WHO: San Francisco 49ers (10-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, 1 p.m. EST
The Ravens bring a seven-game winning streak — tied for the longest in the regular season in franchise history — into this matchup after demolishing the Los Angeles Rams, 45-6, on “Monday Night Football.”
Quarterback Lamar Jackson added to his rapidly growing Most Valuable Player candidacy with five touchdown passes and 95 yards rushing, and the Ravens mauled the Rams’ defense — which entered the game ranked No. 5 in the league against the run — piling up a season-best 285 rushing yards.
The 49ers have been the most surprising team in the league this year, sporting the best record in the NFC through Week 12 after going 4-12 last season. The 49ers bring the league’s No. 1-ranked defense to square off against a Ravens offense led by Jackson that ranks No. 2 overall and No. 1 in rushing by a large margin.
As the Ravens go for a record-setting eighth straight regular-season win, here are three key matchups to watch:
Ravens T Ronnie Stanley and T Orlando Brown Jr. vs. 49ers DE Nick Bosa and DE Arik Armstead
The Ravens will certainly rely on their No. 1-ranked run game, but when Lamar Jackson wants to pass, he’s going to have to deal with a ferocious 49ers pass rush that leads the league with 44 sacks. That’s one reason the 49ers rank first in the league in passing defense, allowing 136.9 yards a game.
Both Stanley and Brown have been excellent this year and a big part of the Ravens’ offensive success on the ground and in the air. Pro Football Focus ranks Stanley as the No. 1 pass blocker among tackles, with Brown ranked 13th.
Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft this past spring, has eight sacks, tied for the most among rookies, and 14 tackles for loss, second in the league behind Aaron Donald of the Rams. Armstead, a first-round pick in 2015, has been a breakout star for the 49ers’ defense with a team-best 10 sacks; his previous career-best was three. Pro Football Focus ranks Armstead as the No. 2 run defender among edge rushers.
S Chuck Clark or LB Patrick Onwuasor vs. TE George Kittle
The 49ers’ 14th-ranked passing attack relies heavily on Kittle, who set an NFL record for a tight end last year with 1,377 receiving yards. The Ravens historically have struggled to cover tight ends, and the job could fall to Clark in his evolving role as a dime backer. But both players, especially Clark (6-foot, 205 pounds), give up quite a bit of size to Kittle (6-foot-4, 250).
Kittle has been one of the steals of the 2017 draft as a fifth-round pick. He leads the 49ers in receptions (52) and receiving yards (670), and getting him on the ground will be essential. He led the league in yards after the catch last season with 870 and ranks second in the league among tight ends this year with 344.
Kittle missed two games with knee and ankle injuries, but returned against the Green Bay Packers last week with six catches for 129 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s an all-around tight end. Very physical, very fast, great body control.”
Ravens C Patrick Mekari vs. 49ers DL D.J. Jones
Mekari, an undrafted rookie from Cal, is expected to make his first career start in place of Matt Skura, who has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury sustained against the Rams. Mekari played tackle and guard in college, but Harbaugh said he projected Mekari immediately as an interior lineman. He also expressed surprise that Mekari went undrafted.
“To me that’s a fluke,” Harbaugh said. “I blame all the scouts in the National Football League for missing him. … We’re really happy to benefit from that.”
Mekari’s first start comes against the top-ranked defense in the league, and he will frequently be matched up against Jones (6-foot, 305), a third-year defensive tackle out of Mississippi. Jones has 20 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss.
Can anyone stop this Ravens juggernaut? If so, it might be a team that has loaded its defensive front with first-round picks, though the 49ers’ strength is its pass defense; they have allowed 111 rushing yards a game.
This Ravens’ offense has flummoxed and frustrated top defenses, and this Ravens defense has played with swagger over the past month. All of that, plus playing at home, at 10 a.m. Pacific time against a West Coast team, bodes well for the Ravens. Picking against them at this point seems a fool’s errand. Ravens 26, 49ers 23.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox