Ravens passing game vs. 49ers passing defense

While his offensive teammates spent the week insisting that <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT0000012410" title="Joe Flacco" href="/topic/sports/football/joe-flacco-PESPT0000012410.topic">Joe Flacco</a> (pictured) has played this way all year, there's no disputing that the quarterback has elevated his game significantly in the playoffs with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Exhibiting a better pocket presence, he's found open receivers underneath and kept defenses honest by taking deep shots. The reshuffled offensive line has mostly given him a clean pocket and his wide receivers have made some tough plays in traffic. However, the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ORSPT000161" title="Baltimore Ravens" href="/topic/sports/football/baltimore-ravens-ORSPT000161.topic">Ravens</a>' task will be much harder this week against a defense that hits hard and covers a lot of ground.<br>
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The <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ORSPT000057" title="San Francisco 49ers" href="/topic/sports/football/san-francisco-49ers-ORSPT000057.topic">49ers</a> have three <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="EVSPR000032" title="NFL Pro Bowl" href="/topic/sports/football/nfl-pro-bowl-EVSPR000032.topic">Pro Bowl</a> defensive backs and they finished the regular season with the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ORSPT000007" title="NFL" href="/topic/sports/football/nfl-ORSPT000007.topic">NFL</a>'s fourth-best passing defense, allowing just over 200 passing yards per game. But this group has looked vulnerable in the playoffs. In the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="EVSPR00003532" title="National Football Conference" href="/topic/sports/football/national-football-conference-EVSPR00003532.topic">NFC</a> championship game, the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ORSPT000032" title="Atlanta Falcons" href="/topic/sports/football/atlanta-falcons-ORSPT000032.topic">Atlanta Falcons</a>' <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT00008911" title="Matt Ryan" href="/topic/sports/football/matt-ryan-PESPT00008911.topic">Matt Ryan</a> threw for 396 yards and wide receiver <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT000009781" title="Julio Jones" href="/topic/sports/football/julio-jones-PESPT000009781.topic">Julio Jones</a> torched whoever was covering him. Safeties <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT0013624" title="Dashon Goldson" href="/topic/sports/football/dashon-goldson-PESPT0013624.topic">Dashon Goldson</a> and <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT0014381" title="Donte Whitner" href="/topic/sports/football/donte-whitner-PESPT0014381.topic">Donte Whitner</a> (pictured) are big hitters and playmakers. Outside linebacker <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PESPT000009814" title="Aldon Smith" href="/topic/sports/football/aldon-smith-PESPT000009814.topic">Aldon Smith</a> finished the regular season with 19.5 sacks, but he's been shut out in five straight games.<br>
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<b>EDGE</b>: Ravens

( Reuters and Getty photos )

While his offensive teammates spent the week insisting that Joe Flacco (pictured) has played this way all year, there's no disputing that the quarterback has elevated his game significantly in the playoffs with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Exhibiting a better pocket presence, he's found open receivers underneath and kept defenses honest by taking deep shots. The reshuffled offensive line has mostly given him a clean pocket and his wide receivers have made some tough plays in traffic. However, the Ravens' task will be much harder this week against a defense that hits hard and covers a lot of ground.

The 49ers have three Pro Bowl defensive backs and they finished the regular season with the NFL's fourth-best passing defense, allowing just over 200 passing yards per game. But this group has looked vulnerable in the playoffs. In the NFC championship game, the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards and wide receiver Julio Jones torched whoever was covering him. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner (pictured) are big hitters and playmakers. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith finished the regular season with 19.5 sacks, but he's been shut out in five straight games.

EDGE: Ravens

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Jeff Zrebiec has been with The Sun since 2000 and covered the Orioles from 2005 through 2011. A New Jersey native, he was a 2001 graduate of Loyola University in Baltimore. He also has covered University of Maryland basketball and college lacrosse during his time with The Sun.

Aaron Wilson joined The Baltimore Sun in August 2012 after 11 years at the Carroll County Times. He's entering his 12th year on the Ravens' beat. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans. Wilson attended East Carolina University.

Mike Preston has been with The Baltimore Sun since 1983. Prior to becoming a columnist in 2000, he covered the Ravens for four years. Preston is a native of Essex and a graduate of Towson State University, where he played football.

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