Ravens prepared to face likely best defensive front they’ll see all year

Andrew Gillis

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - The first time Orlando Brown Jr. got a glimpse of Nick Bosa, he knew what he was destined for right away. 

Brown, then at Oklahoma, faced true sophomore Nick Bosa, then at Ohio State, in 2017 in Columbus. Bosa finished with a sack and three tackles that game, cementing himself to Brown as one of the best players in college football.

"He's a top-two pick for a reason, I knew it then," Brown said. "He's a talented guy, plays very hard, very good with his fundamentals."

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The unique aspect of the 49ers' defensive line isn't just the 2019 second overall pick, though. It's that he's one of many top draft picks that litter the defensive line in San Francisco. 

Bosa aside, the 49ers' front four is littered with high draft picks. 

Arik Armstead, who lines up at the opposite defensive end from Bosa, was picked 17th overall in 2015. Defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Soloman Thomas were picked seventh in 2016 and third in 2017, respectively. 

Add in Dee Ford, a 2014 first-round pick of the Chiefs, and the 49ers have a defensive front that boasts five former first rounders.

"They get off the ball, they shoot up-field, they play the run with their pass rush," Bradley Bozeman said. "It's effective. It's definitely a challenge for us. It's kind of hard when we're trying to fit up double teams and stuff, and they're trying to blow through."

San Francisco's defensive front has led the way to one of the NFL's elite defenses.

They rank first in yards allowed (248), first in pass defense (136.9), second in points (14.8) and 19th in run defense (111.1). 

The 49ers make up for the dip in run defense, however, with a barrage of sacks (44) that leads the NFL. 

They also have 68 quarterback hits on the season, good for just over six per game. 

"They're physical, quick-twitch, very good with their hands and aggressive players," Nick Boyle said. "I think they try to bring the punch to you and pin their ears back and try to tee-off on you."

Against the Ravens' offense, which ranks first in yards per game (433.3), rushing (210.5), third in yards per play (6.4) and first in time of possession (35:05). 

While it will be the biggest test for the Ravens' offense this season, it's also the biggest test for the 49ers defensive front.

"Fast, aggressive, physical," Willie Snead IV said. "Their front seven is pretty stout. And they come in here with that swagger like they expect to win. It's going to be a huge challenge for us, and we're looking forward to it. We respect the heck out of them, because, shoot, they're 10-1. They deserve that."

One of the aspects that makes the 49ers' front four so unique is how much they move line around. Armstead can lineup on the inside or outside, on either the left or the right, as can the other linemen.

"We all plan to see everyone each week, that doesn't really affect us at all," Brown said. "We know they're very deep and they've got a lot of talent, so we expect to see everyone."

Against the front four, the Ravens will trot out Patrick Mekari for the first time as a starting center. Mekari took over for Matt Skura, who was injured in the win over the Rams on Monday.

The Ravens' however, expect there to be no drop-off from Skura to Mekari.

"Me and Pat get combinations every day in practice since training camp," Bozeman said. "Me and him worked together a lot during fall camp. Matt would go snap to the quarterbacks, then he would step in at center and we would run our combinations. Me and Pat and Marshal have a lot of work together."

Even though Mekari is an undrafted rookie, he's settled into a nice role in limited time on the offensive line. 

"The thing about Pat is from the day he got here, he belonged," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "There's a certain maturity to him, a certain professionalism to him that you really want out of a center. I was impressed with him from day one. After talking to him for a couple days, I was like, ‘Oh, this guy's going to be alright.'"

Mekari, and the rest of the Ravens' front, will likely have the tallest task of the season on Sunday in less-than-ideal weather. 

And if history is any indication, both teams are up for the challenge.

"Just this past Monday, we played a very athletic defensive line, front four," Lamar Jackson said. "Can't take anything away from them. So, we just have to move on, and, like you said, just keep executing and doing what we do."


Ravens prepared to face likely best defensive front theyll see all year originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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