Over the past couple of years, it has been the Ray Rice show in Baltimore. Lately the Ravens have been shifting to a more pass heavy scheme, resulting in Rice’s worst season since his rookie year, with lows in receiving and rushing yards for the past four seasons. Still, Rice rushed for 1143 and nine touchdowns while catching 61 passes for 678 yards and one receiving touchdown. Rice is still touching the ball upwards of 20 times a game, but the focus of the offense has shifted. The Ravens are throwing on first down more and using three and four wide receiver sets frequently, limiting Rice’s overall impact.
Against the 49ers fourth ranked rushing defense it is unlikely the Ravens will look to pound Rice 30 times, unless Baltimore gets a two touchdown lead. Either way it will be tough going for Rice, the 49ers have the leagues best linebacker tandem in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Fullback Vonta Leach is Pro-Bowl caliber, and when the Ravens go two running back sets, or 21 personnel, the Ravens run the ball two thirds of the time. When the fullback is on the field, Leach will have to open holes for Rice against a defense that knows the run is coming.
Attacking Willis and Bowman in the middle, with Justin Smith and Ray Macdonald locking down the inside lineman, is a difficult proposition. Running to the outside, attacking outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks may be more successful. Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks during the regular season, but has failed to keep containment at times, letting runners outside. Rice will be involved in the offense, but at times the Ravens may look to spread the field, and get the 49ers out of their customary base or nickel sets, which would limit Rice’s effectiveness. On the other hand, the 49ers may play out of their nickel sets despite the Ravens personnel, relying on talent along the defensive line and in the linebacking corps to negate mismatches against the Ravens running backs and tight ends.