Keys to beating the 49ers

Early strikes will be key for a Ravens upset

Originally Published: January 30, 2013
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders
Frank GoreAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezNeutralizing Frank Gore and the San Francisco ground game is one key for the Ravens.

On Tuesday, we looked at some of the Baltimore Ravens' worst games this season, and what weaknesses those games revealed that could come back to haunt John Harbaugh's team in the Super Bowl. Today, we're turning the tables and looking at the lowlights of the San Francisco 49ers and examining the holes in Jim Harbaugh's team.

As described in the Baltimore article, we're looking for each team's worst games as measured by DVOA, Football Outsiders' exclusive statistic that measures every play of the NFL season one at a time (explained further here). And it turns out that this is something of a challenge, because the 49ers had only two games with a negative DVOA this season, the 26-3 loss to the Giants in Week 6, and the 42-13 loss to Seattle in Week 16. Those are two very bad losses, but it's still hard to draw meaningful conclusions from a two-game sample. So, we'll have to add a trio of games in which San Francisco's DVOA barely snuck into positive numbers: a 24-13 loss to the Vikings in Week 3, a 24-24 tie with the Rams in Week 10 and a 16-13 overtime loss in a rematch with the Rams in Week 13.

Two of these games came with Alex Smith at quarterback, and three with Colin Kaepernick. Despite the youngster's playoff heroics, it's important to remember that Kaepernick has started only nine games in his NFL career, and his lack of experience could come back to bite San Francisco at any time.