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Preston: After struggling to stop 49ers’ rushing attack, Ravens want to sharpen their edge on defense

The Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, one of the league’s top teams, in a hard-fought game Sunday, but they have some lessons to learn.

On top of the Ravens’ to-do list is to repair their run defense. Entering Sunday, the Ravens were ranked No. 3 against the run in the NFL, allowing an average of 87.7 yards per game. Then they gave up 174 rushing yards on 29 carries on Sunday to a team that was No. 2 in run offense, but playing with a No. 3 running back.

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Raheem Mostert, a former Raven, finished with 146 yards on 19 carries and sent the Ravens coaching staff back to the drawing board.

“They ran the ball on us too much. It was outside stuff,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to look at that, straighten it up. There are a couple of things to look at, build on, and improve on, and we have to go to work on that.”

A lot of credit has to be given to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. San Francisco had a well-conceived game plan, but it didn’t stray far from what it had been doing well most of the season.

The 49ers attacked the Ravens on the perimeter and stayed away from the bulk boys inside — tackles Michael Pierce, Brandon Williams and Domata Peko Sr.

San Francisco’s attacks on the Ravens outside linebackers made sense because both rookie Jaylon Ferguson and third-year player Tyus Bowser have had problems holding the edge all season.

Veteran outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who has played well this season, is strong in pursuit, but sometimes crashes down inside too quickly on running plays. There are some who believe it is better to run at Judon than away from him.

On Sunday, the 49ers were right.

“They are a good team,” Williams said. “They had a good scheme. Their offense did some things and they got real schemed up for us. We just have to look back at the tape, go over what we need to learn, and keep moving forward.”

The 49ers also exposed a major weakness in cornerback Marcus Peters’ game. During previous stops with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, Peters was known for being good in coverage but a below-average tackler in run defense.

Fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith, in his ninth season, isn’t the same efficient tackler he was years ago, either, and maybe it’s because of the injuries he’s suffered. But when the 49ers got around the perimeter, there was a lot of daylight.

“I just think those guys are really, really good athletes,” Pierce said of the 49ers. “We’ve seen it. It wasn’t anything new, per se. They get the edge on a lot of people. If we see them again, we’ll be ready for sure.”

The Ravens might have been victims of their own success. In their previous four games, they blew out the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Rams. By building big leads, the Ravens forced opposing teams to pass, which allowed the Ravens to switch out of their base defense. Inside linebackers Josh Bynes, Patrick Onwuasor and L.J. Fort were replaced by sub packages that included five or six defensive backs.

That didn’t happen against San Francisco. The Ravens had to stay with their base look. Even with Williams, Pierce or Peko on the field, the front seven is average at best.

Bynes can’t run sideline-to-sideline, and Onwuasor is inconsistent. After seeing the 49ers’ success, the Buffalo Bills might give the Ravens similar problems Sunday.

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At this point in the season, the Ravens don’t have many options. It’s not as if they can sign big-name players off the street, and the trade deadline has passed. This week might include more work on fundamentals and technique during practice.

Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has shown a lot of different looks in recent weeks, but it might be time to go over the basics, including tackling. The Ravens missed a lot of those against San Francisco.

“This definitely makes us look at ourselves. We have some things to work on and keep getting better,” Williams said. “We can learn from this game and keep moving.”

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