SB XLVII: Why They Will Win

PFF analysts Sam Monson and Ben Stockwell argue each side's chances to claim the Lombardi Trophy.

| 4 years ago

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. 


Follow @PFF_Ben and @PFF_Sam on Twitter. 


  • Gues

    Sam Monson, 

    Your colleague wrote a persuasive argument in favor of the Ravens winning while you yourself wrote a smug attempt at another Ravens media bashing.  

    The Ravens have beaten Denver when they were considered the better team, they have beaten New England when they were considered the better team.  Is it possible that maybe the Ravens are the better team and no one is paying attention to them?  Of course not, the Ravens didn’t make it to the Super Bowl on merit and the 49ers are going to run all over them.  

    • Matt

       Thank you very much!  I have an even different theory…The Ravens, contrary to media opinion, and statistics, actually were better than Denver and NE at the time they played. There is one things I think the media are missing in calling this game.  One is how much smarter the Raven D is than the 49ers.  They just can’t get what having Ray Lewis make the play calls, and adjustments means.  And how much he can get in the head of the opposing QB.  He frustrated Peyton Manning.  Manning would come up to the line give his dummy count, change the play, and then to his dismay, Lewis would change the D play before Manning could get.  Now granted it took Lewis almost 2 qtrs to get enough looks, but once he had sniffed out the plays and signals, then the D got lined up right virtually every time.  Denver only scored 1 offensive TD after the 7 min mark of the 2nd qtr, and it wasn’t until the 7 min mark of the 4th qtr.  So when you figure it up from 7 mins of the 2nd qtr, until the game ended early in the 2nd OT, the Ravens held the Broncos to 7 pts in the last 54+ mins.  There is a similar pattern in the Pats game where they score 13 in the first half and were shutout in the 2nd half.  Furthermore the D is only giving up 14.3 pts a game in the playoffs while the offense is avg 30 pts a game. The 49er D is giving up 27.5 pts a game.

      • Tchoy32

        I could do the same with Niner’s D. Coling Kaepernick threw a pick 6  and Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown in garbage time with 1 minute left in the game. In the end, the D would have only given up 17 points against Aaron Rodgers and one of the best offenses in the game… The niner’s didn’t allow a single point in the entire 2nd half in the NFC championship game…. So, in reality, the niner’d D is allowing just 20.5 pts/game against 2 pretty high powered offenses. So, before you blatantly just throw out situational stats on your own team, why don’t you be less ignorant and do some research on your opponent’s as well.

      • Richard L

        ” They just can’t get what having Ray Lewis make the play calls, and
        adjustments means.  And how much he can get in the head of the opposing

        Not a P. Manning or Broncos fan, but you should know that for most of his career, Peyton Manning has OWNED Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense. Even in this game, Peyton Manning put up good numbers. So the whole, “Ray Lewis plays mind-games with QBs” doesn’t really apply in this case. At all. Not even a little bit.

        Go look up Manning v Lewis.

      • Jarvis1104

        You’re listing reasons why Baltimore outplayed Denver. Adjustments. These are made in game. Baltimore was not a better team than Denver by any means when they met. They just outplayed them that day. No way around it. Denver collapsed. The offensive tds Denver scored were timely. Especially the one in the 4th. The Bal defense played well but might’ve been somewhat excused by Holiday’s return tds. We don’t know if Peyton would’ve scored on those drives. Besides lets not ignore that Baltimore’s biggest weakness on D is run defense. Things worked perfectly for them because Houston was the only run heavy Afc team. SF will exploit Bal’s biggest weakness. NE had success running also.

    • Jarvis1104

      NE and Denver weren’t just considered to be the better teams. They were the better teams. The best team obviously doesn’t always win though. Denver collapsed. Theres no denying that. Baltimore wooped NE by killing them in the red zone. Baltimore’s rode to the SB wasn’t very difficult outside of Denver due to match ups. Indy never stood a chance. Baltimore has proved 3 straight times they match up with NE exceptionally. I knew they would beat NE, which is why I wanted them to meet HOU. Baltimore doesn’t match up well with them at all. the 49ers run game and defense combination are similar to Houston’s. Baltimore will not be able to stop the run in the SB, and thats why they will lose. 

  • RJ

    The 49ers are better.  This is the most complete team Baltimore has faced, and the one big advantage that no one discusses will be the difference in the game: conditioning.  There’s a reason Niners opponents fade late.  While the Falcons and Packers were stumbling around injured and tired, the Niners were running their offense and defense like it was the first quarter.  Against an aging Ravens team, this will pay off in spades, and the Niners will pull away by double digits late.  Unless the Niners turn the ball over, I think they will win.

    • The Doc

      An aging Ravens team? You mean the one with 9 of it’s 11 starters on defense 30 years old or younger? Just because Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are old doesn’t mean the entire defense is old. 

      San Fran is in for a serious wakeup call against this Ravens defense. Alex Smith remembers, I can assure you of that.

  • Will

    The Broncos also needed an historic day in the return game to not be down two scores which necessitated the spectacular play to Jacoby Jones in the first place. 

    Baltimore : 30 
    San Francisco : 17

  • Genius Poster

    It’s silly how people forget that the Ravens at 12 weeks into the season were one of the top two seeds in the AFC. Injuries decimated the team and they nosedived their last few weeks. 

    Shocking how a team that was 9-2 at one point is winning now that they have their personel in order again. How could this miracle run ever have happened? 

  • Blowe16

    Sam, specifically, what kind of coverages do you think that Fangio’s D brings to that table that the majority of teams don’t? Is it a majority of sub loks that include 2 ILBs that can cover out of a 2-4-5 look, is it utilizing various rolls/cloud looks that most teams don’t utilize due to their lack of confidence in safety play?

    All the best. 

    • PFF_Admin

      A few were outlined here: :)

  • Guest

    “the Patriots had multiple opportunities to extend their lead and put the game to bed.” 

    That’s your take on the game where the Ravens went into halftime down less than a TD…then shut out Tom Brady in the second half and put up 21 unanswered points? Take another hit buddy.

    I repeat, the Ravens shut out Tom Brady for 2 full quarters…in the playoffs…at his house.