Super Bowl XLVII Preview
Super Bowl XLVII will be one of the most interesting Super Bowls since the Giants ended the Patriots’ hopes of becoming the second team in NFL history to go undefeated the entire way through. This will be a matchup of two very aggressive teams on both sides of the ball – not to mention that the two Head Coaches are brothers. The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers faced off in the 2011 season in what was referred to as the “Harbaugh Bowl,” or the “HarBowl,” in reference to Jim and John Harbaugh, the two respected head coaches.
John Harbaugh took over the head coaching duties in Baltimore in 2008 and he hasn’t had a losing record yet. Since ’08, the Baltimore Ravens have a record of 54-26, as well as an 8-4 postseason record under Harbaugh. They went to three AFC Championship games, and this is their first trip to the Super Bowl under John. His brother, James (better known as Jim) was coaching at Stanford from 2007-2010, and led the Cardinals from a 4-8 record in his first year to a 12-1 record in his final season, a 29-21 record overall at Stanford. He has been nothing short of phenomenal while in San Fran, as the Niners went 13-3 in his first season and 11-4-1 in the 2012 season. They reached the NFC Championship both seasons, and won this year, as they are representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLVII.
A lot of people wanted to see the two teams face off in the Super Bowl last season, but both lost on Championship Sunday. As we are days away from one of the teams hoisting the Lombardi trophy, lets take a look at how the teams match up at each level.
Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers has only started 9 games in his young career and is starting in a Super Bowl. Kaep has a very unique element to his game. The 49ers often run a pistol offense with Kaepernick, but that is not the only system he is comfortable in. Against Green Bay in the Divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, Kaep ran for almost 200 yards, breaking the record for most rushing yards by a QB in the playoffs. But on Championship Sunday, Kaep showed that he doesn’t rely on just running the ball. The 49ers were down 17-0 to the Atlanta Falcons, and Kaepernick brought them back, mostly with his arm. The pistol formation had the Falcons off guard, as they didn’t know if Kaepernick would keep the ball or give it to Frank Gore or LaMichael James. Kaepernick had several great throws that were on the money and only had 5 incompletions in the game.
Joe Flacco for the Baltimore Ravens has been underestimated his entire career, yet he has won more playoff games on the road than anyone in NFL history. This year, he sent two of the best QBs in NFL history (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) home in back-to-back weeks, in their stadiums. In the three playoff games in the 2012 season, Flacco has thrown for 853 passing yards, 8 TDs and 0 INTs, a passer rating of 114.7. No one knows what the Ravens are waiting on giving Flacco a new contract, but if he hasn’t deserved it in the past, he has earned it this year. And if they win the Super Bowl, it is safe to put Flacco in the category with the rest of the elite quarterbacks.
The 49ers have arguably the best running game in the NFL. It is an interesting thing to see. Unfortunately, they lost Kendall Hunter in the middle of the season. But rookie LaMichael James has stepped up to replace Hunter as the backup, when starter Frank Gore goes out for a breather. Gore has one of the best nicknames in the NFL, “The Inconvenient Truth.” He has earned that nickname, because for some reason, he doesn’t get much recognition when discussing the best RBs in the NFL. As mentioned earlier, Kaepernick can run the ball as good as any running back on the Niners’ roster. And in short yardage situations, Anthony Dixon comes in with a fresh set of legs, and 9 times out of 10, he’s gonna punch it in for a first down, or a touchdown.
The Ravens’ starter Ray Rice is another running back with a similar running style as Gore’s. Gore may be stronger, but Rice is a speedy guy who might leave you behind if he gets to the next level. On Championship Sunday, he made two of the best tackling LBs, Brandon Spikes and Jerrod Mayo miss a tackle and went into the end zone. And according to Pro Football Focus, Jerrod Mayo was the best tackling WLB in the NFL in 2012. When Rice needs a breather, rookie Bernard Pierce from Temple comes in and the Ravens offense doesn’t miss a beat. Pierce probably isn’t as fast as Rice, but he has some of the best vision in the NFL, and he does not go down easy. He is also more of a patient runner as Rice is. Pierce has no problem waiting on his O-Line to do their assignment, which opens the hole for him, and he accelerates well once he finds his crease.
The 49ers have one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL in Bruce Miller. However, it might be unanimous that Ravens’ fullback Vontae Leach is the best blocking fullback in the NFL. In terms of blocking, Miller and Leach might be 1a and 1b in some peoples’ eyes. They are both great at their jobs, and I don’t think you can go wrong with either of them. The star power on the Niners’ roster is probably why Miller doesn’t get mentioned a lot, but he is one of the unsung heroes on that roster who does not get the credit in the media as he deserves.
Michael Crabtree of the 49ers statistically has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in the past 8 games. In the last 10 games since their loss to St. Louis, Crabtree has recorded 50 receptions for 941 yards and scored 8 touchdowns. He has been the Niners most reliable target, even over tight end Vernon Davis. Veteran WR Randy Moss has not been the deep threat we all know of him to be this year, but his speed is still a threat to the opposition. Teams still play about 10 yards off Moss, and all he has to do is run a 10 yard comeback, which is good enough to keep the chains moving and for the Niners to win the battle of time possession, something they do better than anyone in the league.
Baltimore Ravens’ WR Anquan Boldin is probably the most physical wide receiver in the NFL. He is arguably the best blocking WR in the league as well, probably tied with Roddy White. He is also a great route runner, and Flacco has enough trust to put the ball in the air and believes Boldin will come down with it almost every time. In three playoff games this season, Boldin has 16 receptions for 276 yards and three TDs. When it comes to going deep, Flacco will more than likely put the ball in the vicinity of Torrey Smith. Smith averaged 17 yards a catch in the regular season, and is averaging 22 per catch in the postseason. When they spread out the defense, you can expect either Jacoby Jones or Tandon Doss to be on the field with Smith and Boldin. Flacco does a good job at distributing the ball to all four WRs.
The Niners’ unique offense also features a dynamic duo of TEs in Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. Davis is one of the best TEs in the NFL, and is hands down the fastest. He is a nightmare for any safety or linebacker in the NFL, so come Super Bowl Sunday, Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed will have their hands full with Walker and Davis. Walker only had 21 receptions in the regular season, but eight of those catches were for 20 yards or more. He is an interesting player, who can play at TE, FB, or line up in the slot, similar to how Oakland uses Marcel Reece.
Dennis Pitta for the Baltimore Ravens catches almost every ball thrown his way. He also can take a hit. In the Championship game against New England, Pitta got lit up running across the middle. To almost no surprise, he held on to the ball, and on the very next play, Flacco went right back to him and Pitta scored a touchdown. When Baltimore goes two tight ends, Ed Dickson comes in to compliment Pitta. Similar to Walker, Dickson also had 21 receptions in 2012. However, during the 2011 season, he recorded 54 receptions. His receptions decreased probably because of Pitta, but Dickson can start on most teams in the NFL. Don’t be surprised if he has a big game on Super Bowl Sunday – Dickson is no slouch.
The 49ers have arguably the best O-Line in the NFL. Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone, and Anthony Davis is as good of a starting OL as it can get. The Ravens have more veteran leadership on their OL with Bryant McKinnie, Bobbie Williams, and Marshall Yanda. Their experience is what keeps them around for so long, and the young guys like Michael Oher and Jah Reid are learning well from the veterans. The war in the trenches on both sides will be intriguing matchups from both teams, and might be where the game is won, rather than the passing attack from Kaepernick and Flacco.
Even though Justin Smith is getting old, he is still one of the best DL in the league, and he can play in any defense and line up at DE, DT or NT, despite only weighing 285 pounds. His strength goes unmatched for most OL in the league. He constantly beat Justin Blalock off the ball on Championship Sunday, which factors in to why Atlanta couldn’t run the ball. They have a good rotation with Smith, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald.
Some people will say Justin Smith is the best 5-Tech DL in the league, but depending on what package the Ravens run, when Haloti Ngata lines up at 5-Tech, he is the best there is to offer. Like Smith, Ngata can play anywhere on the defensive front and be effective. He has incredible athleticism for a guy who weighs 340 pounds, and with Terrence Cody who is just as big, the Niners might have a hard time running up the middle on that Ravens D-Line.
The San Francisco 49ers have the best LB core in the NFL; point, blank, period. Patrick Willis has been the best MLB in the NFL for about half a decade. But depending on who you ask, his right-hand man NaVorro Bowman has preceded Willis as the best MLB in the sport. They are unselfish characters and it doesn’t affect the two one bit. When it comes to getting after the quarterback, both are excellent at blitzing, but OLB Aldon Smith is the best on the team when it comes to that. Smith recorded a franchise-record 19.5 sacks in 2012, three short of tying Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5. The other LB in that 3-4 defense is Ahmad Brooks, one of the most underrated in the sport when it comes to doing his job. Brooks is a starting MLB anywhere in the NFL; but with the depth in SF, he has shown versatility, lining up at OLB and recording 6.5 sacks in 2012. It is not only about the sacks, though. Brooks has great instincts, and he knows when to jump and bat the ball down. He does a great job at reading a QB’s 3-step drop and knowing when the ball is in the air, something JJ Watt has mastered. Brooks batted down two passes in crucial circumstances on Championship Sunday against Atlanta. He is as important and productive as the other three LBs.
Baltimore has to be hoping they win this Super Bowl, because they might lose three out of the starting four LBs in their lineup come the 2013 season. Ray Lewis, the best MLB in NFL history, is retiring after the Super Bowl. MLB Dannell Ellerbe and OLB Paul Kruger’s contracts expire after this season, and it might be hard for Baltimore to bring both back, depending their cap situation and a new Flacco contract. Ellerbe was second in tackles in 2012, including 4.5 sacks. Kruger led the team with 9 sacks. The Ravens were without 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs for most of the season. He only recorded 2 sacks in the regular season, but his instincts go unmatched, as he can be effective against the run and the pass. He gets after the quarterback better than 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks, but they are similar when it comes to reading the QB short drop backs and swatting the ball. They have three young guys who can plug in with Jameel McClain, Albert McClellan and Courtney Upshaw. That gives Baltimore a good rotation in case another guy goes down, but they are at their best with Ellerbe, Lewis, Suggs and Kruger on the field. One of the best LB cores in the league after SF.
The 49ers are lucky to have a guy like Carlos Rogers on their team who can line up with any WR on the outside, and does a good job at nickel Corner when teams go 3 WRs. When that happens, the Niners have two young guys in Terrell Brown and Chris Culliver on the outside. Both guys had a rough game against Atlanta, who has arguably the best WR core in the NFL. But Culliver found his groove in the 2nd half, jumping a curl route and creating the first mistake of the game by either team, picking off Matt Ryan’s pass. After Culliver’s INT, Atlanta’s next 4 drives ended in a fumble, tow 3-and-outs and a turnover on downs. All it takes is one big play for a team to lose their groove, and Baltimore should be aware of that. Other than the 3 corners, SF has one of the best safety groups in the league with Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. If they aren’t the best safety group in the league, then they are for sure the hardest hitting group. Whitner can hang with almost any TE in the NFL, and Goldson does a great job when SF goes single-high safety in terms of reading the field. Some people compare Goldson to Ravens safety Ed Reed. It will be interesting to see how both guys play Super Bowl Sunday.
Baltimore’s cornerback group has been having a hard time since starting corner Lardarius Webb went down with an ACL tear in week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys. He is clearly their best coverage corner, as Baltimore has been mixing up their lineup since he went down, rotating Cary Williams, Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, and Chykie Brown. Teams often went after Cary Williams more than any other corner on the Ravens roster, but he got his act together after their regular season matchup against Denver. So far, their best rotation has been Williams and Brown, with Graham at nickel. When it comes to safety play, the two teams are identical. Both have a safety who is good at playing center field, and they have a hard-hitting strong safety. The Ravens have arguably the best safety in NFL history in Ed Reed. His game has been slightly off during the 2012 season; but it seems like every time someone doubts him, he proves them wrong. Reed and Williams both had 4 INTs this season. Strong Safety Bernard Pollard was a journey man until he landed in Baltimore. He fits in perfect in their system and he has been nothing less than exceptional for them. He is also good at covering TEs like Whitner of SF, and he is also good at blitzing and coming up to make a tackle. That was evident on Championship Sunday against New England, as he took RB Stevan Ridley out of the game with a clean hit, which knocked Ridley out and caused a fumble. He will have his hands full if it is his duties to cover Vernon Davis. But knowing Pollard’s competitive nature, he will do just fine and go into the game with the utmost confidence.
The 49ers have one of the best punters in the NFL with Andy Lee, but their kicker David Akers has had one of the most unforgettable years for a kicker, and not in a good way. Akers missed a couple of game-winners in 2012, and a key FG in the championship game against Atlanta. However, SF managed to maintain composure and come away with the victory. The Niners return game, however has not been very impressing. They have used Ted Ginn Jr. and LaMichael James to return kicks and punts, but neither have done very well this season. Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams returned kicks and punts for SF, but both got injured this season. That can factor in to why the Niners return game hasn’t been as productive as it was in 2011.
Baltimore, on the other hand has arguably the best return man in the NFL. If he isn’t, he at least has the best touchdown celebrations when he scores. Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff for 108 yards against Dallas, a 105 yarder against Oakland and a 63-yard punt against the Steelers this season. He is lethal returning both punts and kicks, as well as a decent WR, as he had a 70 yard TD catch against Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs this year. Baltimore also has a decent punter in Sam Koch, who averaged over 40 yards a punt, but their kicker Justin Tucker had a great season, making 30 out of 33 field goals. Baltimore lost the 2011 AFC Championship game because of a missed field goal, so drafting Justin Tucker was a smart move by them.
The teams match up evenly in a few ways, but one or the other has the advantage at a couple of positions. This will be a very appealing Super Bowl in several different ways. Whether you are a person who enjoy matchups in the trenches, teams who run the ball a lot, or have a lethal aerial assault; this Super Bowl might have us on our heels until the clock has 0:00 remaining. Looking forward to February 3rd. May the best team win, and may the NFL will miss Ray Lewis.
Who are you rooting for, and why?