Watching the 49ers destroy the Packers and then explode in the last 3 quarters against the Falcons, coupled with Baltimore tallying 38 at Denver and running over the Pats in the 2nd half in Foxboro has everyone thinking there will be a lot of point come Super Bowl Sunday. The over/under for Super Bowl XLVII is about 47. I don’t think we’ll get there.
San Francisco allowed 17.1 points per game in the regular season, second best in the NFL behind the Seahawks. History bodes well for the Niners: teams with a top-2 scoring defense are 16-5 all-time in Super Bowl when not facing another top-2 scoring defense. Of course these Ravens have been at or near the top in defense for the past decade. They slid this season to 12th in scoring defense during the regular season. But during the postseason, with all of their players, aside from CB Ladarius Webb, healthy and playing, they’ve allowed just 43 points and 4 touchdowns to Indy, Denver, and New England. Those teams ranked 18th, 2nd, and 1st in scoring offense during the year.
A lot has been made of the Niners secondary concerns. Granted we did see the Falcons and Matt Ryan do some damage. And the Packers had some success too. Of course those were the 6th and 9th best passing attacks in the league this year and two of the best quarterbacks in football. Flacco and the Ravens ranked middle of the pack (15th). Here is something that might surprise you:
The 49ers have allowed only three touchdown passes against them this season on throws that traveled at least 21 yards in the air, tied for the second-fewest in the NFL. Opponents are 21-for-72 on throws of that length against the 49ers this season. The 29 percent opponents’ completion percentage ranked 11th-best in the NFL.
As you can see, it’s not the mega-weakness everyone is making it out to be. I will say this though: the Ravens will attack deep. Only Andrew Luck, Matt Stafford, and Josh Freeman threw more deep passes this season than Joe Flacco.
Flacco’s and Baltimore’s challenge isn’t just trying land the deep ball, it’s much more than that. The 49ers have had more consistency on defense than any team in the NFL the last two years. The Niners have kept the same personnel two straight years, and will have the same 11 on Sunday. They are the best tackling team in the NFL and have been ranked first in yards allowed after contact each of the last two seasons.
This is bad news for Ray Rice, Dennis Pitta, and Anquan Boldin operating underneath 49ers zones. Donte Whitner, Dashon Goldson, Patrick Willis, and Navorro Bowman hit you, and you go down.
The 49ers don’t let you move the ball or start drives. They win the field position battle, actually better than anyone else in football. They are a +7 yards this year on average starting field position.
Baltimore is going to have it’s hands full.
Don’t think this means a Niners blowout. They are going to struggle to score too.
The Ravens defense, not as fast and fierce as it once was, still forces turnovers. They took the ball away 25 times in the regular season, and have forced 8 turnovers in 3 postseason games. They are 10-2 when they force 2 or more. Just 3-4 when they force 1 or 0.
Colin Kaepernick has been the toast of the football world for a few weeks now, even prompting some conversation of him becoming the best quarterback in football. Seems a tad premature for me, but hey, we got time to talk. One thing he has not been great about is protecting the football. In nine starts, he has 10 fumbles and 4 interceptions.
Kaepernick has started just nine games in his career including the playoffs. That’s the third fewest starts by a quarterback prior to starting in the Super Bowl. Jeff Hostetler led the Giants to a win in Super Bowl XXV with just six starts under his belt. Vince Ferragamo’s Rams lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. The Giants scored just 20 points and the Rams 19 in those games however.
The very young quarterback is still learning and making life tougher is being without #2 WR Mario Manningham, #4 WR Kyle Williams, and #2 RB Kendall Hunter. Upon being eliminated last year by the Giants, it was obvious Crabtree, Gore, and Davis weren’t enough. The Niners have even less now surrounding their quarterback.
Keep this in mind as well: It’s been NINE years since a team scored more than 30 offensive points in the Super Bowl. We’ve seen the record-setting Patriots, the Colts, the Packers, and the Saints. None of them got their special offenses going in the big game.
There is this however that could help scoring: There has been a defensive score in 5 of the last 6 Super Bowls. (4 TD, 1 safety)
Strange that we think two defensive football teams will yield that much, right?
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN TO THE GAME?
1. The Ravens were third worst in time of possession this season. Their defense has faced 1342 plays, that is the most in a season since 2001. They’ve allowed at least 398 yards each playoff game. They are the first team in NFL history to allow more than 375 each game and win 3 playoff games. Basically, they bend, but don’t break. So look for San Francisco to move the ball better than Baltimore.
2. In the seven regular season games Kaepernick started, San Francisco used the option a total of 26 times, averaging 5.4 yards per rush with three touchdowns. The Niners have greatly increased the use of the option their two playoff games, running the play 29 times while averaging 8.4 yards per rush with four touchdowns. They’ve run out of the pistol 49% of the time. Baltimore’s only experience against the option this season came in Week 14 against the Redskins. The Redskins ran for 93 yards on 15 options (6.2 yards per rush) in the game. The long rush was just 13 yards however.
3. Scoring will still be tough for San Francisco even if they move the ball. The Ravens had the #2 redzone defense in football this year. That means David Akers field goal attempts.
4. Look for the Ravens to blitz the Niners run game and get them behind in the chains, and they hope to force mistakes. That will be critical for the Ravens offense. They need to win the field position battle with turnovers.
5. Special teams are both solid in the return and punting games for both teams. Remember, field position means a lot. Everyone bringing up the kicking game references David Akers struggles, with good reason. But Justin Tucker, despite an incredible season, is a undrafted rookie. No pressure like the Super Bowl.
7 GUYS TO WATCH OUT FOR
1. LB Dannell Ellerbee, Baltimore- He is the least known of the Ravens linebackers, but was second on the team in tackles. His youth and speed and option recognition containing Kaepernick and Gore will be key.
2. S Ed Reed, Baltimore- He has had a quiet postseason, part of that was quarterbacks wise enough to stay away from him. Reed will be in charge of making sure the Niners don’t hit deep passing plays and specifically Vernon Davis.
3. WR Torrey Smith, Baltimore- The Ravens take their deep shots with him, and look for him matched up against CB Chris Culliver.
4. DE Justin Smith, San Francisco- Obvious sure, but his ability to stand his ground with his triceps injury and occupy blockers will be very important for the entire Niners defense.
5. CB Carlos Rodgers, San Francisco- He starts, but moves to the slot a lot. His 3rd down matchups against Anquan Boldin will be important in deciding punt or first down.
6. WR Michael Crabtree, San Francisco- He should be very busy. I’d expect at least 6 catches because he has an advantage every play, especially if the Niners pass on early downs.
7. The referees. San Francisco and Baltimore have the hardest hitting, most aggressive safeties in the entire league. 15-yard penalties for illegal hits and unnecessary roughness could play a major factor in this game.
There are so many great stories at play in this game. Ray Lewis trying to pull a John Elway. Colin Kaepernick trying to pull a Tom Brady, emerging because of an in-season injury to the starting quarterback. That could make Jo-Lonn Dunbar the modern day Mo Lewis. Can Flacco be elite like Eli? Can the Ravens win for former deceased owner Art Modell?
I admire both teams. San Francisco is an old-school ground and pound team. They want to run 30+ times. I think they’ll be right around that number. In the dome, David Akers will give them points when drives stall out. The Ravens will bend a lot, but not break in what we’ll call a boring first half. A scoreless first quarter leads to a 9-3 halftime lead for the Niners with an Akers kick at the gun.
The second half sees Baltimore force a turnover deep in Niners territory. Anquan Boldin cashes in on a short TD catch for a 10-9 lead. After exchanging empty drives, Ed Reed intercepts a Kaepernick pass to set the Ravens up on the door step, but the 49ers defense holds them to a field goal, 13-9. The fourth quarter opens with the read option picking up chunks. Frank Gore will finish with 80 yards on the ground, 4 of which will come on the go-ahead score. 16-13 SF. Joe Flacco responds taking Ravens into field goal range and Justin Tucker ties the score at 16 with just over 4 minutes to play. The Niners advance to mid-field by the 2 minute warning, but on 3rd down Terrell Suggs strip sacks Kaepernick and the ball is recovered by Ray Lewis who will finish as the MVP with 14 tackles. Flacco completes a screen pass to Rice who advances the ball to SF 29. Baltimore runs a couple of times, setting up Justin Tuckers 43 yard field goal to win it.
MVP Ray Lewis