The Baltimore Ravens meet the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Sunday night. Amid the $4 million advertisements, the half-time celebrity-fueled over-the-top performances, and the obnoxious channel promotions of television shows destined to be cancelled by the time the NFL training camps open this summer, there is a football game played. Among all the story lines that the media spins and spits out (brother versus brother; Ray Lewis’ retirement;
Ravens defensive end/outside linebacker Paul Kruger as an unlikely Super Bowl MVP; quarterback with tattoos!) is a common thread: both teams beat the New England Patriots on their path to the Super Bowl.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers:
The San Francisco 49ers were arguably the most impressive team that faced off against the New England Patriots this season. Just like when they faced Baltimore in the AFC Championship, the Patriots were coming off a big blow-out of the outmatched and outclassed Houston Texans. On a cold and wet Sunday night in December, the 49ers rode into Foxboro, MA and shot-up the Patriots defense to the tune of 31-3 lead. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore sliced up the Patriots defense like they were rank amateurs. Although the Patriots made a furious comeback to tie the game, the 49ers woke up and outplayed the Patriots over the last 5 minutes of the game to gain the victory.
The Patriots were outplayed and trailed 31-3 early in the third quarter. The 49ers turned the tables on the Patriots by forcing 4 turnovers in the game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw a couple of interceptions and running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley both fumbled the ball away. San Francisco, as they had all season (except against St Louis for some odd reason) moved the ball on offense and harassed the opposing defense. Then, things changed in the middle of the third quarter.
San Francisco took their foot off the pedal. Their defense backed off, and suddenly the game was 31 to 31 as the Patriots attacked. Then, disaster struck for the Patriots as the 49ers special teams set up a long kick return. One play later, 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree beat Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (playing for an injured Alfonzo Dennard) on a quick pass and the tie was gone. The 49ers defense finally got strong again, and was able to close out the game.
The 49ers showed why they are legitimately the best team in the league when beating the Patriots. Their offense is strong lining-up and running the ball with Frank Gore. Add in their dual threat at quarterback with young Colin Kaepernick, and the 49ers can run or throw effectively on any play. The 49ers defense is a strength,though their secondary had a rough period of time in the second half showing some vulnerability; however, the defense stepped up when it counted and applied pressure on the quarterback. The special teams made two huge plays against New England, converting a fake punt and the kickoff return that set up the win.
San Francisco will likely give up some big plays to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, but expect their explosive offense to make some big plays of their own to keep them in the game.
The Baltimore Ravens faced the Patriots two weeks ago in the AFC Championship as well as early in the season during week three.. In both cases, the Ravens beat the Patriots. Two weeks ago they rode their defense early on as they Patriots offense was kept out of the red zone and could not convert on 3rd and Gronkowski (I mean, 3rd and short yardage). Once the Patriots lost cornerback Aqib Talib to injury, the Baltimore deep passing attack started clicking and the defense was able to protect the lead, much like they had in week three.
Very similar to San Francisco against the Patriots, the Ravens never completely abandoned the running game and opened up the secondary to make big plays down the field. The Ravens pounded the Patriots stout rush defense with running back Ray Rice and, even when contained, kept the defense honest. The Ravens offense made in game adjustments and changed their emphasis based upon the match-ups defensively.
The Ravens defense had trouble versus the Patriots in their initial match-up, but was impressive in the AFC Championship Game. Baltimore held New England to field goals and, although gave up some yards, was strong on third down and got off the field against the most explosive offense in football. San Francisco is tough to match-up with on offense as well, and includes the running ability of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Ravens may not have a linebacker capable of running with Kaepernick, their 3-4 outside linebackers, Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs, have the pass rush capability to force Kaepernick inside the pocket toward massive defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and the other inside rushers and force containment.
The Ravens defense has the flexibility to match-up against different offenses. On their resume this postseason include defeating rookie sensation quarterback Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, then future hall of fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning of Denver and Tom Brady. Denver put up 35 points, but 14 came on special teams. Baltimore tightened up their special teams gaffes against the Patriots, and should be able to stay with San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
FINAL SUPER BOWL PREDICTION:
The Baltimore Ravens face a tough match-up with San Francisco. Both teams have explosive offenses that should produce enough big plays even against top defenses to score a few times each. For both squads, it will be a familiar battle plan: Strong defense, big opportunities on offense, and solid special teams. Against the Patriots, both teams in the Super Bowl this year showed their balance and effectiveness in all three phases of the game. Whichever defense can nudge out one more big play than the other should pull of a close game.
My gut screams San Francisco has one big defensive play more than Baltimore, and the prediction is San Francisco over Baltimore, 24 -21.