We are just a little more than two days away from the final game of the 2012-2013 NFL season, with the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers playing one another in Super Bowl XLVII. All the story lines have been rehashed about 20 times an hour for the last two weeks on SportsCenter and the NFL Network, and we are just ready for some food and football (and commercials).
We try to stay away from the “experts” during the run up to kickoff of the Big Game, because we try not to get lost in any narrative created by the media. But we do admit to listening to sports talk radio to and from the office. So we know of a few that have been hanging over this Super Bowl like none other as far as the actual play of these two teams. The so-called ‘experts’ will tell you that the 49ers run a gimmick offense. Another is that Baltimore is all about the pass with Joe Flacco becoming one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and the one that floored us more than anything else was that the Ravens have a great defense. It’s easy to take what people say on the radio and TV, because most fans don’t look deeper into what is happening. They just take what is told to them at face value. But we want to take our own look into this game and see what is going to lead these teams to a victory.
When the Ravens have the ball: So as you may have heard, Joe Flacco is seeking a new contract at the end of the season. He is going to get one, and it is going to be a substantial raise. But while Flacco has certainly upped his play this past season, let’s not forget what really make the Ravens click more than anything, and that is Ray Rice.
Rice has been the focal point of the Ravens’ offense for the better part of four years, averaging 1266 yards since becoming the starter in 2009. He also has averaged 610 yards receiving. When Rice is getting touches, the Ravens are generally winning. When the Ravens get the ball to Rice, either handing it off, or throwing screens and swing passes, they win more often or not. In the Ravens victories during the regular season, Rice averaged 22 touches a game, as opposed to 15 in their losses. Even if we throw out the Week 17 loss to Cincy, since Rice and other starters would pulled, he still averaged five less touches in losses. One would be quick to say that the Ravens were playing catch-up in those losses, because that is a general trend when running backs don’t get the ball, but that isn’t necessarily true. Only two of those losses can that be said to be true. Not counting the Bengals game, the Ravens led in the other three games. This was one of the major reasons that Cam Cameron was fired. He didn’t utilize Rice properly.
The 49ers arguably have the best front-seven in all of football. The defense has little weakness, and their obvious strength is against the pass. They have a ferocious pass rush with Aldon Smith, and the pressure they create on quarterbacks leads to a ton of turnovers. This doesn’t mean it is easier to run on them. But Baltimore will be best served to rely on the run. Why? Because in the 49ers four losses this season, teams ran the ball an average of 36 times, opposed to 22 carries in the 49ers 11 wins and one tie. In the 49ers 7 point win over Seattle and their tie with the Rams, they were run on 29 and 37 times. If you want to stay in the game against the 49ers, you need to commit to the run.
Yes, Joe Flacco has played brilliantly in the playoffs, and had a very solid season. Yes, Torrey Smith a great wide receiver, and appears to be ready to make the leap into the upper echelon of receivers. And yes, Anquan Boldin is the toughest wide receiver in the game. But this teams success is predicated off the run. Ray Rice sets up the pass, and allows Flacco to throw those deep routes like he can.The 49ers are a ball-hawking defense. If Jim Caldwell thinks he can get away with going over the top, the Ravens will find themselves looking desperate in the 2nd half.
When the 49ers have the ball: Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Colin Kaepernick, and Anthony Dixon better be ready to run. This is not the 2000 Ravens. Teams can run at will on this team.
The 49ers are a team that already were really efficient at running the ball. They have been for the last several years with Frank Gore, the 9ers all-time leader in rushing yards. But they are even more explosive on the ground with Kaepernick under center. The read-option offense is certainly not gimmicky. Parts of the offense have been used for years in the NFL, regardless of what the media will tell you. Atlanta was using it Michael Vick, and the Patriots and Manning-led Colts were also utilizing it as well. For the case of the Pats and Colts, the elements they used were to help with the passing game, and keep blizters off the back of Brady and Manning, who happen to be statues in the pocket. But Kaepernick adds the element of being able to run, like Vick did, but, he can pass, like Manning and Brady. No, I’m not saying that Kaepernick is an all-time great, but the kid is the real deal. He could be the next great one as long as he stays healthy. He is prone to make mistakes, as he hasn’t even played an entire season at QB in the NFL, but he is a great playmaker. It is obvious why Alex Smith was replaced. His success isn’t predicated simply because of the offense that the 49ers have put him in, but it certainly maximizes his ability. That’s what a good team does. Much of the reason Vick struggled during his career is because an offense wasn’t tailored around his skill-set. Kaepernick is the engine that makes this offense go, and it is best on the ground.
This game is going to simply be about ball control. Both have the capability of quick strikes, but both are successful when running the ball. San Fran’s run game is awesome. They were 4th in rushing in the NFL this past season, but remember, half the season was played without Kaepernick. They only had less than a 100 yards once, and that was 82 against the Seahawks on the road. And let’s not forget about the 323 yards they put up on the Packers in the playoffs, 181 coming from their young QB.
Intangibles: They don’t exist. That’s radio fodder.
Prediction: Ultimately, I don’t think the Ravens can slow down the 49ers offense. It’s a juggernaut now. They have all the right pieces in all the right places. Kaepernick is going to go off for 100 yards on the ground and another 250 in the air.
San Francisco 31 Ravens 17