Sunday, November 20, 2011

San Francisco 49ers: Things to Pay Attention to Against Baltimore Ravens

The 49ers domination of division foe Arizona resulted in some good things discovered and some really bad things that should set up an intriguing match-up on Thanksgiving Day against the Baltimore Ravens.
The entirety of the 49ers' victory over the Cardinals brings up some questions about the team, one of them being "Are the 49ers ready for the Ravens?"

Of course, they are ready. A 9-1 team in the NFL is ready for just about anything at this point, and a defense that sick can handle any offense thrown at them.

But it was the overthrown balls, blocked field goals and ejection that have some wondering about the 49ers' status for Thursday's Harbaugh Bowl.

Here are four things that need close attention in Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day.

Dashon Goldson Possible Suspension

It is unclear as to whether or not Goldson will be receiving a game suspension for his altercation with Cardinals wide receiver Early Doucet. Goldson did throw three hefty punches at the antagonizing Doucet, and that would appear to draw some sort of fine or suspension from the NFL.

Madieu Williams should replace Goldson if a suspension is carried out, which many expect to happen given the ferocity in which he went after Doucet. Williams has received limited playing time since being acquired by the 49ers this past offseason, playing in nine games while starting just three of them.

He is a downgrade from Goldson's hard-hitting prowess, but Williams can still hold his own on an NFL field.

Special Teams

Special teams has been one of the strongest assets for the 49ers this season. David Akers has been one of the better offseason acquisitions for GM Trent Baalke, as Akers has missed just five field goals all season, but just ended a streak of 15 straight made. He also is one of the best kickers in the NFL in terms of touchbacks on kickoffs. Because of that, the 49ers have been able to play the field position battle with several of their opponents this season.

It was the two blocked field goals on Sunday that can be a cause for concern against a rampid Baltimore defense. Even a punt that was almost blocked by the Cardinals off the foot of Andy Lee is a bit of something off the beaten path for this team. Tack that up to a soggy field at Candlestick Park on Sunday, if you will, but it is enough to put something in the back of the minds of both Akers and the protection on both field goals and punts.

The 49ers rely so heavily on getting good field position on offense and dishing out terrible field position for their opponents that this could be a major factor in Baltimore on Thursday night.

Alex Smith

Smith's so-so day in the pocket could be something the Ravens could target on Thursday. It is doubtful Harbaugh chooses to have Smith throw the ball over 40 times, but more surprising things have happened this season.

We can also tack Smith's erratic arm up to the soggy field on Sunday, but Smith had a hard time finding Davis and Crabtree over the top of the secondary several times. He is still learning, as we have witnessed, but there are teams that will take advantage of that and one of them is the Ravens. They will rush Smith on Thursday and force him to make split-second decisions several times, which is something we only saw Smith deal with once this season against the Detroit Lions.

In response to that, Harbaugh had Smith throw short slants and dump routes almost the entire game. We should see that from Smith on Thursday, as well.

Frank Gore' Injured Knee

Should they start him or not?

That was the debate before Sunday, and i cannot say the 49ers made the right decision there. Yes, they took him out with a few minutes to go in the game, but his 88 yards on 24 carries against the 21st-ranked run defense was something we are not used to seeing this season.

Even more, Gore will have a short week to heal from a game that maybe he should not have played in anyway. Kendall Hunter's 2.5 yards per carry on Sunday was not much better, but it could have been a small price to pay for a healthy Gore on Thanksgiving Day had the team rested their All-Pro running back.

We will see how things play out on Thursday, and i expect Gore to grab a little extra for a primetime game on Thanksgiving night, but all fingers will point back towards starting him against the Arizona Cardinals if things go awry on Thursday.

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