Super Bowl Sunday is six days away. Six days for brother to face brother. Six days until the end of an all-time greats career. Six days until Super Bowl perfection is tested. The question now is who has the advantage?
We have never seen a Super Bowl like this before. We have seen the Dolphins and Patriots go for perfection. We have seen the underdog Jets beat the Colts on Broadway Joe’s famous “We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.” We have seen the Titans lose the Super Bowl by one yard. We have seen Norwood miss wide right against the Giants. Yet we haven’t seen brother versus brother on the sidelines. we haven’t had a star the caliber of Ray Lewis playing his last game in the Super Bowl. The emotions will be high.
The Harbaugh’s are going to know each other very well. They will know how the other will react to certain situations. There is no real advantage to the coaches. John made the decision to fire Cam Cameron and promote Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator, that move has paid off hugely. The Ravens offense and Joe Flacco is clicking and producing at a high rate. Jim made the all to well-known choice to go with Colin Kaepernick after Alex Smith was cleared to return to the team. We all know how that has turned out, Kaepernick setting playoff records. The coach that can go away from his tendencies at the right moments the best will win this battle. My pick is the younger brother Jim, he was a gunslinger as a player and still is as a coach.
We all have seen the brilliance of Colin Kaepernick , how dynamic he can be. Kaepernick is still young, this will be by far his largest stage he has ever played on. He held up well when down 17 at Atlanta, how will he react to this stage. Can the Ravens confuse the young quarterback? Can they contain him, not allow him to break of long runs. The 49ers have a strong running game that has exploded with the addition of LaMichael James. Frank Gore pounds a defense and wears them out and then James is the speed back that exploits a tired defense. Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, and Vernon Davis are a versatile combination of targets for Kaepernick. For Moss this may also be his last game, he too like Lewis wants to go out a champion. I see Moss giving his best effort in years. Davis can be a defensive matchup nightmare. The Ravens will likely put Ed Reed on him as much as possible. Reed can keep up speed wise but Davis’ size may be the ultimate trump card. The 49ers line has done a great job keeping Kaepernick upright and virtually untouched throughout these playoffs.
The Ravens offense counters with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, and Anquan Boldin. I have covered Flacco’s playoff history, his 8-3 record, his 6-3 road record. The Ravens have a clear advantage with Flacco in regards to experience on a big stage. Yes Flacco hasn’t played in a Super Bowl but he does have those 6 road victories and three AFC Championship games. Flacco is in command of his offense and has outplayed and defeated Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on his way to the Super Bowl. Ray Rice gives the Ravens a counter to the duo of Gore/James. Rice can be powerful and elusive. He can be a threat out of the backfield on a screen pass. Rice is the Ravens do all running back. When they need to spell him they bring in Bernard Pierce who has emerged late in the season as a viable back. When they go to the air they too can create mismatches using their tightends and recievers and Ray Rice. rice on a linebacker is normally a mismatch, facing an athletic fast 49ers linebacking corp that may not be the case. Torrey Smith is the burner on the outside and the 49ers may not have an answer for that. They will have to drop a safety over top to stop the long pass down the field. Boldin in his first Super Bowl can gain the ring his ex-counterpart didn’t. Larry Fitzgerald came very close but Santonio Holmes ended that dream. Boldin isn’t what he once was but he has become Flacco’s Hines Ward, his safety net. Boldin could be the difference maker. He still has the ability to take over a game. Can San Fran’s defensive backs stop him? The 49ers have Vernon Davis, the Ravens counter with Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. These are the poor mans Gronkowski and Hernandez. Pitta is the sure handed tight end, while Dickson is the more athletic tight end that can break one-off at any time. The Ravens offensive line has made Flacco as untouchable as Kaepernick this postseason. Who has the advantage? Kaepernick is the wild card if he keeps his composure and can break off one or two runs the 49ers offense will open up and be much more explosive than the Ravens.
This is a war of wills. Ray Lewis is playing his last game, motivation will not be an issue. Can he keep up with the 49ers speed is the question? Ed Reed is making his first Super Bowl as is Terrell Suggs. This Ravens defense is not the same as the 2000 record-setting defense. They struggled at times this year. Lewis missed a large portion of this season. Ed Reed is still a ball hawk, this may be his one and only time in a Super Bowl. The 49ers defense is young and hungry. Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Donte Whitner lead this 49ers defense. Justin Smith may be the emotional leader and drives this defense, yet they go against almost a mirror image. Both teams had similar sacks and interceptions(49ers 38, 14 Ravens 37, 13). The Ravens must confuse Kaepernick which has been hard to do, as Jim Harbaugh put in ideal situations.Throw the same coverage at him with different looks. Doing different things isn’t always the best just create confusion while doing the same thing sometimes works best. The 49ers must contain Rice and Pierce. If they can stop the Ravens running backs they can attack Flacco and throw him off rhythm. When it comes down to this match-up the edge goes to knowledge which is on the side of Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense.
This is a pretty one-sided match up, completely in favor of the Ravens. David Akers opened the year amazingly tying the NFL record with a 63 yard field goal. Since then though he is average at best, making only 69% of his kicks. While Balitmore’s Justin Tucker has hit on 90% of his field goal attempts this season. Punting is a virtual tie as the Ravens Sam Koch averages 47.1 per punt and the 49ers Andy Lee averages 48.1 yards per punt. The returns are statistically superior for the Ravens with Jacoby Jones returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt. The 49ers send out either Ted Ginn Jr. or LaMichael James to return punts and kickoffs. Neither has a touchdown return and Jones has more return yards than Ginn Jr. and James combined.
With five days left much is still left to be decided. Both Harbaugh’s are going over film trying to figure out how they will outwit their brother. Where can they throw in wrinkle or two. One thing is for sure though on Sunday. A coin flip will take place and for those that voted on papajohns.com, half will win a free pizza. By Steve Kish