The 49ers have faced several tough challenges throughout their 10-1 start to the season, and have passed with flying colors nearly every single time. But next week, they'll face their most formidable challenge yet -- and possibly all season long -- in Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
If you watched Baltimore's beatdown of the Rams on Monday night, you don't need an explanation as to why. But for those of you that saw the blowout score and chose not to tune in -- and have been living under a rock for the last few months -- it doesn't take long to explain why Jackson poses such a unique threat.
He came into the game against Los Angeles on pace for the most single-season rushing yards ever by a quarterback, and then proceeded to gash the Rams for 95 yards on eight rushing attempts, falling just shy of his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
But that's not where he did the vast majority of his damage. As good as Jackson was with his legs, he was even more prolific with his arm, completing 15-of-20 pass attempts for five touchdowns and a 139.4 passer rating. That made him the youngest player in NFL history with multiple games with five touchdown passes in the same season. Sure, he only had 169 yards passing against the Rams, but that becomes less of a concern when a team can rush for 285 yards, as the Ravens did Monday night.
That wasn't an anomaly, either. Baltimore came into Monday night averaging 203.1 rushing yards per game. The 49ers rank second in the league with an average of 145.6. Yes, Jackson is a big part of that, but running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards form one of the best tandems in the NFL.
And therein lies the problem for San Francisco. In what is expected to be a bad weather game in Baltimore on Sunday, the 49ers rightfully will focus on stopping the Ravens' rushing attack. But Jackson's dual-threat ability might be impossible to account for, and the 49ers haven't exactly had their best performances this season against mobile quarterbacks.
San Francisco looked most vulnerable in Weeks 9-11, and that's not a coincidence. The 49ers faced Arizona's Kyler Murray twice and Seattle's Russell Wilson once over that span, and they're probably the two most dynamic QBs in the league -- outside of Jackson. The Seahawks beat San Francisco, and the Cardinals nearly did the same ... twice. Clearly, Seattle is a good, possibly great team. But right now, if the 49ers aren't the best team in the NFL, most would say the Ravens are.
The Niners have one of the two best defenses in the league, and their 44 sacks are more than any other team. They feast on immobile QBs, and while you wouldn't call Aaron Rodgers immobile, San Francisco just limited the future Hall of Famer to arguably the worst performance of his career.
Even when the 49ers were leading 10-0 over Green Bay, Jimmy Garoppolo got on his team to pile on more points, knowing 10 wouldn't be enough to beat Rodgers.
Actually, it was, as San Francisco coasted to a 37-8 home win.
It won't be enough to beat Jackson and the Ravens -- who lead the league with an average of 35.1 points per game -- on the road Sunday. Not even close.