The Super Bowl: San Francisco 49ers v. Baltimore Ravens
Sunday February 3, 2013 6:30 PM
Line: Ravens +3.5 O/U 48
And here we are, at the end of all things, staring out at the vast unknown. Calm, assured, and ready for what may come. It’s been a long season full of highs (the Mile High Miracle) and lows (getting hoss whipped by Houston), but finally, after three attempts in five years, our beloved Ravens got over the hump and have battled their way into the Super Bowl. How will Ray’s retirement party play out? With a parade? Or with bitter defeat? With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s keys to the game.
Baltimore Gridiron Report Keys to the Game
1st and Ten: The Good
During the last five weeks of play the 49ers have suffered greatly without a healthy Justin and Aldon Smith. The pass rush has been largely anemic and opposing quarterbacks have been absolutely torching an overrated secondary unit. Taking a look back at the game against the Patriots, Brady was able to shred the 49ers for drives of 70+ yards on at least five different occasions. He hit them for gains of 7-9 yards over and over again knowing that the Linebackers were exposed without significant pressure from the ends.
Brady has a habit of making other teams look bad, but keep in mind what Joe Flacco has been able to accomplish this postseason. He’s been on fire and has been torching defenses that are far better than the 49ers. The secret to winning this game is giving Joe time and letting his talent take over. The Ravens have to go for the throat early and keep on the gas for sixty minutes.
2nd and Long: The Bad
So if the 49ers’ lack of pass rush is one side of the coin, the other side is their stout and effective running defense. It’s the toughest run defense the Ravens will have faced all season, and rest assured that they will bring their A game on Sunday. The Ravens have to be smart and they must come with an attack pattern focused on the 49ers’ biggest weakness: Isaac Sopoaga.
Sopoaga is the weakest defender on their entire unit, but he’s integral to the 49ers base defense. What this means is that the Ravens have to come out with their two running back formation to keep San Francisco stretched. This will allow the Ravens to run right at the biggest weakness on the defensive line and exploit it for as long as they’re able. Intelligent planning will win this game.
3rd and Short: The Ugly
Ok, so I suppose it’s time to address the elephant in the room. If the Ravens cannot contain Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick, they have almost no shot of winning this game. It is the one aspect of the game plan that places the Ravens at a distinct disadvantage. They will need to come after Kaepernick and keep him in the pocket, and similarly they need to stop Frank Gore from busting out into the flats and devastating the Ravens with downfield runs.
The truth of the matter is that the Ravens can beat Kaepernick if they force him to throw the ball downfield. The kid has a cannon and is pretty accurate, but he’s young, he’s inexperienced, and he’s playing on the game’s biggest stage. He will make mistakes. But if he’s allowed to run free he’s going to do the one thing that the Ravens cannot afford, he’s going to extend drives and utterly exhaust the defense. They beat him by playing press man coverage and forming a tight four man perimeter rush. Take away his options down field (especially Vernon Davis) and you’ll force him to scramble. If you can get him moving and keep him contained he’ll throw the ball away and eventually he’ll turn it over. Atlanta absolutely manhandled him in the first half and then made the mistake of letting off the gas. If the Ravens want to win, they have to beat him early and keep their boots to his throat.
4th Down: Hurry Up
The 49ers defense is good, but it is easily defeated by a no huddle hurry up offense. It keeps them off balance and forces them into their base package, which is the weakest aspect of their game plan. Brady destroyed it, and you can be damn sure that if Flacco can get it rolling he’ll do the exact same thing. Flacco has been an absolute monster using the no huddle so far in these playoffs. If you look at the Colts game, Andrew Luck couldn’t keep pace, against the Broncos, Joe went toe to toe with arguably the best quarterback of this generation, and in Foxboro Flacco devastated the Patriot secondary with quick strikes and downfield heat. If he can get his no huddle offense on a rail, the 49ers will not be able to stop the Ravens freight train.
This is where they’ll win.
Extra Point: Protect the Weakest Links
Against the Broncos and Patriots, Manning and Brady spent much of the game picking on wide out Cary Williams. Between the amount of space Williams was conceding at the line and the double moves that were freezing him in place, he was vulnerable. That said he really picked his game up in the second half against New England. The Ravens gave him extra protection with Ed Reed and all of a sudden he was far more dangerous to account for. Rest assured though that this is where Kaepernick will attack. Like the two weeks prior, Williams can expect a lot of quick tosses in his direction and will be targeted to get him out of position. It will be interesting to see which of the Niners match up against him. If it’s Vernon Davis, we’re all in trouble.
What I’m getting at here is that the Ravens have got to account for the weakest links and protect against threats. It’s one of the things that John Harbaugh does exceptionally well. If you give him a day to prepare he’s good, a week he’s great, you give him two and he’s nigh unstoppable. They have to shore up their holes and force the 49ers into the game that the Ravens want to play, not the other way around. The biggest key to this game is preparation and the ability to out think the other coach.
Jonathon Scruggs (12-7)
In for a penny, in for a pound. The Ravens’ run ends with a parade down Pratt Street.
Ravens 34 — 49ers 28
Matt Jergensen (13-6)
I see the 49ers secondary and inability to generate a pass rush due to injuries as two big keys for a Baltimore victory. Joe Flacco is playing his best football right now and if he gets time there’s no reason for that not to continue. On the defensive side Kaepernick will give the Ravens trouble with his speed but I see adjustments in the second half helping propel Baltimore to victory.
Ravens 27 – 49ers 23
Gene Winner (16-3)
Two great teams take the field for the Super Bowl. You have to be proud of this Ravens team whichever way it goes; they have shown heart, guts and have a special bond. As for this game, I just get the sense that many underestimate the Ravens. They have proven in the playoffs that they can match up and beat the best–on both sides of the ball. The Ravens experience on defense will be the deciding factor.
Ravens 29 – 49ers 17
Ben Zinman (14-5)
The Ravens are incredibly focused. One more game. One more victory. There may be more talent on the 49ers but there is more team on the Baltimore Ravens. Many folks are picking the 49ers. The 2012 Ravens are a special group that has overcome a variety of challenges.
Ravens 34 – 49ers 24