Two weeks ago, the Ravens finally got over the hump, beating the Patriots in New England, 28-13 to advance to Super Bowl XLVII. After trailing at the half, Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin put on a show offensively, hooking up twice. Defensively, key interceptions by Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams in the fourth quarter helped seal the win.
Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-21/36 for 240 passing yards, 3 TDs
Key to the Win: In the second half, the game was put in Joe Flacco's hands, and Flacco proved to his doubters what he can be. A dominant second-half performance put the Ravens on top in this one.
This Sunday, the Ravens will make their second ever Super Bowl appearance, and their first in twelve years. Back in 2001, the Ravens took down the Giants in Tampa, 34-7. This year, they head to New Orleans to take on the San Francisco 49ers, who went 11-4-1 in the regular season. The headlines in this one are sure to make it one of the more dramatic Super Bowl games ever. The fraternal head coaching matchup of John and Jim Harbaugh. The final time Ray Lewis steps onto a football field. The final game Ed Reed plays in a purple uniform, most likely. Joe Flacco looking to set the record straight on his "elite" status. Emotions will be high in this one.
These two teams last met last year on Thanksgiving night. The game was centered around the Harbaugh brothers, with John and the Ravens coming away with a 16-6 win. But looking at that game holistically for a preview of this one is a moot. When 49ers starting QB Alex Smith went down to an injury earlier in the year, second-year man Colin Kaepernick took over. His play impressed Jim Harbaugh, who left him in as the starter even when Smith healed. Kaepernick is a very mobile quarterback, rushing for over 600 yards and seven TDs in his nine starts. The Ravens will need to keep someone in the box to contain Kaepernick and keep him in the middle of the field. If he can get to the outside and run, he'll burn the Ravens with his speed and agility. Kaepernick also has a very strong arm. His balls seem to fly on a rope, making his receivers very difficult to cover. Michael Crabtree was the team's leading receiver in the regular season, racking up over 1,000 yards and getting to the end zone nine times. Future Hall of Fame WR Randy Moss is not nearly as much of a deep-field threat as he used to be, but he remains a potential game-changer if he can get past the Ravens secondary. TE Vernon Davis, a Maryland alum, did not have as successful a regular season as he usually does, but he has turned it on in the playoffs. In the NFC championship win over the Falcons, Davis caught five balls for 105 yards and a touchdown. His size and speed could create a major mismatch in coverage when a linebacker is on him. On the ground, Kaepernick serves as much of a threat as RB Frank Gore does. Gore is a solid up-field runner, but has some struggles against good run defenses. The Ravens need to bottle him up and make sure he doesn't break off any big runs to gain momentum as the game goes on.
On defense, the 49ers remain one of the most daunting in the NFL. Their staunch run defense ranked 4th in the NFL during the regular season. They are led by linebackers Patrick Willis, who many have likened to Ray Lewis, and Aldon Smith, who led the NFC in sacks this year. Despite Smith's hot start to the season, he has not picked up a sack in the last five games, and may be dealing with a more serious shoulder injury than at first anticipated. The team leader in tackles this year for the Niners was NaVarro Bowman, who is a major threat in pass coverage. His athletic ability evens up his matchups against both tight ends and wide receivers. Joe Flacco must known where Bowman is at all times. The Niners secondary is not nearly as intimidating as the rest of their defense, but they are still good at their jobs. They are led by a solid safety corps of Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, who combined for four interceptions and three forced fumbles during the regular season. Despite their being a strong defensive unit, I think the Ravens can still move the ball and put up some points with a balanced and confident offensive attack.
Prediction: These two teams are eerily similar on both sides of the ball. This game will come down to red zone defense. When the offense gets down around the twenty, can you limit them to three points? That will be the difference on Sunday. The Ravens have been very successful in those situations defensively this year, so I'll give them the advantage there. It could also come down to the kickers. 49ers K David Akers missed more field goals than any other kicker in the NFL this season. Don't be surprised if that plays into tomorrow's winner. In a close and nail-biting game, I have Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense pulling it out at the end. The Ravens will win this one, 27-20.
Key Matchups for Ravens at 49ers
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick Edge: Reed
Analysis: The greatest ball-hawk in NFL history will have quite a challenge in his first Super Bowl. But he wants a ring bad. And he'll turn it up a few notches to get one.
Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. 49ers TE Vernon Davis Edge: Lewis
Analysis: In Ray Lewis' final NFL game, he'll be emotional and revved up. But that doesn't do anything to discount the talent of Davis. He will provide a great challenge for Ray.
Ravens LB Paul Kruger vs. 49ers LT Joe Staley Edge: Staley
Analysis: Although Kruger has had a great year, I think Joe Staley is prime for a great performance. It's important that Krug and the rest of the Ravens pass rush get to Kaepernick, but I think they'll have a rough time doing it against Staley.
Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie vs. 49ers LB Aldon Smith Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith is one of the more dominant pass rushers in the league. He'll get around the Ravens offensive line, but not enough to take over the whole game.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. 49ers LB Patrick Willis Edge: Willis
Analysis: Despite Rice's speed, he had some trouble last year with Willis. That's the one thing that carries over from that game. Willis has an uncanny ability to stuff the middle. He'll get the better of Rice in this one.
Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. 49ers secondary Edge: Smith
Analysis: This is the one that could really turn the game around. Torrey Smith is developing himself into one of the premier deep-field threats in the league, and will burn a less-than-outstanding Niners secondary. Even one big play could be the play that decides the winner of this game.
No one listed as worse than probable
No one listed as worse than probable
A special congratulations goes to former Ravens LT Jonathan Ogden, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame today. He will be officially inducted in August. Former Ravens owner Art Modell was a finalist, but was not inducted.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report. No matter the outcome, I'll be back next week to do a wrap-up of the 2012-13 Baltimore Ravens complete with individual awards. See you next week and go Ravens!