We all know the importance of February third this year. It’s the day every football fan waits for, and now the excitement around Raven’s nation has reached a new high as Ray Lewis and the Ravens try to win their second Super Bowl. With all the hype surrounding the game, one may forget that the opponent is the best team in the NFC. With one final fight to determine who will hold the Lombardi Trophy, the victor will be determined by the smaller fights within the game.
The most important battle come Sunday resides with the Ravens defense against the rising star quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. When Kaepernick entered the game against the Rams due to an Alex Smith injury, Kaepernick was widely viewed solely as a running quarterback, but quickly proved to be an all around threat. It’s practically impossible to game plan against this guy; if you take away the pass, he’ll torch you with his legs as he has blazing speed and athletic ability. Then you go to take away his scrambling and running game, and he’ll expose you with his arm, finding the open receivers. If the Ravens can stop those two, they still won’t be in the clear because the 49ers run a read option play that allows Kaepernick to scan the defense and “read” how the defenders are playing and make a decision to either hand the ball off to Frank Gore, one of the leagues better running backs, or to keep the ball himself and run it to the outside, or even throw the ball to a receiver. This combination on the read option play makes it extremely difficult for the defense to stop Kaepernick and this 49er offense.
Although it is tough to stop the pistol offense that the 49ers run, the Ravens have all the right pieces to stop them, and assignment defense is going to play a huge role. Assignment football is when each specific player on defense is assigned to watch and contain a certain player or area. First and foremost, the cornerbacks and safeties of the Ravens have to be committed to the receivers and the pass one hundred percent all the time. If Kaepernick has no one to pass to he will be forced to run or throw the ball away which helps reduce the damage afflicted through the passing game. Once the receivers are covered the next assignment is on the middle linebackers. Ray Lewis, arguably one of the best run stoppers in the league, should be assigned to watch Frank Gore and ultimately react to Gore. If Gore stays in the pocket to help block, then Lewis will be able to rush the quarterback; but if Kaepernick decides to hand the ball off, Lewis will be responsible for meeting Gore in the hole and stopping his progress. Finally, if Gore leaves the pocket as a receiver, Lewis then must drop back into coverage to defend against the check down pass to Gore. Once Gore and the pass have been accounted for, it leaves the ability for Kaepernick to tuck the ball and run out of the pocket for a big gain.
Ravens linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe, is one of the fastest linebackers in the league, and he could possibly be assigned to Kaepernick. Ellerbe could also possibly spend time “spying” on the quarterback—staying outside the pocket, watching the quarterback, and strafing with the quarterback as he begins to roll out of the pocket so that he can meet him at the line of scrimmage or behind to make the tackle. It will be the defensive line’s job to provide pressure on the quarterback up the middle to try and either hit Kaepernick in the pocket for a sack or to hurry a throw before the receiver is ready. The outside linebackers and/or the defensive ends will be responsible for setting the edge of the pocket and holding it so that Kaepernick cannot escape to the outside and avoid the pressure from the front.
Switching sides of the ball, there are several key factors or “fights” that will determine the outcome as well. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense came alive since week 15 when Jim Caldwell took over as Offensive Coordinator. Yes, some people call Flacco dull and emotionless, but he can throw a football. This past year he has out played Tom Brady twice and even out played both of the Manning brothers. While the Ravens seem to have a dangerous offense this post season, the 49ers have the fourth best defense in the league and the third best defense against the run and pass. A vital part of the Ravens offense is how many touches Ray Rice gets and how effective he is. Going up against the number three ranked run defense, this seems to be a long, unsteady ride for Rice and the rest of the offense. Fortunately for the Ravens, their passing attack has taken off this post season and is ranked fourth overall in the passing game while the 49ers are ranked eleventh in pass defense. How well the 49ers can stop Joe Flacco from slinging the ball around will be the biggest factor for San Francisco’s success.
49ers Linebacker Patrick Willis and Ravens full back Vonta Leach will be battling it out in the run game, but it really comes down to Carlos Rodgers, Tarell Brown and the 49er cornerbacks to shut down the pass. The Ravens may very well have the deepest pool of receivers of any team. Anquan Boldin is a powerful slot receiver who works the middle of the field with power and has hands that will rarely let his quarterback down. Torrey Smith can out-run the majority of cornerbacks to force the pass coverage deep, allowing shorter routes like Boldin’s to open up. Jacoby Jones can do it all: he has the speed to burn you or will fly across the middle for a slant pattern. Once all of those are covered, you have to account for the Ravens tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who both have sure hands. Whoever wins this match up has a clear edge to win the game.
Ravens: How will the defense cover the 49ers tight end Vernon Davis? Davis has extraordinary speed and athleticism with the route running of a receiver and hands and weight of a tight end.
Will the Ravens try to cover Davis with a cornerback or a linebacker or maybe even a double team?
How will Ray Lewis’ last game affect the team’s emotions and motivation?
49ers: How much of a role will 49er kicker David Akers play with his recent struggles with accuracy?
How will the 49ers stop both the deep ball and the short passes of Joe Flacco?
Ravens: A recent sports illustrated article claims that Ray Lewis used a banned substance. Ray Lewis has never failed a drug test yet. This same exact claim was made several years ago, and now it’s the same story with current events. Good try. The accuser has already been sued several times for the same claims.
49ers: Randy Moss of the 49ers (yes, he’s still playing) claimed that he believes he is the best wide receiver to ever play the game. I admire his confidence but that was a little too bold. Just throwing it out there Jerry Rice has 22,895 receiving yards and 197 touchdowns while Randy Moss only has 15,292 receiving yards and 156 touchdowns. Although paper doesn’t always tell the whole story, I don’t think Moss was correct in doing so.
Offense: NO EDGE
Quarterbacks: Ravens (strictly passing Flacco has the more reliable arm)
Running back/Run game: 49ers (read option)
Offensive Line: no advantage
Tight Ends: 49ers (Vernon Davis is a beast)
Receivers: Ravens (Receiving core is deep all the way down to Tandon Doss)
Defense: NO EDGE
Defensive line: no advantage (both teams front 7 are exceptional)
Linebackers: no advantage (both teams are exceptionally strong)
Cornerbacks:49ers (Ravens are still crippled at the corner position)
Safety: Ravens (Legendary Ed Reed and hard hitting Bernard Pollard)
Special teams: Ravens
Kicker: Ravens (Tucker has been phenomenal, Akers not so much)
Punter: no advantage
Return: Ravens (Ravens ranked 1st)
Coverage: 49ers (Ravens have had major coverage mistakes throughout the year)
Score:24-27 Ravens (kicking advantage pushes Ravens to victory)