The last time the 49ers and Ravens met, in Super Bowl XLVII, the score was 34-31. If John and Jim Harbaugh somehow made it back to the big game this February, the score would probably be something like 15-12. Or 24-21, only with no touchdowns.
Despite what Steve Young tells the radio-listening masses, kicking field goals doesn’t necessarily equate to losing football. Not if you have Justin Tucker or Phil Dawson and a top-10 defense, anyway.
- Tucker: 4-for-4 (Ravens win 19-3 over Jets)
- Dawson: 2-for-2 (49ers win 27-6 over Washington)
- Tucker: 5-for-5 (Ravens win 22-20 over Steelers)
- Dawson: 3-for-3 (49ers win 23-13 over Rams)
- Tucker: 0-for-0 (Ravens win 29-26 over Vikings)
- Dawson: 4-for-4 (49ers win 19-17 over Seahawks)
- Tucker: 6-for-6 (Ravens win 18-16 over Lions)
- Dawson: 4-for-4 (49ers win 33-14 over Buccaneers)
Eight combined wins, 28-for-28 combined on field goals. Tucker is 35-for-37 on the year, and the Ravens placekicker has made 33 straight since going 0-for-2 in Week 2. His most recent field goal, a 61-yarder, won last night’s game in Detroit. Dawson is 27-for-30, and his streak currently sits at 24 made field goals since he went 0-for-2 in Week 4 at St. Louis.
Forced into field goals
It’s not like Jack Harbaugh placed his sons on both knees when they were little boys and said, “When you grow up and become head coaches, remember this one bit of advice: the key to success is kicking as many field goals as possible. NOW WHO’S GOT IT BETTER THAN US???”
Maybe that last sentence was uttered (repeatedly), but there isn’t a coach on the planet who’d prefer three points over seven. Yet the Harbaughs have been handcuffed by some offensive deficiencies they didn’t have to deal with nearly as often last year, if at all.
The 49ers started the year with Anquan Boldin and no other receivers, unless one counts Vernon Davis (which one probably should). The Ravens don’t even have Boldin anymore, but their problems were even more severe in the run game. The Ravens are 28th in yards per pass attempt and dead last in yards per rushing attempt at 3.0.
Just don’t screw it up
The highlights of the 49ers’ win over Seattle on “Inside the NFL” featured some great sideline audio. The first clip showed Colin Kaepernick shaking hands with his offensive linemen. He said, “Hey, just keep working. We’ll get into the end zone.”
Then they showed quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, who said this to Kaepernick: “I would love to have the touchdowns, but the pressure’s on (Seattle) because when they play at home, they expect a blowout, ‘We’re going to kill their ass.’ We’ve got to be comfortable in a 6-3, in a 13-7, until we can correct some of those.”
Chryst was effectively telling Kaepernick not to do too much, because as long as the defense has a lot of field to work with they usually triumph. Kaepernick (mostly) heeded Chryst’s message, as his only interception occurred deep in Seahawks territory.
The 49ers actually have the 11th-best TD percentage in the red zone (56.52%) of all NFL teams, while the Ravens are 28th at 48.89%. But over the last three games, only the Panthers have scored touchdowns at a lower rate after reaching the red zone than the 49ers and Ravens. This could be due to a variety of factors, including the quality of the defenses they’re facing, offensive execution, and the fact that we’re dealing with a smallish sample size. But those three teams also happen to have strong defenses that make conservative play-calling a more tempting option.
The Ravens won the AFC Championship by three points two seasons ago when Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in Foxboro. Enter Tucker, an undrafted free agent from Texas who has made 69-of-74 field goals (including the postseason) since joining the team.
David Akers was named First-Team All-Pro in 2011 after making 44 field goals — no other team kicked more than 33 that season, just to show how FG-happy the 49ers were in Jim Harbaugh’s first season. Then Akers became a liability in 2012, which led the 49ers to grab Dawson, the most accurate kicker available.
For the 49ers, the recent years of field goal supremacy (including Joe Nedney’s run in San Francisco) mark a departure from the Bill Walsh years, when Ray Wersching was a dependable kicker but otherwise special teams were considered an afterthought. Many of the team’s personnel moves, such as keeping Kassim Osgood as the team’s No. 4 active receiver during several games, have been made with an eye toward the field position battle. The defense-first, dominate-the-kicking-game strategy shown this year by both Harbaugh-led teams doesn’t always please the eye. However, if the alternative is to take risks their offenses can’t quite handle, they’ll be more than happy to take their three points and grind out victories that way.