Everyone knows the big names going into Super Bowl 47; Colin Kaepernick for the San Francisco 49ers, Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis for the Baltimore Ravens. A successful football program is much more than just one or two stars, and often the most important pieces go by unnoticed.
San Francisco 49ers – Offensive Line
If there’s one thing that’s identifiable with the San Francisco 49ers this season, it’s their running game. They were fourth in the NFL during the regular season, averaging 155.7 yards per game. They ran for a total of 472 yards during their two postseason games, mostly boosted by Colin Kaepernick’s efforts in the divisional round vs the Packers, but Frank Gore added 209 yards in both games, adding three touchdown.
They key to a good running game? The offensive line. Joe Staley, Mike Iupati,Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis. Best in the NFL? While it’s hard to measure offensive line effectiveness, it doesn’t always show up in sack numbers. The Niners’ o-line gave up 41 sacks this season, bottom 10 in the league. But what they give to the running game and their ability to fend off defenses is the big plus this unit brings.
All of them were with the team in 2011, and none of the guys missed a game this season. Unity, cohesion and coordination with one another might be the most important thing for an offensive line unit, regardless of the individual talent factor. Three of them (Staley, Iupati and Davis are all former first round picks).
The number that shows their efficiency in run blocking the best is the adjusted line yards metric, which does look only at running backs, but gives you a very good idea at who does the best job in the NFL when it comes to blocking the run. They’re number one in the NFL when it comes to recording runs past five yards after the scrimmage line and one of the best when it comes to their RB’s not getting stuffed behind it.
Baltimore Ravens – Defensive Stars
Terrell Suggs isn’t exactly a secret, but sometimes it’s hard to see how good he is unless he’s off the field. An injury limited him to only 2 sacks this season, but when on the field, his presence is a huge distraction to offensive lines. In other words, the Ravens get to the quarterback more easily with Suggs on the field. The Ravens’ sack rate during the season was 5.7 percent without Suggs and 7.9 percent with him. That’s nearly a sack per game on a typical number of pass plays.
Bernard Pollard has a reputation for being a head hunter looking for Patriots to injure, but he’s one of the more active safeties around. He was in the top 10 in his position in plays, and top 20 in successes and defeats, meaning he’s one of the best in the NFL when it comes to preventing the offense from getting yards.
The last and least known is linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who entered the NFL after going undrafted. Ray Lewis and Ellerbe are the only Ravens linebackers who played every defensive snap in the wins over Denver and New England. Ellerbe finished the regular season with 13 games and only seven starts, but he was just outside the top 20 at his position in plays and successes, and just outside the top 10 in defeats. He may not have the leadership skills Ray Lewis has, but it’s more than likely he’ll be taking over for #52 after he retires.