Brock Purdy

Five 49ers to watch in Christmas Day matchup vs. Ravens

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SANTA CLARA — Nothing is wrapped up, yet.

Hours after most households have unwrapped whatever is stationed under their trees, the 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will aim to take a step closer to wrapping up their postseason fates on Monday.

The 49ers and Ravens both enter the Christmas night game at 11-3 and tied for the best record in the NFL. Both teams currently hold the No. 1 spots in the NFC and AFC. The top seed in each conference earns the only first-round bye and home-field advantage in the postseason.

This is about as good as it gets for an NFL regular-season game.

In fact, this game features only the third matchup of teams with the best outright records in each conference in December or later since the 1970 merger.

The stars will be out, including three of the top candidates for NFL Most Valuable Player.

And here are five 49ers who figure to face the biggest challenges in the final game of the NFL’s Week 16 slate of games:

5, C Jake Brendel

Center Jake Brendel will be tested mentally and physically in this game like in no other game this season. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald deploys a variety of defensive fronts to test the rules of opposing offenses.

Brendel is the one responsible for communicating the adjustments in pass protection to prevent any unblocked rushers and provide quarterback Brock Purdy with as much time as possible.

In addition, the Ravens pose a major threat on the interior of the defensive line, specifically with defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, one of the front-runners for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. 

Madubuike has a career-high 12 sacks and has registered at least a half-sack in 11 consecutive games. If he gets to Purdy on Monday, he will become the first player with a sack in 12 consecutive games in the same season since 1982.

4, CB Deommodore Lenoir

Nickel back Deommodore Lenoir will be tested throughout the game, whether he is covering Ravens slot receivers Zay Flowers or Nelson Agholor or staying disciplined with his run fits against dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“It’s definitely a difficult task,” 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “I think Demo is up for it.”

Lenoir certainly has been up to the task for the 49ers after taking over as the full-time nickel back after the bye week. He already has career-highs with two interceptions and eight passes broken up. He enters Monday’s game with 76 tackles.

Lenoir’s ability to play the pass and the run against the Ravens could be his biggest challenge of the season.

3, LB Fred Warner

Linebacker Fred Warner might be down on the list of favorites for the Defensive Player of the Year at this point, but he is fully capable of taking advantage of this heightened platform.

Warner, as much as anyone on the 49ers’ defense, will be tested in all areas against Jackson and the Ravens offense.

Tight end Mark Andrews remains on injured reserve after undergoing ankle surgery a month ago. But second-year pro Isaiah Likely has taken over and put up some numbers. Likely has 14 receptions for 193 yards and three touchdowns in the past three games.

Warner leads the 49ers with 116 tackles. He also has 2.5 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Warner will play a huge role in making sure Jackson does not escape the pocket for big gains with his legs. The 49ers’ defense knows they are capable of derailing all the talk about Jackson as NFL MVP and shining the spotlight onto their own candidates.

2, RB Christian McCaffrey

The 49ers have plenty of playmakers on offense but among that group, running back Christian McCaffrey stands out.

McCaffrey leads the NFL with 1,801 scrimmage yards (1,292 rushing and 509 receiving). And he’s tied for the league lead with 20 touchdowns, including a single-season club record of 13 on the ground.

He had a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals last week for the fourth time this season and the 15th time in his career. His next game with scores rushing and receiving will break a tie with Marshall Faulk for No. 1 on the all-time NFL list.

This game provides a must-see matchup with one of the better linebacker duos in the NFL. The Ravens are in a unique spot to contend with McCaffrey. Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen, a pair of fast and physical linebackers, will undoubtedly see plenty of McCaffrey throughout the game.

1, QB Brock Purdy

With three games remaining in the regular season, Purdy is considered the favorite for MVP. He could almost lock down the award with another big game Christmas night against the stout Ravens defense.

He leads the NFL with a passer rating of 119.0. In the 49ers’ 45-29 victory over the Cardinals last week, Purdy had a passer rating of 130 or higher for the sixth time this season. No quarterback in NFL history recorded a passer rating of at least 130 seven times in a single season.

Purdy’s biggest challenge will be to diagnose the Ravens' pass rush and figure out (quickly) where to go with the football. The Ravens lead the NFL in sacks, and they try to confuse offenses at the line of scrimmage with their seven- and eight-man fronts that aim to disguise which defenders are rushing and which are dropping into coverage.

“We have our plan and we're just going to continue to play our style of ball,” Purdy said. “There are some things that you have to be ready for and take into account every play with their players and what we're trying to get done.”

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