Anatomy of a dropback: 49ers at Ravens

ESPN Stats & Information

All player card statistics are for this season unless otherwise noted.When the first place-AFC North Baltimore Ravens host the first place-NFC West San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving, two elite units will square off when the Ravens have the ball. The 49ers boast a 45.2 opposing QBR this season (sixth in NFL), and the suddenly pass-happy Joe Flacco has thrown it 388 times (third-most in NFL).

So whose pass rush/protection unit gives their team the advantage in this matchup? Let’s break it down:

San Francisco prefers to pick its spots as they’ve faced 325 pass attempts when sending four or fewer pass rushers this season, the most in the league. Flacco’s QBR is 24 points higher against minimal pass rushes than it is against five-or-more-rushers, so the 49ers may have to bring more pressure than they’re used to doing. In order to generate a consistent pass rush, bookends Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks must find and expose weaknesses along the Ravens offensive line.

49ers Defense and Ravens Offense QB Under Duress This Season

But where to attack?

Overall, the Ravens have had consistency along their offensive line. The team has had 713 snaps from scrimmage this season, and four of their offensive linemen have been on the field for at least 706 of those snaps. Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, and Michael Oher have been stalwarts on the Ravens line this season.

The one trouble spot for the Ravens had been at left guard, where former first-round pick Ben Grubbs missed six games this season after straining ligaments in his right foot against the Steelers in the season opener.

Former Cowboys center Andre Gurode filled in for Grubbs at left guard during his injury, a position Gurode had never played before in his NFL career. However, Grubbs has now been on the field for all 213 snaps in Baltimore’s last three games.

Joe Flacco by Left Guard
2011 Season (Rate per dropback)

What has Baltimore gained by having Grubbs back?

Check out the chart on the right, which shows how much better Flacco's numbers are with Grubbs.

Although Gurode’s numbers aren’t bad (particularly for someone who had never taken a snap at left guard in his career prior to this), there’s a reason Grubbs was the highest-rated guard in the 2007 NFL Draft.

His return to the Ravens line has left Flacco better protected and made running back Ray Rice more effective.