Pre-snap read: the Harbaugh Bowl

November 24, 2011|By Matt Vensel

John and Jim Harbaugh on Thanksgiving night will become the first brothers in NFL history to face each other as head coaches. I’m guessing you have heard a thing or two or 900 revolving around that factoid this week.

I’ll spare you more details about the Harbaugh Bowl. Instead, here are five other storylines to follow as John Harbaugh’s 7-3 Ravens host Jim Harbaugh’s 9-1 San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on Turkey Day.

1. Balance, balance, balance. The Ravens ran the ball 28 times in Sunday’s win over the Bengals. QB Joe Flacco threw 27 passes. And it’s no coincidence that they scored 31 points against one of the NFL’s better defenses. Flacco threw two touchdowns passes after play-action fakes, which might not have been effective had the Ravens stopped feeding Ray Rice the ball when he got off to a slow start. Running the ball will be a challenge against San Francisco’s top-ranked run defense, but handoffs shouldn’t be abandoned if the Ravens fall behind early.

2. Winning the turnover battle: No NFL team has forced more turnovers than the 49ers, who have taken the ball away 26 times in 10 games. And they have only turned the ball over nine times this season, which is why they lead the NFL in turnover differential by a large margin. Flacco, who hasn’t played a turnover-free game since the Week 1 win, must be careful with the ball to avoid putting the Ravens defense in adverse situations.

3. The return of Ray Lewis (maybe): The linebacker was limited in practice this week, but the fact that he was out there jogging around (or whatever you do when you’re limited) has to be considered an encouraging sign. It’s a short week, and you would assume his health status couldn’t improve drastically in four days, but Lewis loves that spotlight. The Ravens could really use him against Frank Gore and the bruising 49ers offensive line.

4. The return of Vernon Davis (definitely): The former Maryland star is one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL. Davis has 39 catches for 446 yards and five touchdowns this season, and with his sub-4.4 speed, he has the ability to burn the Ravens up the seams. How will the Ravens cover him? Will they stick a safety like Haruki Nakamura or Bernard Pollard on him? Maybe Jimmy Smith will get the call? There’s no obvious answer.

5. Special teams must be special: The Ravens’ struggles on special teams this season are well-documented, though that unit avoided critical mistakes in the win over the Bengals (maybe eventually they will bust out a big return or two). The coverage teams draw a tough task on Turkey Day in Ted Ginn, who has scored on both a kickoff return and punt return this season. The Ravens can’t afford to get burnt on special teams in this one.

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