On one of my favorite Sundays of the year, I’ve decided to revive my weekly feature from earlier in the season to analyze the big game. This year’s Harbaugh Bowl is full of narratives that are range from compelling to obnoxious and by this time you’ve heard them all. Instead I’d rather examine what exactly is going to transpire on the field. Without further ado here is what I can definitively call the last edition of “Matchups of the Game” of the 2012 season.
Matchup #1: Torrey Smith vs. Carlos Rogers
In his second season in the NFL Torrey Smith has established himself as the sort of wide receiver who gives defensive coordinators high blood pressure. Although his yardage totals haven’t been staggering (855 this year) Smith is a legitimate deep threat playing with one of the most dangerous deep ball quarterbacks in the league. His opposition is 2011 Pro Bowler Carlos Rodgers who at 31 saw his play come down a bit from the previous season where he snagged 6 interceptions and broke up 19 passes. This year those totals were at 1 and 7 respectively. It seems like Father Time is creeping up on Mr. Rogers but he is still an effective player. Neither player shares a significant size advantage (Torrey Smith is 6-1 204, Rogers is 6-0 199) so this matchup is likely to be won with the legs. Smith is a 23 year old burner and Rogers is 31 and on the way down. I like Smith here to have at least one or two big catches in this game.
Matchup #2: Bryant McKinnie vs Aldon Smith
Bryant McKinnie is a mountain of a man at 6-8 335 who has often been criticized for not living up to his massive (no pun intended, seriously) potential. The fact of the matter is that the one-time Pro Bowler has been durable and effective for a decade which is nothing to sneeze at. Baltimore’s offensive line play has improved since his reinsertion into the lineup that moved Michael Oher to his more natural position at right tackle. One wonders whether the 33 year old McKinnie can keep it up in this game as he has gotten a bit lead footed in his old age and more importantly his opponent is a dangerous one. Aldon Smith is a sack master with 33.5 sacks in his first two years in the league including 19.5 this year. He has potential to be a dominant force in this game with one caveat. Smith is struggling down the stretch after looking like a real contender for the single season sack record. Many people are saying that Smith needs the presence of Justin Smith to truly excel and while Smith will play in this game he will be playing through a nasty triceps injury and probably won’t be the same. Although there is a correlation between Justin Smith’s injuries and reduced production from Aldon I tend to think that dominant players like Aldon Smith find a way to produce regardless of the circumstances. I like a big rebound performance from Aldon Smith against the aging McKinnie.
Matchup #3: Ray Lewis vs. Frank Gore
Obviously I had to include Ray Lewis. In this game he will actually play a meaningful role even if he clearly isn’t what he once was. He will be charged with keeping Frank Gore at bay between the tackles. Frank Gore turns 30 this year and every year I expect him to break down physically but he keeps going strong. Probably more wishful thinking on my part than anything else…. Gore had 1214 yards on the ground in 2012 his highest total since his sophomore year in 2006. He is relentless at breaking tackles and still has respectable top-end speed, especially for his age. He also benefits from an offensive line that isn’t even fair. On the flip-side Gore is exactly the kind of running back the Lewis has a chance to contain. Gore lacks elite speed, is prolific between the tackles and isn’t much of a threat receiving the ball. All Lewis has to do is match Gore’s physicality as he won’t have to deal with him in the open field that often. Even so, I expect Gore to be effective in this game and Lewis to put up some high tackle numbers but probably nothing else. If Lewis is able to put up 10-12 tackles and Baltimore wins that will probably be enough of an excuse to give him the MVP, which is probably the storyline everyone wants.
The Superbowl is a holiday of sorts, even if the hated 49ers are in it and one that should be celebrated with friends, family, and an unholy amount of food and or adult beverages. Strap in and enjoy the ride.
The match up for Super Bowl XLVII is incredibly difficult to call. Both teams have overcome adversity, and both teams have weaknesses. In fact, I don’t totally trust either quarterback, or defense. Baltimore shut out the New England Patriots in the second half of the AFC Championship game, but San Francisco runs a totally different offense. San Francisco plays physical, but their defense almost let the Atlanta Falcons run away with the game early on in the NFC Championship game.
As for the quarterbacks, Joe Flacco has won playoff games in each of his seasons in the league, but he has also lost playoff games in each of those seasons. Colin Kaepernick has great skills, but he was shut down by the Seattle Seahawks in a prime time match up earlier in the season.
Both teams also have questions on special teams. San Francisco’s place kicker, David Akers, has missed several field goal attempts. The Baltimore Ravens, on the other hand, have a better kicker in Justin Tucker, but have been known to blow coverages on kick offs and punts.
In the passing game, The Ravens have a slight edge with their deep threat of Flacco to Torrey Smith. Anquan Boldin, and Dennis Pitta are solid, but The 49ers have the better overall receiving corps with Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, and Vernon Davis.
Both teams are solid in the run game. Baltimore’s Ray Rice is the top rusher in the playoffs this season with 247 yards. However, Frank Gore is number three with 230 yards in one less game. Right behind him is San Francisco quarterback Colin Kapernick has put up a jaw-dropping 202 yards rushing in his first NFL postseason. 183 of those yards came in one game against the Green Bay Packers.
Historically, both teams boast impressive records. San Fransisco is undefeated in five trips to the Super Bowl, and Baltimore has won one Super Bowl, and holds the best post season record of any team in history at .650. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco also has the most wins away from home of any quarterback in history at six.
San Francisco’s last Super Bowl victory was in 1988. Baltimore’s was in 2000. Because the 49ers history is much older than the Ravens’, I don’t see that playing any part in predicting this game. While they still have the mystique of being the 49ers, they are only three years removed from being one of the most underachieving teams in football. At the same time, the Ravens have been in the thick of the hunt for the better part of the past fourteen seasons.
In the previous round, both teams beat pass-first teams to get to the game, so it’s hard to tell how either will react to each other’s run-first attacks. But, it might be fair to say that the game will go to which ever team manages to pull off the first big pass plays, and if it comes down to that, my money is on Joe Flacco.
Being that both teams dodged bullets to get to the super bowl. The Ravens had a miraculous comeback against the Broncos, and the 49ers mounted an impressive come back against the Falcons. That should indicate that this game will be competitive until the end, even if one team gets off to a quick start.
On the line, the edge should go to San Francisco’s defense vs. Baltimore’s offense. Running the ball will be a challenge. So, I expect Baltimore to pass early to set up the run. Don’t be surprised if they take a shot at the endzone on first or second down of their first drive if they are not trailing.
San Francisco, on the other hand, has to hope that their read option offense has enough spark to confuse a veteran Ravens defense led by Ray Lewis who may have lost a step in terms of speed, but still reads an offense as well as anybody in history. I expect the Ravens to minimize Kaepernick’s rushing attack forcing Frank Gore to provide the bulk of the ground yards. Meanwhile, Kaepernick will have to rely on his arm, the major factor that set him apart from his teammate Alex Smith. Expect Gore to have a big game, and expect Kaepernick to air it out.
In the end, I believe that the Ravens’ experience, will outmatch the youth of the 49ers. The Ravens have spent years deliberatley improving their offense. The plan was to balance out their great defense to have a shot to win a super bowl. Now that they have made it back to the dance, I expect them to show up with their laces tied tight, and ready to rumble.
Ravens: 24 49ers: 17
Tags: afc, Alex Smith, Anquan Boldin, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Colin Kaepernick, David Akers, Dennis Pitta, featured, football, Frank Gore, Joe Flacco, Justin Tucker, Michael Crabtree, NFC, nfl, Popular, Previews, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks, Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVII, Torrey Smith, Vernon Davis