Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens’ opponent that week. This week, I chatted with Jerry McDonald, who covers the 49ers and Raiders for The Bay Area Newspaper Group.
MV: How was the midseason quarterback change received at first in the 49ers locker room, and now what are teammates saying about Colin Kaepernick now that he’s running and throwing all over defenses?
JM: Skepticism was limited because Alex Smith missed his first game with a concussion and it was immediately evident that Kaepernick added a spark that turned a plodding offense into an explosive one. Kaepernick’s physicality, work ethic and reluctance to play the star impressed his teammates. Smith played his role by not making waves. If Smith was accepting it, then his teammates would accept it as well.
MV: Speaking of quarterbacks, are the 49ers confident they can beat the Ravens offensive line and rattle Joe Flacco, who with eight touchdown passes and no interceptions is having an excellent postseason?
JM: The 49ers are giving Flacco his due, particularly as a deep passer. But even with the zero interceptions, they are a team that prides itself on getting turnovers, often the result of pressure on the quarterback. There are two potential problems for the 49ers. Defensive end Justin Smith is playing with a torn triceps and is not 100 percent. Neither is pass-rushing linebacker Aldon Smith, who appeared to wear down late in the season and has a shoulder injury.
MV: The 49ers showed incredible focus and resolve in rallying from 17 points down to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game, but should anything from that game give them concern Sunday?
JM: The biggest concern would be if Flacco gets ample time to throw and gets hot, as Matt Ryan did in the first half of the NFC championship game. It’s worth remembering that Ryan torched the 49ers in the first half, and in a scoreless second half, had Atlanta within the red zone before NaVorro Bowman batted down a pass on fourth down.
MV: The Ravens D has been better than the regular-season numbers indicate, and they flustered Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The 49ers have a strong-armed QB, too, and a bunch of talented players at the skill positions. How do you think they will attack the Ravens on Sunday?
JM: The 49ers will go heavy with their pistol (running back behind the quarterback) and spread (running back offset) formations because teams have yet to figure it out. Green Bay couldn’t deal with the Kaepernick keeper, and Atlanta, fearing Kaepernick, let Frank Gore pound them for key runs inside. The pistol, in particular, has given the 49ers a play-action attack as well.
MV: We often worry here about how the Ravens will fare in particular areas and matchups. What should the 49ers worry about when it comes to a Ravens team that just knocked off the AFC’s top two seeds?
JM: San Francisco cornerbacks have been prone to giving up yardage in chunks on occasion, and gave up their share of yardage and points against both Green Bay and Atlanta, although the Packers game was under control in terms of the score. If Justin Smith and Aldon Smith can’t generate a natural pass rush, the 49ers can be had deep. If they resort to pressure tactics, Ray Rice becomes a dangerous weapon out of the backfield, as does tight end Dennis Pitta in zone situations.
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