ReFo: Ravens vs. 49ers, Super Bowl XLVII
So after five months and 267 games another NFL season is in the books, and the Baltimore Ravens are your Super Bowl champions for the next 12 months. Some of us saw this upset win coming, others didn’t, but one thing is for certain — this will be a Super Bowl that lives long in the memory thanks to some remarkable on-field performances, to go along with the over-told sideline stories.
Neither side played a perfect game, but both showed for stretches why they had made it and why either team would have been a worthy champion. The Ravens came out with a fast start, making plays on offense and punching the 49ers’ vaunted running game in the mouth early. They shackled Frank Gore and forced handoff after handoff on option plays, while finding and defeating the 49ers’ pull blocks when they tried to bring power to the ground game. The 49ers overall running stats for the game are still impressive, helped by Colin Kaepernick’s scrambles, but for stretches the Ravens did as much damage to the 49ers’ rushing offense as any team has all season long.
For the Ravens, and Joe Flacco, this is the culmination of five years hard work. After having come up short each season in Flacco’s career leading to this date, this is a fitting send off for much of the Ravens’ veteran core. To the victor the spoils, but this close defeat could be all the fuel that a talented 49ers team needs to fire a burning desire to get back to the Super Bowl next season.
Here are some of the performances that ensured the Ravens clinched their second Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Earning that Paycheck
Twelve years ago the Baltimore Ravens became the first team to immediately release a Super Bowl winning quarterback in the offseason. As much as there may still be question marks over his ‘elite’ status, there can be simply no doubt that the Ravens will not let Joe Flacco walk, as they did with Trent Dilfer. As one leader bows out on defense, Flacco showed in this game (+7.1) that he is ready to take up the leadership mantle and carry this Baltimore team in the big games. As ever, Flacco got his big plays down the field (3 of 7, 106 yards, 1 TD) and completed the season without throwing an interception on a deep ball. However, what Flacco really displayed in this game was his intermediate throwing. Entering this game we said the 49er defense had the edge in the intermediate passing game, but that was mainly due to Flacco’s inefficiency and we felt the Ravens could, in fact, exploit the area if they hit their straps. Flacco certainly did that, going 5 of 6 for 80 yards with a score on intermediate targets. With a Super Bowl ring and a well-earned Super Bowl MVP to his name, the Ravens now have the signal-caller they have been searching for over the past decade — they now simply have to pay him.
Making the Big Plays
It seems this morning’s popular choice for alternate Super Bowl MVP is Jacoby Jones, and by some measures that isn’t an unreasonable shout. For the Ravens, this game was always going to be about making big plays and taking opportunities, and Jones certainly did that both on offense and special teams. To make him your Super Bowl MVP you would have to argue his two touches either side of halftime were the most important plays of the game, and they certainly gave the Ravens the cushion they needed to survive a potential second-half collapse. His receiving touchdown was all about effort and awareness, as he realized he hadn’t been touched and had the where-with-all to get up and find a route to the end zone. His kick return touchdown to open the third quarter was all about proving that speed is deadly in exploiting gaps. After outrunning one tackle, the special teams players around him simply gave him a lane to the end zone to use his speed. Does that make Jones a shoe-in for MVP? I don’t think so, but if you’re talking about impact in a game of big plays then there’s certainly a fun debate to be had about whether any one player had a bigger impact on the outcome of this contest.
As their offensive line led the way for a running game that gained only 2.8 yards per carry, you would be forgiven for thinking the Ravens were devoid of a star performer in the trenches. However, if you go back and watch the Super Bowl again you’ll notice Baltimore got a tremendous game from rookie guard Kelechi Osemele (+4.9). Going up against Justin Smith, who is admittedly still playing through injury, Osemele was able to neutralize the impact the star 49er had been able to impart during San Francisco’s run to this game. Ever since he returned from his triceps injury, Smith has been a non-factor as a pass rusher but his run defense was stellar against both Green Bay and Atlanta. On this night, however, Osemele not only limited Smith to one defensive stop, he was able to move him around in the run game and shut him out completely as a pass rusher. Combined with some good work on Isaac Sopoaga and a devastating block on Ricky Jean-Francois, Osemele was one of the star performers in this game.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Crabtree Shines Again
One of the underrated stories of the 49ers’ charge to the brink of Super Bowl success has been the emergence of Michael Crabtree, who once again came up with a big game (+2.9, 109 receiving yards) on a big stage. The 49ers got him started early by isolating him on Ray Lewis (-2.4 coverage) on a crossing pattern which left the Raven unable to stay remotely close to him. All five of Crabtree’s receptions came against different Ravens defenders, as he popped up all over the field to make plays. Unfortunately for Crabtree, his performance was symptomatic of the 49ers’ falling just short. While he made key plays to get San Francisco back into the game, he just couldn’t make that final contribution to put them over the top to Super Bowl glory.
The Dam Finally Breaks for Culliver
For much of the first half it looked like the old Chris Culliver had returned and that his recent struggles were behind him. Prior to the 49ers’ Week 15 trip to New England, Culliver had accumulated a coverage grade of +9.4 and had yielded only 50 yards in a game twice all season. Over the 49ers’ final six games, however, Culliver’s coverage grade was -5.4 and he yielded at least 65 yards in coverage in all bar one matchup. Early on in this one Culliver was getting his hands to passes (two pass defenses) and generally had his assignment on lockdown, but when Jacoby Jones got free for his long TD all bets were off. For the game, Culliver gave up a career-high 123 yards, at more than 30 yards per completion, and conceded his third touchdown in five games. Combined with conceding a pivotal pass interference penalty, this was a game, and a week, for Culliver to forget.
Vernon Davis Everybody!
In a fantasy football oriented world, many people forgot just what a talent and a threat Vernon Davis is as a football player. He may not have been raking in the fantasy points for you, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t playing well, and his Super Bowl display (+3.0) capped off an exceptional playoff run. In the past two postseasons (five games for Davis) his overall grade is an astonishing +16.2, which surely classes him as a big-game performer. His 20 yard gain on the opening play may have been wiped out, but Davis profited whoever was covering him, particularly making a mockery of Ray Lewis’ attempts to cover him (3 of 3, 54 yards), and only a drop on an out-and-up against Corey Graham blotted his copybook. Unfortunately for the 49ers, and in a recurring theme, that drop came just when the team needed big plays the most. To add to his revitalized threat as a receiver, seemingly the only measure many look at for tight ends, Davis finished the season on a tear as a run blocker as well. In his last four games of the season Davis earned a combined +5.9 run blocking grade.
– Prior to this game, Jimmy Smith had recorded only one pass defense since Week 16 of the 2011 season. This was a tough second season for Smith, but he certainly has a sense of timing as he picked up a pair of pass defenses in the most important display (+3.4) of his professional career.
– Patrick Willis (+4.0) and NaVorro Bowman (+0.6) both surpassed the previous PFF Super Bowl record (2008 onwards) of five defensive stops. Bowman recorded seven to lead both teams while Dannell Ellerbe matched the previous mark (held by Darnell Dockett, Jonathan Vilma and Chase Blackburn) with five stops.
– For two teams with such vaunted defenses the pass rushes were almost non-existent in this game. On a combined 71 drop-backs the two quarterbacks were pressured on only 18 plays, though the defenses converted more than a quarter (five) of those pressured drop-backs to sacks.
PFF Game Ball
Calling a guard the game’s MVP is a stretch, but for the work that Kelechi Osemele put into completely taking away an ailing Justin Smith (something no one else could do this season), he deserves some recognition. So our final game ball of the season goes to Osemele, who moved past a disappointing pair of road playoff games to produce the best display of his rookie season.
Is he elite? Does it matter? All that counts from this game, and until the Ravens reconvene in a few months to join the other 31 NFL teams in the drive to win Super Bowl XLVIII, is that Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl champion. In terms of isolated impact, Jacoby Jones had plenty of impact on two plays, but Flacco’s trio of touchdown passes and his unflustered play under pressure (+2.1) and when blitzed (+3.9) earns him this most quarterback-oriented of awards.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben