The Baltimore Ravens are going into the Super Bowl as the underdogs. In order to eliminate the advantages the San Francisco 49ers have over them, they’re going to have to get their offense going early, which means Joe Flacco making the most of short windows of opportunities and Ray Rice to be dominant in both on the ground and in the air.
The San Francisco 49ers play man coverage with two deep safeties most of the time, which is also what the Baltimore Ravens have seen for most of the time this season. Teams don’t respect Torrey Smith (9 catches, 198 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Jacboy Jones (4 catches, 70 yards, 1 touchdown) in physical battles. Smith did have his way with Denver early in that game, but by using an underneath man defender was completely eliminated from the game.
The key for the Ravens will be what Anquan Boldin brings to the table. Boldin will probably face Carlos Rogers and although he has no problem catching balls under physical pressure, this means Joe Flacco needs a couple of extra seconds to release the ball. It has worked well so far in the postseason. Boldin has caught 16 passes for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Time? Flacco will need Michael Oher to handle Ahmad Brooks while the biggest matchup will be on the left side, where Bryant McKinnie and Kelechi Osemele need to handle the very difficult combination of Aldon Smith and Justin Smith. Just remember – without Justin, Aldon Smith finds it very difficult to get any sacks.
Two men who can make a difference for Baltimore offensively, where they aren’t the best one on one team in the NFL, are Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta. Patrick Willis, usually the linebacker that handles tight ends, should not have too many problems with Pitta if the Ravens keep it a one on one show. Ray Rice is a different story.
Possibly the best two-way running back in the NFL, Rice caught 61 passes for 478 yards in the regular season; 3 for 22 in the win against the Patriots. It usually works with screen passes, but another issue in sending Rice out time and time again instead of leaving him to block is keeping NaVorro Bowman away from blitzing Flacco. Screens are easy to run against man coverage because blockers only have to identify one player in the box: the running back’s man defender.
And then there’s Rice on the ground. He didn’t have the easiest time against the Patriots, going for 48 yards on 19 carries. He did go for 131 yards on 30 carries in Denver, but the Ravens’ offense under Jim Caldwell doesn’t need Ray Rice to get at least 30 touches a game to be dangerous. It’s about setting up the play-action for Joe Flacco to start throwing bombs down field, or at least for the 49ers to respect both sides of the offense. With Vonta Leach, possibly the best full back in the NFL, and the surprising Bernard Pierce, averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the offseason, they should get that respect early from the 49ers.
The 49ers have the individual talent edge, and if they take an early lead, it’s hard to see the Ravens stopping that running game for an entire game. Establishing an early lead through play action passes and limiting the 49ers’ chances to go to their running game seems like their best chance to win the Super Bowl.
Hat tip: Football Outsiders