San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview: Three Keys to Super Bowl XLVII
Okay, so it’s about six o’clock on Sunday evening and you are sitting on your couch (or in a bar or on a friend’s couch, etc) with some buffalo wings and a beer. The 18-hour pre-game show is winding down and one of the nine commentators on-set will say that the key to the game will be turnovers. Another will say it will be special teams. Yet another will say it will be how well the teams adjust during the game. It’s the same for every game…on every Sunday.
Let’s throw away the clichés and the gnawed on chicken bones and get serious about the big game. Here are the main three keys for when the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens square off on Sunday night:
1. The Read-Option: When you’re talking about the 49ers of right now, you have to talk about the read-option plays out of the pistol formation. If you are the Ravens of right now, you have to be worried about the read-option plays that will be coming at you out of the pistol formation. If the Ravens sell out to stop the RB dive (a la the Packers), there is a good chance that Colin Kaepernick will be sailing around the corner and picking up big chunks of yardage. If they stay outside and keep Kaepernick in check (a la the Falcons), they better be prepared to get gashed by Gore all game long. I’m not a defensive coordinator, but I have to assume that Dean Pees has a plan. And I have no idea what that plan is. If they somehow manage to stop the Gore-Kaepernick marathon, the Ravens will probably leave themselves vulnerable to Vernon Davis and Delaney Walker catching mid-range passes all game. This is a tough match-up for any defense, but particularly for a defense that may have the discipline, but not the speed, to stop what they see in front of them.
2. Big Play Torrey…Smith?: Smith only has 9 receptions in the three playoff games this season, but two of those were for touchdowns and it seemed like all of them were 50 yard bombs. In the playoffs, he has averaged a whopping 22.0 yards per reception. And, even though he has only caught half of his targets, the Ravens have shown that they are willing to throw it up to him…even if it just scares the defense. Loosening the Niners defense with a few well-timed heaves downfield could certainly help the Ravens running game against the league’s 4th ranked rush defense. It should also open up the middle of the field for Pitta and Boldin to do some damage. Flacco may want to show off his arm on the grand stage, but he has been smart with the football of late (8 TDs and 0 INTs in the playoffs) and has the ability to pick apart a defense that over-commits to stopping the big play to Smith. In this scenario, the 49ers pass rush could mean the difference between hoisting an awesome, sticky Lombardi or crying in the shower wearing nothing but their gold helmets. If they can get good, consistent pressure on Flacco with a four-man rush, the Niners would have more coverage options on the back end.
3. Justin Tucker vs. David Akers vs. Himself: I know I said special teams was a cliché, but hear me out on this one…Justin Tucker is a 23 year old rookie; David Akers is a 38 year old NFL veteran of 15 seasons. Tucker made 30 of 33 field goal attempts in 2012; Akers made just 29 of 42 attempts. Tucker made a 47-yarder in double overtime to beat Denver…outside…in the cold; Akers doinked a 38-yarder in Atlanta…inside…in the climate-controlled dome. Akers has had kicks blocked, sail left and hook right all season. He has had his job threatened (by Billy Cundiff, that’s right Ravens fans…Cundiff) and his psyche shaken. A game with this much defensive star power has a high probability of coming down to a late field goal…made or not, could determine how the history of Super Bowl 47 is written.
On Sunday, as you listen to those commentators ramble on about turnovers and time of possession, you can impress your friends with something a little more original. Keep an eye on these match-ups and schemes and enjoy the game and the food, but feel free to mute the commercials. Perhaps you and some friends can do voice-overs during the commercials…have fun with it. And when the confetti falls, you can say that you read it here first…49ers win, 26-24.