NFL: 49ers-Ravens preview

The Examiner breaks down the 49ers-Ravens game, including what it will take to win, the matchups, a word about the coaches, our humble predictions and broadcast information.

THREE KEYS TO A VICTORY

1. With Alex Smith out with a separated shoulder, Trent Dilfer will get his first start since 2005. The 14-year veteran actually quarterbacked the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2000. One would take comfort in knowing the Niners have a quarterback who’s familiar with the Ravens’ defense, but seeing how Dilfer fared last week (12-for-33, 128 yards and two interceptions), we’re not exactly sure what we should be feeling. Dilfer must find ways to get the ball to his receivers in order to spread the offense.

2. The Niners will take a spark any chance they can get it. And return specialist Michael Lewis can provide that spark. Despite playing just one game with the Niners, Lewis is already sixth in the NFC, averaging more than 10 yards per puntreturn. Should Lewis find an opening, he still has the breakway speed to take one to the house, possibly setting the tone for the rest of the game. But it’s been more than two years since a Niner scored on a punt or kickoff return (Otis Amey, 2005).

3. While the offense continues to try to find a sense of identity, Bryant Young and the Niners’ defense (ranked 20th in the league) must keep the pressure on Ravens quarterback Steve McNair. Running back Willis McGahee must also be contained.

KEY MATCHUPS

Ray Lewis vs. Frank Gore

Lewis: Hard-hitting middle linebacker still the best in the business. Has 29 tackles but no sacks.

Gore: Running back from “The U” must return to 2006 form if Niners want any shot of winning.

Willis McGahee vs. Marques Douglas

McGahee: RB appears to be back in full stride. Averaging 94 yards per game but no touchdowns.

Douglas: Former Raven ranks third in tackles for 49ers (25). Must keep McNair on his heels.

Derrick Mason vs. Nate Clements

Mason: Veteran receiver is second in league in receptions (33), behind only T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Clements: Cornerback had his first interception last week. Should be able to shut down Ravens’ receivers.

COACHES' CORNER

While there are plenty of Niners-Ravens connections, 49ers coach Mike Nolan has other things to worry aboutthan sharing pleasantries with his former team. He’d like to go 3-2 before the bye.

Ravens coach Brian Billick isn’t exactly sure what type of team he has. With four weeks of inconsistency, it’s almost certain that if the Ravens get off to another rough start, they will start to second-guess themselves.

THE EXAMINER PREDICTS …

Though Nolan and Dilfer will have the Niners well-prepared for this game, Baltimore will just have too much for them to handle. It will be a close game, but in the end, another disappointing loss. RAVENS 21, 49ERS 17

Ravens at 49ers

Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Monster Park

TV: KPIX (Ch. 5)

Radio: KNBR (680AM)

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