Call it what you may – “The Harbowl”, the “Harbaugh Bowl”, and “Super Harbowl”, I could go on and on about the fancy nicknames for this Super Bowl, but two teams and 60 minutes (unless you like overtime) of football remain with one team getting chance to call themselves “Champions.”
For the San Francisco 49ers, this legendary organization is vying for their 6th Super Bowl ring and a chance to shut Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans up with the talk of being the only franchise in the NFL with six Super Bowl championships. Most of those rings from the Steelers’ heyday came when most of the fan base wasn’t even alive, but that’s an article for another day.
San Francisco got to the dance after head coach Jim Harbaugh’s gutsy decision to bench Alex Smith and start Colin Kaepernick at quarterback in Week 10. The gamble has paid off and the Niners haven’t looked back since. San Francisco does a lot of good things offensively and defensively as well.
The AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens make their 2nd Super Bowl appearance in franchise history as they try to finish off the career of Ray Lewis the right way with purple and black confetti falling from the Super Dome ceiling.
It wasn’t easy for the Ravens in the playoffs as they were pushed to the brink by the Denver Broncos in double overtime and found themselves down at the half against New England but this is a focused and driven team led by the outstanding play from quarterback Joe Flacco.
The 49ers punished the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round by rushing for over 200 yards, with 181 yards coming from Colin Kaepernick. In the NFC Championship game against Atlanta, the Falcons effectively shut down Kapernick’s running ability and made him use his arm to beat them, which he did. The rest of the Niners rushing attack did too, as Frank Gore and LaMichael James rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Here are my three keys that I feel are most important to the Ravens hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.
Follow the Falcons – Slow Colin Kaepernick
We know just how dangerous Colin Kaepernick is with his ability to run and scramble, but he’s just as dangerous with his arm as well. That will be the key for the Ravens, limiting what he can do with his feet and making him beat the defense by throwing the football.
Kaepernick only ran twice for 21 yards as the Falcons contained the edges for when he scrambled out of the pocket. Kaepernick however beat them with his arm which helped to open up the rest of the running game from Gore and James.
It’s also about knowing your assignments and maintaining gap integrity which will make Kaepernick move in the pocket. If the Ravens can do that, they’ll look to try and force him into throws where he may want to connect with his first (and sometimes only) target, which could lead to potential turnovers with the veteran play of the Ravens secondary focused on his eyes.
In Week 2 against Philadelphia, the Ravens faced Eagles QB Michael Vick who is known for his scrambling abilities. What the Ravens did was allowed Vick to scramble, to allow him mobility out of the pocket, but by staying with the assignments of each player, forced him to the right sideline where he wasn’t comfortable, across his body to try and make an accurate throw. That resulting throw was picked off by Bernard Pollard who watched Vick’s eyes and knew the throw was coming because he had nowhere to go.
The Ravens know Kaepernick can play, but they also know they can take advantage of mistakes if they just stay patient and focused on their assignments.
Keep Aldon Smith Away From Joe Flacco
Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks this season. Aldon Smith hasn’t recorded sack in the last five games (two playoff games included). That shows you how dialed in he was and how much havoc – sans the sacks – he wrecks on offensive lineman.
A guy with the talent level of an Aldon Smith would surely get his at some point, you just hope it doesn’t happen this Sunday and that’s what the Ravens are hoping because Smith is a game changer and John Harbaugh doesn’t want this guy anywhere near Joe Flacco.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said in one of his many Super Bowl pressers this week that he wasn’t concerned that Aldon Smith isn’t recording sacks. He’s happy because he’s getting pressure and hurries on quarterbacks which at times can be nearly as beneficial as a sack. He has a great combination of power and speed at 6’4″ 258 pounds and can beat lineman in a variety of fashions.
For the Ravens to be successful, they’ll need the biggest game yet out of either Bryant McKinnie (more likely) or Michael Oher, which ever side Smith lines up on. Smith is good enough to beat both of these guys man-to-man, so look for the Ravens to keep an extra tight end or using Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce in at times to help chip Smith. Getting help at guard play from Marshal Yanda or Kelechi Osemele will help, and I imagine that’s how the Ravens will want to slow Smith down.
It’s all about allowing Joe Flacco to get into a rhythm and timing with his receivers, keeping him upright will do just that.
Shutdown Vernon Davis
The former standout at the University of Maryland has seen a dip in his numbers during the regular season, but turned it up against the Atlanta Falcons as he found soft spots in the defense. Davis finished with 106 yards and a touchdown.
Davis is blessed with an insane amount of strength and solid route running which will help his quarterback should he find areas to exploit in the Ravens defense. He can pose problems with his ability to get yards after the catch and he’ll try to make plays deep down the field in man coverage.
Will the Ravens play solid coverage and make Davis play like the guy who had just six catches for 61 yards in the last six regular season game? Or will we see Davis be a decoy to get someone else open remains to be seen, but Kaepernick will look to get him the ball early and often to get the 49ers offense moving.
Prediction: Ravens 24, San Francisco 19
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.