Running is the basis to the San Francisco 49ers success on offense, but it’s not the entire story. Colin Kaepernick has a great arm and a bunch of talented receivers to use when he wants to take the load of his own legs or Frank Gore. The Baltimore Ravens will struggle finding answers in order to contain them.
The 49ers don’t even need Kaepernick to run wild in order to win a game. The Atlanta Falcons did a good job in containing him inside the pockets, but that was just what the 49ers wanted to happen. Before Kaepernick, believe it or not, they were still one of the best running teams in the NFL, thanks to Frank Gore and a huge offensive line, specializing in run-blocking, without a single guy who weighs less than 315 pounds.
Joe Staley and Mike Iupati are pretty much as good as it gets when it’s about clearing space for Frank Gore or LaMichael James to run through. But running isn’t the only weapon – Kaepernick was 16-21 against the Falcons, although he probably won’t try and do those quick strike screens to Crabtree once again; Atlanta are not the kind of tackling team the Ravens are, especially with Ray Lewis in the middle and Cary Williams and Corey Graham at corner.
The 49ers like to throw on first down after using a play-action. This usually happens in one or two-WR sets, but Vernon Davis and the other tight end, Delanie Walker, are just as likely to get involved. The Niners love using two WR, two TE sets, with Moss and Crabtree on one side of the line of scrimmage, Davis and Walker on the other. They also like to keep things simple for Kaepernick. When the second year quarterback does change things at the line of scrimmage, it usually means it’s going to be a read-option run.
But the Ravens have tools to match-up with the Nines. If Haloti Ngata is healthy, getting a bye week to rest, he matches up well in size against the Niners O-Line. Terrence Cody and Ma’ake Kemoetau are good against double teams, while Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger being very hard to stop around the edges. Ray Lewis back in the middle makes the Ravens a lot harder to run against.
The Ravens will probably play in quarters coverage, with Ed Reed dropping the deepest of the DBs, which is also a relatively safe way to defend against the run and the read-option. With this kind of defense, especially against what the Niners bring to the table, a lot is riding on Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard to make the right decisions – recognizing when to drop back and when to move forward, when they see Kaepernick holding on to the ball.
To prevent the long scrambles, the Ravens will probably use one of their safeties as a spy on Kaepernick, enjoying the fact that the Niners don’t have another receiver next to Crabtree with exceptional individual abilities. What’s more, man-free lurk is a coverage that can be disguised easily. It’s a great way to eliminate seam routes, which the Niners love to throw for Davis, working behind any blitz as well.