If the last decade of the Super Bowl is any indication, we are in for a very tight matchup. Apart from the dismemberment of the Raiders in 2002, most of the Super Bowl title games have been relatively tight matchups. That should not change in the showdown between the Ravens and 39ers. Here are 5 important aspects of this game that will be key in a victory for either side.
1. Air Flacco: Joe Flacco will not put up a passing clinic. He is not cerebral, nor will he lull you to sleep with his short passing game. He likes the big play and he likes throwing it often. Joe led the league this season in pass attempts of over 20 yards with 93. I saw a lot of those games(due to having Torrey Smith on my fantasy team) and he had a hard time connecting on a lot of them during the regular season. The playoffs has been a different story as he’s been able to find the midas touch with the deep throw. Conversely, the 49ers have only allowed 3 touchdowns on passes that have traveled over 21 yards in the air. They have a formidable secondary led by Carlos Rodgers, Tarell Brown, Deshon Goldson and Donte Whitner. This is the most important factor in who wins in my opinion.
2. Delanie Walker X-Factor: Anyone that has watched the 49ers knows that Delanie Walker is the type of player that can frustrate you, but can also make terrific plays. He is blessed with tremendous speed and strength as a tight-end/wide receiver type of hybrid, but he does not always put in all together. With the Ravens concentrating on Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and safeties still having to make sure Randy Moss does not get passed them, Delanie Walker could have a huge game.
3. Pistol, Shotgun, Rifle…Stopping the read option is key. The last time the Ravens faced a read option style quarterback, was week 14 against RGIII’s Redskins. He was held in check against the run to the tune of 34 rushing yards. Suggs and Kruger will have their hands full with Kaepernick and the key will be to stay in their lanes and contain the outside. Easier said than done of course. Considering the numerous amount of formations the 49ers run, they have one of the most sophisticated run offenses in the league. Their shifting and motion play can confuse so many defenses. Their offensive line will pull guards to the opposite side of run players. They are the masters of misdirection so it will be key for the outside backers to not bite on the fakes. If the Ravens get gashed on the read options, this game will be over. If they can contain it, Frank Gore will have to have a huge game, similar to the one Alfred Morris had against the Ravens in that aforementioned week 14 matchup.
4. Which pass rushers will show up? Aldon Smith had a tremendous start to his season. Since week 14 he has recorded zero sacks. “T-Sizzle”, Terrell Suggs was the reigning defensive player of the year and he has looked a step slow this season. Which ever pass rusher is able to get their groove back will be a key factor against the pass game, especially for the Ravens who have a deep passing attack that takes time to get receivers down the field. If Flacco cannot execute his 5 and 7 step drops to allow Torrey Smith to get down the field, that takes away a huge part of the Ravens game.
5. Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice on 3rd downs…We know what type of a beast Ray Rice is. Anquan Boldin also has had a terrific playoff tournament making so many big catches in traffic. Rice and Boldin will be the main targets on 3rd down for Flacco which means Patrick Willis or Navarrow Bowman, both interior linebackers who will have to cover Rice, are in for a tough matchup. Conversely, I assume Carlos Rodgers, who is a physical corner, will shadow Boldin the entire game. Boldin is one of the best in the league against man coverage and catching the imperfect pass in traffic.
This will be one of the most physical title games ever. I think the 49ers come out on top 24-20 in a game that starts out as a defensive struggle and then opens up in the 2nd half.
Super Bowl MVP: Colin Kaepernick