Matchups: Super Bowl XLVIISunday, February 03, 2013
Super Bowl XLVII: Sunday at 6:30PM ET
Baltimore vs. San Francisco
Both offensively and defensively, the 49ers have a significant run-game edge on the Ravens. San Francisco's defensive front seven is capable of shutting down rushing attacks, and the Niners' running offense is both efficient and dynamic. Including the regular season and playoffs, San Francisco has 21 run plays of 20-plus yards and averages 5.25 yards per carry. On a similar number of attempts, Baltimore has just 13 20-plus-yard rushes and runs at a 4.28 per-carry clip. And the Ravens' defense isn't nearly as stout as the 49ers'. Baltimore will be in trouble if it falls behind early, allowing the Niners' rushing attack to pound away. On read-option plays, San Francisco doesn't just break off four- and five-yard chain-moving gains. It hits home runs. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are a formidable duo, but their outlook is grim compared to Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, and LaMichael James'. ... Where the Ravens can give the 49ers fits is in the passing game. Kaepernick has a rocket arm, but tends to get jumpy with bodies around him, resulting in sailed throws and/or hurried decisions. Kaepernick, of course, is also a threat to break off long runs when the defense makes him move. But forcing him to throw from muddied quarters would give Baltimore its best chance at causing turnovers and getting off the field on third-and-longs. This is where rush specialists Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs come in. Recent performance suggests Baltimore has a decided advantage on San Francisco in terms of hurrying the passer.
Not much of a three-receiver team anymore since Mario Manningham's year-ending knee injury, the 49ers primarily play two-tight end offense. Vernon Davis handles 94 percent of the offensive snaps. No. 2 tight end Delanie Walker is a nearly 60-percent player. San Francisco is well equipped to work the middle of the field in the passing game, attacking Baltimore coverage liabilities Ray Lewis at middle linebacker and Bernard Pollard at strong safety. When Crabtree lines up on the perimeter, he'll be a good bet to win one-on-ones versus shaky Ravens outside cornerbacks Cary Williams and Chykie Brown. The Niners' offense matches up favorably with Baltimore's defense on paper, and it's fair to wonder if Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees will craft a game-specific scheme for Super Bowl XLVII. Pees usually calls things straightaway, asking his defenders to simply do their jobs and play assignment-sound ball. ... Expect to see Davis draw Pollard and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe in coverage on the majority of pass routes. They're matchups Davis should be able to win consistently. Although Pollard lays wood in the run game, he is a plus-sized safety at 6-foot-1, 224 pounds whose strength has never been coverage. Ellerbe, 6-foot-1, 240, is Baltimore's designated cover 'backer on all passing downs.
Whereas Kruger and Suggs have racked up 13 combined quarterback hits through three playoff games, the 49ers' tandem of Aldon and Justin Smith has amassed just two QB hits in two postseason affairs. The Smiths' lack of pass-rush production has been blamed on double and triple teams in some circles. In other circles, it's argued that the Smiths are indeed generating subjective "pressures," despite physically being unable to put signal callers on their backs. The 49ers are winning games, but opposing quarterbacks are coming away from them with clean jerseys. San Francisco is going to have to get more from the Smiths in order to slow red-hot Joe Flacco's roll. ... Flacco's strength is his ability to power downfield throws into tight windows. If given time to take five- and seven-step drops as his receivers' routes develop, Flacco can be made to look like a top eight or ten NFL quarterback. Although San Francisco is a better, more talented team, I think the reason Super Bowl XLVII will be a close game is because Baltimore possesses the personnel to affect the opposing quarterback on a consistent basis. The 49ers theoretically have personnel to do the same thing, but they haven't been doing it lately. They haven't done it since Justin Smith tore his triceps in the Week 15 game against the Patriots.
Since Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, Torrey Smith has run a more diverse route tree. Rather than strict "Iso" patterns down the sideline, Smith has become an intermediate weapon on increased slants and comebacks. Reducing the usage of two-back sets, Caldwell's offense has leaned more on three-receiver and two-tight end packages while phasing out lead blocker Vonta Leach. The three-wides and two-tights translate to more one-on-one opportunities for Smith, slot receiver Anquan Boldin, and "move" tight end Dennis Pitta. Look for Boldin to work in 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers' coverage for most of the Super Bowl while Smith tangles with Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown on the perimeter. Inside 'backer Patrick Willis performs the majority of San Francisco's tight end coverage and figures to match up early and often with Pitta. ... As alluded to previously, San Francisco's offense has a number of what appear to be obvious advantages on Baltimore's defense; clear areas to attack. The same cannot be said as Baltimore's offense matches up with San Francisco's defense. ESPN tape guru Ron Jaworski predicted on SportsCenter this week that the winner of the Pitta-Willis pass coverage matchup will be the Super Bowl XLVII victor. I'd go with Smith versus Culliver as the matchup that will go the longest way toward determining whether Baltimore can play explosive offense. If press-man corner Culliver can disrupt Smith's routes at the line of scrimmage, the vertical-oriented Ravens will struggle to go vertical. Smith will be targeted most frequently in Culliver's coverage.
Score Prediction: 49ers 30, Ravens 27