February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Matchups

Matchups for the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in New Orleans:

Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh
click image to enlarge

Colin Kaepernick has good reason to stand behind Coach Jim Harbaugh, who named him the 49ers’ starting quarterback in November – a gamble that’s paid off big time.

The Associated Press

WHEN RAVENS HAVE THE BALL

When QB Joe Flacco (5) looks out from behind center Matt Birk (77) on Super Bowl Sunday, he could be seeing two things: $$$$, and the fiercest defense he's faced all season.

Flacco's contract is up after this game, and while it's a near cinch the Ravens won't let the five-year veteran leave, it's going to cost millions to keep him. A victory against San Francisco would add even more moolah to the pot.

This is one formidable challenge for Flacco because the Niners are more versatile than the defenses presented by Indianapolis, Denver and New England in the postseason.

Start with the league's best linebacking corps, featuring two All-Pros in Patrick Willis (52) and NaVorro Bowman (53). Aldon Smith (99) is considered a linebacker, but is a hybrid LB-DE and he led the NFC with 19½ sacks. Ahmad Brooks (55) comes off a spectacular second half in Atlanta.

But Flacco and his targets - WRs Anquan Boldin (81) and Torrey Smith (82), TE Dennis Pitta (88) and do-everything RB Ray Rice (27) - should be encouraged by what the Falcons accomplished in the first half. They found seams and gaps everywhere, and the 49ers' secondary must be stingier this time.

Boldin has been sensational on every route in the postseason (16 catches, 17.3-yard average, 3 TDs). CBs Carlos Rogers (22) and Tarell Brown (25) and Chris Culliver (29) will have a difficult time with the smart, physical Boldin.

Smith can get deep on anybody, so safeties Dashon Goldson (38), an All-Pro, and Donte Whitner (31) have to be sharp. And the biggest deep ball Baltimore completed was the 70-yarder to tie the game at Denver late in regulation time. That was to WR Jacoby Jones (12).

Pitta against Willis, Bowman and the safeties is a juicy matchup, too.

So is the entire offensive line attempting to neutralize Aldon Smith and defensive linemen Justin Smith (94), Ike Sopoaga (90), Ray McDonald (91), and Ricky Jean Francois (95). The main chore will fall to LT Bryant McKinnie (78), who seems to have resurrected his career in the postseason, and RT Michael Oher (74). Right guard Marshal Yanda (73) is Baltimore's best blocker.

WHEN 49ERS HAVE THE BALL

Everyone tries to run on Baltimore; all three opponents in the playoffs did so and the Niners will, too. The difference: San Francisco has, by far, the best running back in Frank Gore (21), best running QB in Colin Kaepernick (7), and best run blocking, led by left guard Mike Iupati (77) and left tackle Joe Staley (74) that the Ravens will face.

But the Ravens have the most physical and fundamentally sound front seven that San Francisco has seen in the playoffs. Ray Lewis (52) looks like he is in his prime and has 44 tackles in the three playoff wins. Fellow LBs Dannell Ellerbe (59), Terrell Suggs (55) and rookie Courtney Upshaw (91) must be especially active in getting to the holes if San Francisco's line remains dominant.

To prevent the 49ers from winning in the trenches, DT Haloti Ngata (92), NT Terrence Cody (62) and DE Pernell McPhee (90) need to be stout.

Gore is complemented by rookie RB LaMichael James (23) and, of course, Kaepernick. The second-year QB presents a major challenge whenever he tucks in the ball.

Or when he is throwing it. His arm is strong and accurate, and he isn't timid about letting go into tight spots to connect with TEs Vernon Davis (85) and Delanie Walker (46), WRs Michael Crabtree (15) and Randy Moss (84).

(Continued on page 2)

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