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The success following our victory over the Arizona Cardinals came to an abrupt ending as we packed up and flew out to Baltimore to face a wounded, but still lethal, Raven organization that had obviously done its specific homework, courtesy of Jim's brother John Harbaugh to derail our Cinderella story once and for all.
The Harbaugh Bowl as it was advertised for the Thursday Night Matchup on the NFL Network Thanksgiving Night turned out to be a Raven's feast on our seemingly new and improved 2005 NFL first round draft pick in quarterback Alex Smith. Smith was literally the main course served up especially to the Baltimore Raven fans that cheered for more blood like a gladiator contest right out of the Roman Empire.
Comparisons were made throughout the last few weeks leading up to this contest that we were more than just the ideal matchup with them in having an explicit and game changing defense that dictated the rhythm of games from start to finish. Baltimore has been doing it for far longer then we have and proved that with the teacher teaching us as its pupil. Time and time again the vicious onslaught came and we were hopeless to stop it.
The facts are we had little time allotted to prepare for this game following the Sunday afternoon matchup with the Arizona Cardinals. Is that a legitimate excuse to say we could've been better prepared? The hard cold fact is that many teams must play on a short leash when scheduled for Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network broadcast. Lack of film time, practice time and analysis still play a part in our disparity.
Travel time in the flight to Baltimore is also a factor. Injuries such as the rolled ankle not completely healed on right tackle Anthony Davis was a factor as was right guard Adam Snyder having to leave the game early because of a hamstring injury he incurred that caused the underproductive Chilo Rachal to come in and start.
In fact his entry helped wipe out a potential touchdown strike by Alex Smith as running back Frank Gore picked up on a blitzing Raven safety in Bernard Pollard, by which his low block would've been legal however replacement right guard Chilo Rachal made contact with Pollard while entering and it was ruled a chop-block penalty negating the strike. Since Adam Snyder became the starting right guard back on September 25th, during a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals the line has never really looked back and has been flourishing.
Chilo Rachal became the bench warmer for good reason and as he came into this game during a critical time he again proved to be ineffective in almost anything he executed. Alex Smith suffered nine total sacks for a total loss of 44 total yards and had an interception to boot. Maximum protection sets were applied to little use as the Baltimore Raven defensive front out schemed and overwhelmed our offensive line almost right from the get go of the game.
In fact he was so pummeled from start to finish Smith was called for intentional grounding simply because he was trying to avoid a 10th oncoming inevitable sack. A career high sack total of nine times on Smith is nothing any of us want to write home about. However Smith does take accountability for not getting rid of the ball more quickly on several of those sacks and admitted it was as much of his fault as was other indicating factors about the line's injuries and just being out-schemed.
Third and long was a common theme throughout the night as Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman watched from the sidelines. In fact we were only able to convert on third down twice out of 17 situations while Baltimore Raven quarterback Joe Flacco helped convert seven out of 15 third down conversions. Joe was not sacked at all and finished with a 100.1 quarterback rating as well.
The Alex Smith to Braylon Edwards connection continues to be a problem as the two are not at all in sync with one another for a better portion of this season. Remember in the Arizona game Smith tried to connect with Edwards five times but out of the five Braylon dropped three of those potential completions. This past Thursday, Smith tried to connect with Edwards three times but he only caught one for five yards on a fourth-and-four towards the end of the game. There was also a key communication error between the two as Smith tried to hoist a pass to Edwards on the inside to the end zone but Edwards went to the outside while being covered by Raven cornerback Lardarius Webb who came up with the interception.
With either a Ted Ginn or a Braylon Edwards touchdown pass this game probably would've gone our way with some proper adjustments and wresting back momentum obtained earlier on by the Baltimore Ravens. Plays were definitely left out there on that field and the coaching staff and the players in particular the offensive line know it and must make the corrections to solve it as we come down to the final stretch of the regular season.
A loss helps awaken the senses inside of us to the harsh reality that we can't always win every game. It provides a distinct catalyst for making adjustments and changes to remedy the many situations we found ourselves in this past Thursday Night in Baltimore. I am confident that Jim and his coaches will put us in position to succeed and that the players as left tackle Joe Staley put it so eloquently, "I think this will benefit us in the long run."
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.