For the Baltimore Ravens organization to hoist up the Lombardi Trophy for the 2nd time, they are going to have to get past a very talented and physical San Francisco 49ers team in Super Bowl 47.
Here are some thoughts / comments on the NFC Champion Niners:
1) San Francisco was 11-4-1 in the Regular Season. They were 3rd in Total Defense (4th in Passing, 4th in Rushing), and 11th in Total Offense (23rd Passing, 4th Rushing).
2) In the past Month+, Ravens fans saw two vastly different games against the Denver Broncos. That provided the reminder that every game varies, and only so much can be gleaned from looking at even the most recent history. With that in-mind, there is not much to take from the Ravens 16-6 victory over San Francisco on Thanksgiving 2011. There simply is minimal (possibly no) relevancy to what we will see in New Orleans February 3rd. For example, I’m sure Baltimore’s Coaches are trying to determine how they got Alex Smith to the ground 9 times, with that mauling 49ers O-line blocking for Smith. However, Smith is no longer under Center for the Niners, so that whole equation changes. This is a new game, with teams that are basically unfamiliar with each other. Even comparative game-film is sparse, as these teams only played two common opponents in 2012.
3) As mentioned above, San Fran has a mauling physical O-line. The strength of the line is the left-side with LT Joe Staley, and LG Mike Iupati. Iupati was a 1st team All-Pro this year, and Staley was a 2nd team selection. At RT is Anthony Davis, who like Iupati, was a 1st round selection in 2010. For the year, they did allow 41 sacks, tied for the 9th highest total in the league.
4) The heart of the 49ers is not Harbaugh, or Kaepernick; but their extremely talented LB’s. There were 10 Linebackers in the NFL selected as either a 1st or 2nd team All-Pro. San Francisco had 4 of them. Inside LB’s Patrick Willis, and NaVorro Bowman were 1st teamers, as was OLB Aldon Smith. Fellow OLB Ahmad Brooks was 2nd team.
Willis had 120 tackles (88 solo) with 2 picks, and 2 forced fumbles. Bowman had 149 tackles (97 solo), with a pick and a forced fumble. Smith had 19.5 sacks, a pick, and 3 forced fumbles. Brooks added 6.5 sacks of his own.
4a) Smith has not had a sack since December 9th, going 0 for his last 5 games.
5) If you have LB’s running around making plays sideline-to-sideline, you need bodies up-front to control blockers. San Fran’s NT is Isaac Sopoaga. Drafted in ’04, the 31 year old Samoan made his NFL debut in ’05. He’s never been named to a Pro Bowl, but at 330 lb’s he probably eats up some space. He did have a fairly crucial sack against Atlanta in the NFC Championship. Next to Sopoaga, is 2nd team All-Pro Justin Smith. Smith is playing with what is being reported as a ‘half-torn triceps tendon.’
ESPN’s Trent Dilfer recently commented on Smith saying, “So much of Justin’s greatness doesn’t show up in making plays. So much of it is in how he helps others to make plays. I’m convinced he’s one of the top 10 best players in the N.F.L., the impact he has on every game.”
6) 4x Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore remains in the backfield. For the year, Gore had 1,214 rushing yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Additionally he had 28 receptions. From Weeks 11-17 (7 games), Gore never had more than 83 rush yards in a game (accomplished twice). In the Playoffs vs. GB and SF; Gore has averaged 22 carries, and 104.5 rushing yards per. By Gore’s own admission, he didn’t like the Niners Pistol offense at first, but his opinion has changed.
2012 2nd round pick LaMichael James, did not touch the field until December 9th. Since that point, James has illustrated the speed and play-making ability he showed as a member of the Oregon Ducks. James has had a run of 13 yards or longer in 5 of the 6 games he has played.
Helping to block for Gore, and James is 2nd year FB Bruce Miller, a former Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.
7) Many Ravens fans are familiar with former Terp Vernon Davis. Amazingly, the TE is already in the 7th year of his career. Shockingly, Davis has only been to a Pro Bowl once. I say ‘shockingly’ because Davis is one of the most physically gifted players the NFL has to offer. Davis’ Pro Bowl Season was 2009, when he had 78 catches and was targeted 129 times. This year, Davis had 41 catches, while being targeted just 61 times. For the year, he averaged 13.4 yards per catch, and 4.2 yards after the catch. Prior to the NFC Championship Game, there were a lot of calls that more was needed from Davis. He responded with 5 grabs, for 106 yards. He was also lauded several times for his down-field blocking.
Delanie Walker is mostly a blocking TE, but he did have 21 catches during the year, and was targeted 7 times vs. GB and ATL.
8) There appears to be little substance to the sexual assault charges filed against WR Michael Crabtree. Since Kaepernick took over, Crabtree has been targeted at-least 11 times in a game, on 5 different occasions. 4 times he has gone over 100 yards receiving. The 2009 1st round pick finished the year with 85 catches, and 1,105 yards (13 ypc). He averaged a strong 6.4 yards after the catch.
Opposite of Crabtree is Randy Moss. The 5x All-Pro ended his 1 year retirement, to sign with San Francisco and attempt to help contribute to a Super Bowl caliber team. A Super Bowl title is the lone thing that is not on Moss’s resume. Is he capable of firing up the cylinders one more time, and becoming a factor vs. the Ravens? NFL Analysts have said this year that Moss still has plus speed. For the year, Moss had 28 catches, averaging 15.5 ypc. You have to think SF will attempt to go down the field with Moss several times. He had 3 catches for 46 yards vs. Atlanta.
San Francisco is dealing with the recent loss of Mario Manningham, who tore both his ACL and PCL in a December game vs. Seattle.
Ted Ginn Jr. (a Dolphins 1st round pick in 2007), had 2 catches on the year, but was used for both Kick and Punt returns. Ginn had 11 KR’s, averaging 23 yards per return. He also had 32 PR’s, averaging 10.2 ypr.
2012 1st round pick AJ Jenkins (Illinois) had 0 catches in his Rookie season.
9) Two former 1st rounders are in the Secondary with CB Carlos Rogers (Redskins selected him 9th overall in ’05), and SS Donte Whitner (Buffalo selected him 8th overall in ’06). Opposite of Rogers is Tarell Brown, who is in his 6th year out of Texas. At FS is Dashon Goldson. Rogers was a 2nd team All-Pro last year. Whitner is a 2012 Pro Bowler. Goldson, a 4th rounder in ’07, is a 1st team All-Pro this year.
10) We mentioned Ginn’s numbers in the San Fran return game. Other Special Team’s specialists include David Akers at PK, and the Punter Andy Lee. Lee was a 1st team All-Pro this year. Akers made 44 FG’s in 2011. In ’12, Akers missed 13 of his 42 attempts. Akers was 7 of 13 from 40-49, and 2 of 6 from 50+.
Bonus: Many Maryland fans got their first look at Kaepernick in the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl (with the Terps beating Kaepernick’s Nevada Wolf Pack 42-35. Kaepernick threw for 370 yards and 3 TD’s, but was limited to 15 yards on 9 carries.) Slightly more relevant is how Kaepernick has played for San Francisco since being inserted into the starting lineup in mid-November. ESPN’s Total QBR had Kaepernick 3rd overall by that measure, just behind Brady, and ahead of Ryan. NFL fans are still buzzing about the 181 yards he had on the ground against Green Bay in the Divisional Round. He also had 84 yards vs. St. Louis in December. In his other 7 starts, he has averaged 25 yards rushing.