The Baltimore Ravens come into Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans as slight underdogs to the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. The defense that’s carried this team for more than a decade will hope to send Ray Lewis off with a title in his final football game. We give them three keys to this Sunday’s game.
1. Stop the 49ers rushing game, and we don’t just mean Kaepernick
After the NFC Championship game, some experts said that although San Francisco had won, the Atlanta Falcons had provided a blueprint for stopping 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The speedy signal caller rushed for 181 yards against Green Bay, but only gained 21 against Atlanta. That doesn’t mean the Falcons stuffed the San Francisco running game though. On two key touchdown runs for the Niners, Kaepernick ran option plays where the Falcons D focused on him and San Francisco still scored. Kaepernick held onto the ball long enough to make the linebackers commit to stopping him, then handed off to running backs LaMichael James and Frank Gore, who both had huge gaps to run through for touchdowns. So when the Ravens face Kaepernick, they cannot overcommit to him at the expense of letting James and Gore run free.
[Video: Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh NFL Rush Zone cartoon]
2. Use Ray Rice as a receiver out of the backfield
Ray Rice caught 61 passes this year for 478 yards to go with his 1,143 yards on the ground. He’s clearly a quality option in the receiving game, especially as a check down if Joe Flacco faces pressure. Where Rice fails in the passing game is with blocking and picking up blitzes. So a more effective way to slow San Francisco’s pass rush is to send him out into the flat or over the middle as a receiver. If Rice is a factor in the passing attack, the 49ers will need to drop a linebacker like NaVorro Bowman into coverage to shadow him, and that’s one less Niner breathing down Flacco’s neck.
[Photo: Cartoon versions of some of football’s biggest stars]
3. Beware of backbreaking penalties
Yes, trying to not commit too many penalties is a cliché you could apply to any team in any football game. However, the Ravens have a knack for picking up big ones. This season Baltimore had the second-most penalties accepted against them and the most penalty yards assessed (1,127). The trend has continued in the playoffs. Against the Patriots in the AFC Championship the Ravens racked up three unnecessary roughness calls. The Ray Lewis-led defense plays on the edge of clean and dirty. The D overcame those penalties against the Pats, but at 15 yards per, they could swing the game against the Niners.