SB XLVII: Why They Will Win
The Case for the Ravens…
By Ben Stockwell
Having called for a Baltimore Super Bowl win in our preseason picks column way back at the start of the season (included here for your amusement) it was clear that I had to be the person to set out the case for the Ravens to defeat the 49ers in New Orleans on Sunday. That said, I absolutely don’t deny that I have the harder case to make, as the Super Bowl draws ever closer it is undeniable that San Francisco looks like the stronger team on paper.
However, the game isn’t played on paper and with the way the Ravens have ridden a wave of momentum, it’s clear that they don’t need to win every single down to collect their second Lombardi Trophy in just over a decade. Against a team that is happy to slow the game down and shorten it in terms of snaps, Baltimore doesn’t need many quick-strike drives to turn the game in their favor.
For the Ravens that puts a premium on making timely big plays and they’ve come through in spades in just that area over the last month of the season. To win this game the Ravens don’t need to control it from start to finish and choke the life out of the 49ers — more is the point: they aren’t good enough to do that. How the Ravens can, and will, win this game is through timely big plays (the way they beat the Denver Broncos) and by hanging close before taking over the game for a 10-15 minute spell and fully capitalizing on that control.
The latter tactic is exactly how they beat the Patriots and momentum tends to play a big role in deciding Super Bowls. Momentum shifts are all about making big plays and, though the Ravens may lack the consistency to control the game, they have players on both sides of the ball that can make those momentum-shifting plays. On defense they have Paul Kruger who was a one-man wrecking crew in the wildcard victory over the Colts. He could easily remind everyone of the kind of pass protector that Anthony Davis was in 2011 (-8.4 pass protection grade, 10 sacks allowed) and could extract a big play from Joe Staley who, for all of his consistency, surrendered nine sacks this season including the playoffs.
In coverage, the Ravens have made timely plays with Corey Graham’s efforts against both the Colts (+2.0 coverage, 2 pass defenses) and the Broncos (+1.9 coverage, 2 interceptions), and free safety Ed Reed is overdue, having not collected an interception or pass defense since Week 13.
When the Ravens make that tsunami swinging play they have the players on offense who have a habit of getting on hot streaks and maximizing momentum when they have it. Anquan Boldin isn’t always a 60-minute receiver, but for spells that range between 10 and 30 minutes he can be absolutely uncoverable and can boss a secondary physically. Combine that with Torrey Smith’s big-play ability that will stretch the 49ers’ secondary vertically and create space for both Boldin and Ray Rice, in both the run and passing game, and you have all of the performers you need to make the most of a game-changing opportunity.
A football game lasts 60 minutes, but the Ravens don’t need to win all 60 to take the Lombardi Trophy. They need to stay close enough that when the momentum swings their way their clutch performers can take the game away from San Francisco with a series of big plays, or a period of dominance from which the 49ers just can’t recover. The Ravens will get their chances and then it simply becomes a case of capitalizing on as many of those opportunities as possible.
The Case for the 49ers…
By Sam Monson
As much as Mr. Stockwell needs to make the case for Baltimore winning this game to try and hang on to his preseason pick, the fact remains that the San Francisco 49ers will win the Super Bowl, and for one simple reason: they’re the better team. We can get bogged down in details and reasons that overthink the whole process, but it really does come down to the simple fact that the Ravens are overmatched against a far superior foe.
Colin Kaepernick, teamed with the coaching brilliance of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, present an almost impossible challenge to a Baltimore defense that has fallen a long way since its heyday as the league’s most dominant unit. The 49ers don’t just break out the read-option and test whether you can line up and play assignment football. They make it tougher by running from the Pistol, by bringing lead-blockers into the equation, even by going deep into the playbook with things like the inverted veer that LaMichael James scored with in the last game. They will test every aspect of your defense and see if you can rise to the challenge. There are enough wrinkles and plays in that 49ers offense to find a weakness in the Baltimore defense and exploit it. San Francisco is going to put up points in this game.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have made this run thanks largely to Joe Flacco upping his game and cutting out the mistakes — as evidenced in part by his 12 touchdown passes since his last interception. However, the 49ers show coverages that most teams don’t, and they are the kind of looks that will bait Flacco into putting up risky deep balls looking for the homerun that could break the game wide open. The 49ers are among the league’s best at defending the deep ball and they have the kind of underneath defenders that will make life tough for Anquan Boldin and his physical style of play.
Making things even tougher on the Ravens is the fact they look overmatched up front and in the run game. The 49ers have arguably the two best inside linebackers in football playing next to each other, equally adept in coverage or against the run. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are an extremely difficult prospect for the Ravens’ line to cope with, and on the edge Aldon Smith would seem like a very difficult challenge for Bryant McKinnie.
In their unlikely run to the Super Bowl, Baltimore has relied on winning the turnover battle and executing when necessary. Yet, the 49ers have the ability to flip that on its head, forcing poor execution and dangerous plays. If the Ravens can’t win the turnover battle, then I don’t think they’re going to be able to match the 49ers on the scoreboard, struggling to live with an offense that can hurt their defense in more ways than they can hurt the 49ers’.
In truth, the Broncos needed a fairly spectacular collapse to fail to beat Baltimore, and the Patriots had multiple opportunities to extend their lead and put the game to bed. The failings of both sides let the Ravens get back into the game and come away with the victory each time. The 49ers aren’t likely to make the same mistakes their predecessors did. Consequently, the Ravens are actually going to have to find a way to win the game on merit this time around. That is something I’m not convinced they have the firepower to do.