Thursday, January 24, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII Preview

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Super Bowl XLVII

  Of course there is going to be all kinds of perpetual theories on who and why each team will win next Sunday.  Erik already wrote his thoughts on how the Ravens will be blown out 31-13...after beating two of the top teams in the NFL (beating the Pats pretty handily, after spending nearly 5 quarters in the freezing temperatures of Denver).  Both of those teams happen to have a better quarterback than the 49ers possess.  I want to add Wes Welker's wife to the list of 49er fans after her most recent Facebook post about Ray Lewis and his questionable humanity.  Maybe the ladies are just jealous that Tom Brady is no longer known as 'The quarterback with the hottest lady on the planet', Brent Musberger made it pretty clear that title goes to AJ McCarron of Alabama.  But the debate of whose lady friend is easier on the eyes will have to come later.

    I first want to ask the question:  How awesome would it be if this game went to overtime and the winner was decided by a Harbaugh arm wrestle?  My money would totally be on John.
   Now, I am not saying in any way that the Ravens are the better or more talented team.  But I have recently witnessed a string of victories that has led me to believe there is more about this team than a bend but not break defense and a quarterback that is outplaying himself.  Ray Lewis picked the perfect time to announce his retirement.  The most celebrated middle linebacker in the HISTORY of the NFL knew exactly what he was doing when he announced the end of his career the week of the Colts game. Ever since then, the Ravens have been playing with a fire in their hearts and a "Lets win this for Ray" mentality that is very reminiscent of the 2008 Celtics team that won the title.  Like Kevin Garnett, Ray Lewis has some off the field action and character issues that are incredibly questionable, but no one can question his leadership and the affect he has on his team.

The 2013, macho version of 'Tebowing'
    Erik had it right, almost every phase of the game is favored by the 49ers. Offensively, Collin Kaepernick has been playing out of his mind, keeping defenses on their toes with the threat of running and his increasing ability to throw the ball.  In college, Kaep was a pitcher at Nevada and his arm strength has been on display with the bullets he has been sending over the middle.  Maybe Ray Lewis would have been able to bat some balls down and cover the middle of the field 5-6 years ago, but Lewis is a shell of his past physical self.  Those 'Kaepernicking' biceps will most likely be taking advantage of the very player that Baltimore is playing their hearts out for.  Not to mention the resurgence of Vernon Davis (5 rec, 106 yards & 1TD) taking the Ravens linebackers out in coverage, the middle of the field should be wide open with the actively blitzing Ravens and Ray Lewis not being able to cover the ground he use to.

   On the ground, the 49ers have enjoyed success grounding and pounding the ball with Frank Gore and their copious amounts of talented running backs .  When Jim Harbaugh made the mid season switch from Alex Smith to Collin Kaepernick and the read option-offense, the offensive potential went through the roof.  Still in its 'gimmick offense' stage, the read option is the perfect offense for Kaepernick to hand off to Frank Gore, hit a wide open receiver or pul the ball in and run for a gain himself.  We saw Kaepernick run for 2 long touchdown runs against the Packers, completely outrunning the whole defense.  Unfortunately for the 49ers, the Ravens are the physical type of team that is stout against the run and the Niners have struggled against.  The regular season stats that Erik boasted in his article included the games where Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Ray Ray were not playing together.  Whoever wins the physical battle at the line of scrimmage will be key to stopping the read option.

  On the defensive side of the ball the 49ers boast some of the most talented, blue chip players in the NFL.  With nine players landing in the pro bowl, and six of them coming from defense, the Niners have the sustainable talent to endure for years to come.  Aldon Smith was on pace to smash Michael Strahan's single-season sack record until teammate and fellow pro-bowler, Justin Smith, went down with a triceps injury.  With both Smiths healthy, look for Aldon Smith to have less double teams and get some great looks at Joe Flacco.  In the middle of the field the 49ers send the two starting middle linebackers of the pro-bowl.  Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman were key in the 49ers outstanding rush defense that ranked 4th in the NFL, but lets ignore the 176 yards allowed to Seattle.  The front 7 of the 49ers will be key in stopping the Ravens rushing attack, although new offensive coordinator, Jim Caldwell has been a mystery at play calling, with Joe Flacco passing on first down on a more frequent rate.

   It's no secret, the 49ers have the more talented team, they are extremely reminiscent of previous Ravens defenses from the past decade.  But honestly, who is going to deny a Super Bowl trophy to players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in the twilight of their careers?  Murder lawsuit aside, there is no questioning the affect that Ray Lewis has had on football and the inspiration he has been to young players around the country.  Baltimore has beat two great teams consecutively, ON THE ROAD (shadows of Green Bay and New York from the previous two Super Bowls start dancing).  The Ravens are the hot team, they beat arguably the two best teams in the NFL in places where the Patriots and Broncos just don't lose.
   Joe Flacco has been playing the best football of his career at the right time.  He leads the playoffs in quarterback rating while playing the riskiest type of ball possible, to me that has more to do with skill than luck.  He has been throwing the ball down the field on first and second down to Torrey Smith and the physical Anquan Boldin. What the Ravens accell at is just what the 49ers have problems stopping, big play passes.  Last week we saw the Falcons jump out to an early lead by throwing the ball.  We saw Aaron Rodgers have success throwing the ball against the Niners, and in week 15 we saw Tom Brady lead a comeback that was through the air.  In no way is Joe Flacco better than Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but it's the system of the Ravens that is the achilles heel of the 49ers.  If you shoot enough half court shots, one is bound to go in.  Joe Flacco just happens to have the biggest arm in the NFL and is great at the deep ball and Torrey Smith has a knack for finding space against defenses.  Smith was responsible for a few jaw dropping catches two weeks ago and one particular one that almost put me in cardiac arrest at the end of the first half in Denver.  It is easy to blame Champ Bailey for his lack of coverage, but no one can deny the skill it takes to play at the level Torrey Smith is.  They aren't afraid to attack deep throughout the whole game and the threat of Ray Rice running the ball tilts the advantage towards the Ravens.

   It is also worth noting that the Ravens are playing with a fire in their heart for the greatest linebacker of all time.  Ray Lewis leads a revamped defense that shut down one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NFL last week and did a great job at limiting Peyton Manning and the incredibly balanced Denver Bronco offense.  Had Trindon Holliday not returned 2 kicks for touchdowns, the Broncos very well could have had under 30 points, leading to an easier win for the Ravens.  People are overlooking the fact that this is the first string of games that the four best players on the Ravens are playing together, healthy and in sync.  Giant interior lineman, Haloti Ngata has been blowing up the middle of the line, Terrell Suggs has been crashing the outside, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks while sending running backs into the hands of Ngata and Lewis.  Ed Reed has been flying all over the field circa 2007 daring offenses to throw the ball near his zone.  No doubt 49er running backs are thinking twice about running head to head against Bernard Pollard after his devastating hit on Stevan Ridley.  This defense is talented and they are hungry, which is one of the most important, yet overlooked factors in the playoffs.  Ray Lewis is not the type of player to bet against, especially with what he can do for a talented locker room.

Richard Sherman returns a 90 yard blocked punt
for a touchdown. In a 42-13 win against San Fran.
   We also don't know which 49ers team will show up.  About a month ago we saw Seattle absolutely dismantle the Niners rushing attack in a 42-13 victory, we saw the Niners tie and lose to an inferior Rams team who has a defense that is physically similar, yet inferior to the Ravens.  Personally, I do not want to put my money on a team that has a quarterback with less than a full season of experience in a gimmick offense, OR a team that couldn't beat the Rams.  We also saw a game in week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals that was actually somewhat competitive, mind you that was the same Cardinals team that was blown out 58-0 by Seattle.   When the 49ers played teams that can match them physically, they tend to struggle.  We saw these two teams face off last year in a physical slugfest, ending in a 16-6 Ravens victory.  Aside from Kaepernick, these teams have barely changed since their last meeting.  And I can't help but go back to the unstoppable force that Ray Lewis is.  If this video doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

    That's it, I'm sold,  Ray and Ed are having a great ending to their careers and the less scary Harbaugh will come out on top.  If the Ravens strike early (which has been a trend for the Niner defense), look for them to control the ball with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce (who's style reminds me of Arian Foster) and a stout defense that figures out Kaepernick to bring home the Lobmardi trophy.  Lets just hope John doesn't slap his brother on the back like the Schwartz/Harbaugh debacle.  Ravens win: 27-24 and a giant Raven flies down from the sky to carry Ray Lewis off, never to be seen again like his white suit.

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