After all the previews, predictions, story-lines and breakthrough news, the day is finally here. The Baltimore Ravens representing the AFC, the San Francisco 49ers, representing the NFC, together, in New Orleans, playing to win Super Bowl 47.
Is this going to be the fairytale ending for Ray Lewis after a great career on the field, but now tainted by not only his involvement in a suspected murder 13 years ago in Atlanta, but now also involvement with PEDs? The noise will probably grow louder if Lewis wins his second Super Bowl ring, after not missing a single defensive snap for the Ravens this postseason. Along with Ed Reed, they have been on the field all the time for Baltimore.
But Lewis being on the Baltimore defense looks like the most important difference between an ordinary defense ranked 17th in the NFL during the regular season, and an elite defense, that simply shut down the New England Patriots during the second half of the AFC Championship game. The Ravens allowed opponents to complete 65.1 percent of their passes against five or more rushers when Lewis was inactive this season. Only Tom Brady (twice) completed more than 60 percent of his throws versus the Ravens five-plus man pass rush with Lewis active.
On offense, it’s going to be about Joe Flacco taking advantage of when opportunities to throw the ball down deep appear: Under Jim Caldwell, he’s completed 53.6% of his passing attempts for over 20 yards downfield, averaging 20.3 yards per attempt, almost double than the way it was under Cam Cameron. The 49ers love to use a four or fewer men pass-rush, but Flacco is the best in the NFL with 24 pass plays of 30-plus yards against four or fewer pass rushers in the regular season & playoffs. No team has used four or fewer pass rushers more often than the 49ers this season, 83.7% of the time.
But there’s the other side, the favorite side. The San Francisco 49ers bring a more complete team on both sides of the ball, and although their quarterback might not have the arm that Flacco has, he makes things much more complicated with his legs, and just by being disciplined and suiting the 49ers’ system very well.
Colin Kaepernick is the 5th 1st or 2nd year quarterback to start the Super Bowl. Of the 4 previous QBs to make it so early in their career, 3 won and 2 were named MVP of the game. What does this mean? Nothing much.
What means more is Kaepernick and 49ers using the read option; The 49ers have used more options in two postseason games than they did in Colin Kaepnerick’s seven regular season starts. He didn’t keep on a single option play in the NFC Championship game, but the 49ers still scored three touchdowns on those plays.
The running game is going to be the key: The 49ers have averaged 8.5 yards per rush outside the tackles in the postseason, and 6.9 yards on those runs for the entire season. The Ravens have allowed 3.6 yards per rush outside the tackles, including postseason, the third-best rate in the NFL. That seems to be possibly the place where this battle will be decided.
Predictions – This game will be decided by the lines, and the San Francisco 49ers are better in those areas, with an offensive line that has dominated pretty much everyone all season. And yet, something about the way Flacco has played this postseason tells me he’ll be the better quarterback in the game; Ray Lewis, despite everything that’s been revealed, will be influential enough, and the Ravens will find a way to come up with a narrow win.