Play time is over. The NFL’s meat-grinder known as the playoffs has left us with the 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, a matchup that should yield a competitive and even Super Bowl.
WHEN 49ERS RUN
The 49ers have repeatedly shown the ability to pound the rock behind a gargantuan offensive line. Whether it’s QB Colin Kaepernick off the read-option, LaMichael James speeding around the edge or Frank Gore between the tackles, the Niners have multiple ways to attack on the ground. The Ravens defense, which allowed 122.8 yards per game rushing during the regular season, will have its hands full.
WHEN 49ERS PASS
QB Colin Kaepernick continues to surprise observes with his pin-point accuracy. WR Michael Crabtree is the most consistent receiving option, though TE Vernon Davis’ return to form bodes well. The Ravens secondary, led by Ed Reed, was vulnerable at times during the regular season, but stiffened in the playoffs, particularly against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship.
WHEN RAVENS RUN
Physical running backs Marshawn Lynch and Steven Jackson found success running the ball against the 49ers this season, and it’s a blueprint the Ravens will need to try and duplicate with the Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce tandem, who has emerged down the stretch. However, Isaac Sopoaga and the rest of the Niners’ front seven are among the best in the NFL, allowing just 94.2 rushing yards per game.
WHEN RAVENS PASS
Baltimore’s passing game is built on taking shots down field, and doing it often. QB Joe Flacco has racked up eight TDs in the postseason without being picked off once. His receivers, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, are adept at winning 1-on-1 situations and rising above defenders to make big plays. San Francisco’s pass rush, led by Aldon Smith, will need to put some heat on Flacco and ease the burden on the secondary.
That collective groan you heard rippling through San Francisco two weeks ago was when kicker David Akers shanked another field goal, costing the Niners three points. His continued struggles could play a big factor today and even though Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is just a rookie, he is clearly less of a liability. Baltimore speedster Jacoby Jones has shown the ability to make explosive plays in the return game.
This will be about as much of a tossup as we’ll ever see in the Super Bowl when it comes to coaching. Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh. Jim’s fiery mannerisms and attitude have rubbed off on the 49ers, leading to a complete turnaround of what was a rotting franchise. On the flip side, all John has done in his tenure in Baltimore is reach the playoffs in all five of his seasons. Both will be making their first Super Bowl appearances.