How the Harbaugh bowl was lost

The San Francisco 49ers fell short in a 16-6 loss against the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving day in a game many refereed to as The Harbaugh Bowl. Brothers Jim and Jon Harbaugh met in Baltimore for a game that very well might be a Super Bowl preview due to the high caliber defenses on both sides of the ball. It was a physical hard fought game by both teams and the 6-6 score going into the 4th quarter reflected that, but injuries and penalties made it tough for the 49ers to overcome an aggressive defense who had to prove they are still a force to be reckoned with, even without MLB Ray Lewis.

[caption id="attachment_119" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Jim Harbaugh greets his brother and Ravens coach John Harbaugh"][/caption]

Coming off a short week did not help the 49ers who had to cross three time zones to play one of the premier teams in the AFC and only few days to prepare. The 49ers did gameplan for this game somewhat during their bye week however, it did not show in the play calling which lacked a pass rush and offensive creativity.

Keys to the Game:

Alex Smith was rattled early - Smith was constantly looking at the blitzers and had no chance of making any down field strikes. The repeated pressure got Smith so flustered he even failed to dump the ball off to his open checkdowns, which is normally what Smith eyes first. This is the most uncomfortable Alex Smith has looked since preseason week 1 when the saints blitzed 5+ guys on almost every play and Smith threw for a whopping 10 yards.

FB Position - Rookie stand out Bruce Miller was out of the game with a concussion which gave Moran Norris the start. Miller has been very versatile due to his athleticism. Millers absence was noticeable. Norris was slow, he couldn't find someone to block and occasionally would take himself out of the play by falling or by running into the back of his lineman. Miller even lines up at TE occasionally which means 3rd TE Justin Peele saw more snaps as well. Peele and his inability to block quick edge rushers while lined up at TE or LT helped the Ravens slow down Gore and Hunter as well.

Conversely the Ravens saw their FB, Vonta Leach, have perfect vision and understanding of what his job is. Leach blocked the play makers, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, and Justin Smith. In some cases Leach was able to pancake Willis and Bowman. Leach also was able to catch passes in the flats

Blocking Issues – Right Guard Adam Snyder got injured at the end of the first quarter. Backup Chilo Rachel does not have nearly the experience Snyder has at diagnosing pass rushes. The Ravens took advantage of this and would consistently send 5 man rushes overloaded to the right aimed at exploiting this weakness. However, Alex Smith was fooled by the way the Ravens disguised their blitzes as well and would call protections which would send Chilo Rachel across the line to help block the left, such was the case during a 75 yard TD which was called back.

The entire line had problems. RG Chilo Rachel and RT Anthony Davis seemed to be confused more than most however. Rachel allowed penetration all night and Davis was slow to block fast blitzers like Suggs and Webb.

The 49ers have some of the best downfield blocking in the league with Walker, Davis, Crabtree, and Morgan on the field. However Brayon Edwards gave no effort during any run attempts to sell his route or attempt a block. This is more than likely due to Edwards lingering knee injury.

Penalties - During crucial plays 49ers beat themselves with penalties. A 75 yard TD pass and catch was negated by a chop block when backup Guard Chilo Rachel went high on a defender who was being blocked low by Frank Gore at the end of the first half. The other penalty came in the form of a pass interference during an interception by Tarell Brown who linked arms with Torrey Smith during a 50 yd throw. This negated the interception and gave the Ravens 50 yardsds and put them in the red zone.

Vanilla defense – More often than not the 49ers would line up in their base defense and rush only 3 or 4 during pass situations. The 49ers rushed 5+ men in only 3 passing situations, twice on second down and once on third forcing Flacco to rush. The 49ers have had success getting pressure on the QB in the past with only 4 rushers so what was the difference?

Besides the fact that Oher got away with holds all night against Mcdonald and Brooks, it is the 3 man front. The 49ers are more successful at getting pressure with the Nickel personnel. The nickel package differs in 2 ways from their base package. OLB Parys Harlson is out and OLB Aldon Smith is in. NT Isaac Sopoaga is out and CB Chris Culliver is in. The defensive line then consists of Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ray Mcdonald, Ahmad Brooks. These are the 4 players who get the most consistent pressure and penetration.

[caption id="attachment_120" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Aldon Smith tackles Ray Rice for a loss"][/caption]

Weak point in the defense - NT Isaac Sopoaga was pushed back two to four yards by center Matt Birk of the Ravens on almost every play and was even benched briefly during the Ravens first drive in favor for Ricky Jean-Francois.

The Gold lining-

Ginn averaged 31 yards per kick return.

Akers is 6 for 6 on 50+ yard field goals.

33 Games not allowing 100 yard rusher.

No rushing touchdowns allowed all season.

5 straight games not allowing a first half touchdown.

4 of the last 5 games are against weak NFC west rivals.

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