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Flying with the Flock: Ravens vs. 49ers Preview

Flying with the Flock: Ravens vs. 49ers Preview

RAVENS VS. 49ERS PREVIEW – Regular-season football doesn’t get any better than this: two respective conference leaders facing off on Christmas night, with the sport’s highest individual honor on the line.

The prescient schedule-maker who cooked this one up seven months ago deserves a raise. 

An MVP Showdown

Brock Purdy and Lamar Jackson have the two best MVP odds in the league.

A valid case can be made for either taking home the award, but for opposite reasons. Purdy is the clear choice on paper. He’s accounted for nine more touchdowns and five fewer turnovers than Lamar.

Purdy also has more pass yards, a higher quarterback rating, and completion percentage. With identical records, Purdy’s stats would ostensibly give him the edge. Working against him, however, is how much support he’s received.

His wunderkind head coach and arsenal of All-Pro weapons diminish how much credit Purdy receives. He’s been labeled a game-manager and a system quarterback.

No sane person would ever call Lamar Jackson a system quarterback. His receivers are very good, but nowhere near the one-two punch of Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

And while Monken’s offense has been a success for the Ravens, Kyle Shanahan is in a league of his own among offensive play-callers.

Jackson has been sensational beyond what the numbers suggest. Gus Edwards has poached at least five potentially stat-padding goal-line touchdowns from Jackson.

Those who’ve watched Jackson’s full season know he’s played as well as anyone at the position. As much as I love the MVP award being assessed in such a nuanced fashion, the process hasn’t allowed for such contextualization in seasons prior.

There’s been more of an unspoken understanding that the trophy is given to whichever quarterback has the best stats on the best team.

Perhaps this signals a shift to a more holistic consideration of the award, but I’m sure Purdy would be frustrated to be the first player cheated out of the old ways. Ironically, this newfound enlightenment will ultimately come down to the most archaic measure of a quarterback’s skill – who wins the game.


A basic offense with the 49ers’ talent would give most defenses around the NFL problems, but with genius Kyle Shanahan at the helm, they’re dominant.

Shanahan uses motion on over 75 percent of plays, second only to protege Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins. Such pre-snap movement gives defenses fits, changing defenders’ coverage and run responsibilities. It takes elite communication to pass off those duties on the fly, and one slip-up can be costly.

Ask Kyle Hamilton how much he enjoyed facing McDaniel’s motion-happy attack in Week 2 of the 2022 season.

That game was Mike Macdonald’s worst outing as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, but he’s had plenty of time to learn from the experience.

Coincidentally, the Ravens face Miami next week, so they’ll be getting a December crash course on the league’s trendiest offenses.

Another principle of Shanahan’s offense is stretching defenses laterally. Outside zone runs are the foundation of the scheme, and when Christian McCaffrey is finding creases and chugging away, the play-action passing game is cracked wide open.

Purdy is among the league’s most efficient play-action quarterbacks, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt. Roquan Smith, Kyle Hamilton, and Patrick Queen have the speed to limit San Francisco’s stretch run game, but will they have the discipline to corral Shanahan’s counters off of it? 

Ground Game Goals? 

The 49ers’ defense isn’t too shabby, either.

They’re second in the league in points allowed with 16.7; that’s pretty good when your offense is scoring over 30 points per game.

Teams tend to get in holes early against San Francisco, forcing them to pass the ball nearly 40 times per game, second most in the league.

Dropping back so frequently plays perfectly into the hands of the 49ers, whose fleet of freakish pass rushers can pin their ears back and hunt.

If the Ravens can stick with the run game, they might be able to exploit a San Francisco defense ranked 20th in yards per rush allowed.

The loss of Keaton Mitchell a week ago hurts that likelihood, but Gus Edwards will at least be consistent, even if he won’t rip off any explosive plays. 

Final Thoughts

The Ravens are, as a team, less talented than the 49ers. They’ll be on the other side of the country playing in a hostile environment as 6-point underdogs.

But that means that for once the Ravens get to play without the weight of expectations. Brock Purdy is not your 2023 NFL MVP, it’s Lamar Jackson.

Prediction: Ravens 31, 49ers 30

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