"I was just talking to some of the guys, and I feel like this is the best team I've ever been on," said Mark Ingram II when asked to compare to other teams.
The San Francisco 49ers faced fourth-and-1 from the Ravens’ 35-yard line with just six minutes remaining in a tie game.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo dropped back and attempted to pass, but defensive end Chris Wormley stuck his left arm up, batting down the ball and ending what would be San Francisco’s final offensive possession.
Twelve plays later, kicker Justin Tucker nailed a 49-yard field goal to cap a game-winning drive, giving the Ravens a 20-17 win.
“Man, that was awesome. Five-technique linemen do not get a lot of love, all the way back to Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban,” nose tackle Michael Pierce said of Wormley’s play. “It’s a tough position, a thankless position. Kind of like a nose guard in this defense, to be honest with you. So to see a guy like Chris in the limelight, that’s my boy for sure.”
Wormley’s deflection halted the 49ers’ potential game-winning drive but masked what was an otherwise less-than-stellar performance defending the run.
The 49ers rushed for 174 yards on Sunday, the most rushing yards allowed by the Ravens since the Cleveland Browns rushed for 193 in Week 5. Running back Raheem Mostert ran for a career-high 146 yards on 19 carries.
San Francisco found success with their zone-running scheme, headed by coach and offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan. The running scheme was made famous by Shanahan’s father and former NFL coach Mike Shanahan.
“We’ll have to look and see. We were in different fronts at different times,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Part of it is they block well, and they have Raheem Mostert, who was here at one time. He’s really quick and has a real good feel for that play.
“I know the coaching staff has been running that play [zone runs] for about 100 years, so they know how to coach it. We’re going to have to look at that, and that’s something we’re going to have to get squared away.”
Said Shanahan: “With some of the blitzes, we got them in the right looks. Just like it always is versus their defense. Then, you’ve got some that you run that you lose yards. I thought we had some good ones running away from pressure.”
On Mostert’s 40-yard touchdown run, Ravens defenders missed tackles at every level. Despite a game muddied by constant rain throughout the afternoon, defensive players said the weather didn’t have a major effect on their performance.
“It was freezing. It was rainy. It was windy,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It plays a factor but not that much. That was just more schemed-up runs, things that we need to clean up. We’ll figure it out, though.”
Even with Pierce playing for the first time since suffering an ankle injury Nov. 10 and the Ravens rotating four interior defensive linemen, the 49ers got to the edge of the Ravens defense with ease.
San Francisco’s offensive tackles and star tight end George Kittle did a good job of locking up outside linebackers Matthew Judon and rookie Jaylon Ferguson, springing holes for Mostert and other 49ers runners.
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Despite a defense that has performed like one of the league’s best since Week 7, opposing offenses have been able to exploit the unit on the ground. Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon rushed for 114 yards on 30 carries three weeks ago in a similar fashion as Mostert.
The Ravens defense has been at its best when it can play with a lead and use its sub packages, featuring multiple defensive backs. But in their first back-and-forth game in weeks, the Ravens had to use their base package more often in a game in which the 49ers established the run early on.
Pressure on edge setters Judon and Ferguson — who has made strides in recent weeks — will be an area of importance as the Ravens put their winning streak on the line against future opponents.
“They had a good scheme,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “Their offense did some good 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.”