San Francisco, but I will start with safety Ji’Ayir Brown on defense. Brown was the teams first selection in the 2023 NFL draft in the third round. The goal for this year was to have him sit behind the starters and develop into a replacement for the aging Tashaun Gipson next year. But Talanoa Hufanga has torn his ACL, putting him on IR. Brown has stepped in and the defense hasn’t lost a beat. Richard Sherman recently praised the rookie for his ability to blend in - “The greatest compliment that I think I can give you, is that you don’t notice you out there. You don’t notice you’re a rookie, you don’t notice you in the best possible way.”
On offense, Jauan Jennings is often the overlooked skill player on a team loaded with stars. Jennings has been known to come up with big catches in crucial situations. He also brings a tenacity to his blocking and an attitude to the overall offense you rarely see from a wide receiver. Even though he isn’t involved in the gameplan weekly due to the amount of talent surrounding him, having Jennings on the field has shown to be a difference maker at times.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook set the line for this game at 49ers -5. Share why you agree/disagree.
I think this will be another fun challenge for the 49ers. If Baltimore can sustain drives with the running game and control the clock, it could get hairy. But I believe there are some advantages San Francisco has in the passing game that could lead to a more lopsided affair. Much like the Philadelphia game a few weeks ago, I don’t see either team being shaken by the pressure of the moment. Both teams are coached extremely well. But I like the Niners chances with an extra day of prep, and I think they win by a touchdown or more, so I am taking them to win and cover!