BayAreaBall Musings: It’s the Big Game!!!
Frank: Alright Aaron, I know what you’re thinking right now. “Why didn’t you just call this post It’s the Super Bowl?” Well I want to make sure that we don’t get BayAreaBall sued by the NFL for using the name especially after what they did to the Har-Bowl Guy and I have a feeling that “Big Game” is a SEO gold mine (Inside the Internet joke). So let’s start off with some keys to victory for both the Niners and Ravens. Then we can talk about worst case scenarios for both teams and then finish up with our selections and illegal betting strategies. Keys to Victory, GOOOO!
Aaron: All the usual stuff is a given. Don’t take dumb penalties, don’t turn the ball over, limit the big plays against, etc. What I’m curious to see is how the Ravens defend the 49ers coming off of two games against teams that don’t present much of a deep threat. Peyton Manning’s noodle arm was never a serious threat to go over the top of Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard even though the Broncos have two very nice receivers that can stretch the field. Conversely, Tom Brady throws one of the better deep balls in the NFL but he just doesn’t have anyone on the outside that is a credible threat when it comes to getting behind the defense. The result for the Ravens was that they were able to really clog up the short and intermediate stuff in the middle of the field, which just happens to be where both Manning and Brady thrive.
Now the Ravens are facing a 49ers team that has generated a lot of big plays since making the switch to Kaepernick. Granted, a lot of those big plays have come from Kaepernick running the ball and from Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game rather than the WR position, but I think it’ll be tough for those safeties to play up as much as they did in their last two games. So do they stay back right from the get go? Do they dance with the girl that brung’em and stay up? And for the 49ers, what are they anticipating? If they think the Ravens are going to keep those safeties up then they should take a shot or two early, but if they Ravens play back and the 49ers take those shots they risk throwing the ball up for Ed Reed. To me that little chess match is going to have a big impact on the outcome of the game.
And it’s not just the Ravens safeties that will go long ways in deciding this Super Bowl. We all know Dashon Goldson has a tendency to cheat a little and jump some routes. He’s gotten away from it for the most part this season but he hasn’t gone cold turkey. We’ve all seen Flacco and the Ravens offense create big plays in the passing game during the playoffs and I think the 49ers will want to take away those deep balls and make Flacco complete 7 or 8 passes on a drive to get into the endzone. His completion percentage would suggest that’s not really his strong suit and I think if he can beat the 49ers by throwing shorter passes consistently you’ve just got to tip your hat to him.
The 49ers were among the best in the league during the regular season at limiting big plays in the passing game by being conservative with their safeties, which they can afford to do because of how well the front seven stops the run without help. They even had excellent coverage on two of the bigger plays against them in the postseason (the James Jones catch against Green Bay and the Julio Jones TD in Atlanta). On both of those plays it took a great catch and perfect throw to beat the defense. In the Super Bowl Goldson has to avoid trying to jump routes and get caught out of position. I don’t think the 49ers can totally shut out the Ravens on the deep passes, but this game could come down to whether those deep balls are 40 yard completions or 60 yard touchdowns. If nothing else Goldson has to be in a position to make the tackle if the pass is completed.
I doubt the 49ers are as concerned about Ray Rice as the Patriots and Broncos probably were because they have that great front seven and because they’ve seen what kind of damage Flacco can do, so they will want to take away the deep passes and force Flacco to play more like Manning and Brady typically do.
FG: I definitely think the pressure is going to fall squarely on the Niners secondary to go out on Sunday and make a lot of plays. If anything, the Niners will be worried about the play of Culliver and Brown on the outside which means Goldson and Whitner will have to do a really good job of communicating and giving help over the top. Although once you get past Torrey Smith, the Ravens receiving corps isn’t something that the Niners will be losing too much sleep over. Sure everyone is still worried about Anquan Boldin but unless he plans on living over the middle and dealing with the big hits, I feel like he is going to be kept in check all game.
The Niners just need to continue what they have done all year on defense and that is continue to get 3 and outs and take the pressure off of Kaepernick so that he doesn’t feel like he has to win the game by himself. Plus if the Niners want to win Sunday’s game running away, they have to come out and be even more physical than they usually are. That means Mama and Papa York better get those checkbooks ready because if the Niners come out early and just lay someone out a la last year playoff game versus the Saints, I think they get in Flacco’s head and make the receivers pull off routes early and place all of the pressure on Ray Rice to carry the offensive load.
If that happens, it is going to be a long day for the Ravens and Flacco with a somber Ray Lewis looking on and wondering where he will get his next deer antler fix. But then again, if the Ravens come out and are the more physically dominant team the complexion of the game then changes dramatically. If Suggs and Ngata are able to get into a grove and dominate the line then I think the Ravens can force Kaepernick into some ill advised throws which will just give Ed Reed more chances at INT’s. Plus when the Ravens defense plays well it seems to give Flacco a lot more confidence to go out and take chances on big throws down the field which could translate into a long day for Brown who will probably be matched up one on one with Jacoby Jones. Which probably doesn’t seem like much right now, but if Brown continues to struggle, Jones could be the beneficiary.
The one problem in my Ravens theory is that I don’t think they can match the Niners physicality for the entirety of the game. Based on one simple thing, the Ravens are old and the Niners aren’t. Unless all the Ravens got a massive load of hologram stickers and deer antler spray and have perfectly cycled up to kickoff, it is pretty much that cut and dry because when you look at both teams they are almost spitting images of each other. The key difference being that the Ravens are the Dorian Gray portrait while the Niners are Dorian Gray.
Alright Aaron, so let’s figure out what would be the worst case scenarios for both teams and if the proverbial “crap” hit the fan. I will try and limit my deer antler references but I can make no promises.
AR: Well as I mentioned leading into the NFC Championship Game, my biggest fear for the 49ers was the game coming down to David Akers. That hasn’t changed a bit. Jim Harbaugh made a point of mentioning the fact that Akers didn’t miss a kick all week in practice. I suppose that’s better than the alternative but the fact that Harbaugh felt the need to bring it up tells me he doesn’t feel good about his kicker either. When you compare these two teams position group by position group the only area where the Ravens have a decided edge is with their place kicker.
I think the biggest problem for the Ravens is that The Smiths return to the form they had through the second half of the 49ers game in New England, the form that saw Aldon rack up 19½ sacks. If Aldon is wreaking havoc on the Baltimore offensive line it’s going to be tough for Flacco to do much with the deep passing game and their success in that area will probably determine whether they can keep pace with the 49ers.
I also mentioned in our leadup to the NFC Championship Game that football, at its core, is still a game won by big uglies and that the 49ers simply had better big uglies than the Falcons. Just like the fact that my biggest fear is still David Akers, I still feel like the 49ers have the advantage in the trenches. With Justin Smith battling injury, same as Haloti Ngata, I think the defensive lines are pretty even which wasn’t the case against Atlanta. However I think the 49ers have a an edge on the offensive line, both compared to Baltimore’s offensive line and in their matchups against the Ravens defense. Ngata isn’t in top form. Suggs isn’t in top form. Ray Lewis isn’t in top form. Ed Reed isn’t in top form. I actually see this game unfolding a lot like the NFC Championship Game, with the Ravens having some success early and the 49ers offensive line taking over the game late. The difference here is that I think the Falcons offense is better than Baltimore’s and I don’t see the 49ers falling behind by 17 at any time.
The last time Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman lost a game coming off a bye week was 2007, their first year at Stanford when they lost to Notre Dame. Since then they’ve gone 6-0-1, including last year’s playoff win over the Saints, and this year’s tie against the Rams and playoff victory over the Packers. This team has a great head coach and a great coaching staff and they know how to take advantage of extra time to prepare. They will have some new wrinkle for this game, something that the Ravens haven’t seen on tape yet, and that’s why my bold prediction for this game is that the 49ers will attempt some sort of a trick play. I don’t know exactly what it’ll be but there will be a fake kick, an onside kick, maybe Moss throwing a TD, or Staley catching another pass.
These teams are pretty even overall. The one major edge the Ravens have is their place kicker, and the biggest edge the 49ers have is in their linebacker group (which may ultimately be judged as one of the best ever). Other than that the teams are pretty close, but I give the 49ers a slight edge basically everywhere else. I don’t think this game is going to be a 55-10 or 49-26 blowout but I don’t think it’s going to be all that competitive in the 4th quarter either. It might actually end up being very similar to the 49ers Super Bowl win against the Dolphins in 1985, which was 38-16 and may not have even been that close. My final prediction: 49ers 31, Ravens 17.
Take us home Frank. Give me a bold prediction for the game and your final score.
FG: I definitely concur that when you look at every side of the ball the Niners have the distinct advantages save for the kicking game which is where my bold prediction will come in. I think David Akers will get to attempt 3 FG’s in the Super Bowl and will make only 2 of them. I have it that he misses his final field goal to put the Niners up and able to run out the clock leaving the Ravens a chance to drive down the field for a winning score. Akers is nowhere to be found on the sideline because he is being consoled by Alex Smith in the tunnel. The problem is that even though he misses, the Niners are left with their best option on the field to stop the Ravens and end up stopping them on a 4th and 4 that would get the Ravens into Field Goal range with about a minute left.
Even though I hate to admit that the Niners are good, they are and are a lot better than the Ravens. Literally, the only way I see the Ravens winning is if there is a complete and utter breakdown in Special Teams, if the Niners defense just doesn’t show up, or if Kaepernick just completely wets the bed and has his worst game as a pro. The likelihood of all three of those happening let alone 1 is pretty slim. Unless the whole Niners gang decided to do their best impersonation of Donovan McNabb and party till the sun came up on Bourbon street last night or Victor Conte shows up on the Ravens sideline as a special consultant, this game should go the Niners way. Plus after reading your Kaep Gun article, I’m even less inclined to go with the Ravens.
So my final prediction for Superbowl XLVII is Niners 23 – Ravens 21 and the MVP will be Patrick Willis who will have 12 tackles and 2 sacks.
Alright Aaron have fun watching the game and remember to drink some water every once in a while imbibing is going on. Also always remember Beer before Liquor, Never Sicker and Liquor before Beer, you’re all clear. I’m going to go prep for the flood of text’s from friends that I never knew were Niners fans and how all of a sudden they are diehard fans. This is my life..
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