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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Defending deep ball: 49ers' defense in focus

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Eli Manning and the New York Giants threatened the San Francisco 49ers' pass defense on longer throws.

Victor Cruz gained 36 yards on a deep pass against the 49ers. Hakeem Nicks burned the 49ers for a 32-yard scoring reception. Manning just missed a wide-open Mario Manningham for what was nearly a long touchdown pass in the final minutes of the 49ers' 27-20 victory.

These plays come to mind heading into the 49ers' game Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith have connected four times for touchdowns on passes traveling longer than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Smith, a rookie with five total touchdowns and a 20.3-yard average per reception, has the speed to get behind defensive backs. Flacco has plenty of arm. The 49ers do not have top coverage safeties.

Even so, the Ravens' ability to consistently exploit San Francisco's defense on these throws appears questionable. Two of Smith's four deep-ball touchdowns came against the St. Louis Rams in Week 3. Nothing about the Rams' defense resembles the 49ers' defense.

One of the remaining two touchdowns on these long passes beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final seconds of the Ravens' victory at Heinz Field game in Week 9. That play, coupled with the deep ball San Francisco allowed in an overtime defeat against Dallas in Week 2, requires the 49ers to be wary.

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, shows where the 49ers' defense and Ravens' offense stand on pass plays traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.

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