Tale Of Two Harbaughs: Baltimore Ravens Vs. San Francisco 49ers
- QuarterbackJoe Flacco is in the process of changing his reputation. After his performance against the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, Flacco is a legitimate big-game performer. He threw for 240 yards and 3 TDs without an interception. He will face a much better defense against the 49ers, but don’t expect Flacco to cower. He will take what the 49ers give him and try to go over the top on occasion.Jim Harbaugh’s bold move of replacing Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick at midseason now looks like a slam dunk. OK, Harbaugh knows more about football than the rest of us. The most impressive aspect to Kaepernick’s game may be his unflappability. He overcame a 17-0 road deficit to lead the Niners to the NFC championship over the Falcons while throwing for 233 yards and one touchdown.
- OffenseRay Rice is one of the most versatile running backs in the league. He can run between the tackles, take it outside and also catch passes. Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are the Ravens primary pass catchers at the wide receiver position, but tight end Dennis Pitta is one of the most underrated performers in the league. He caught 5 passes for 55 yards and one TD against the Patriots.The 49ers are going to try to establish their physical dominance against the Ravens’ defense with the power running of Frank Gore. Look for Kaepernick to try to get to the edge with his speed and quickness on the read-option. Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker should find open spots in the secondary. The ability of Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss to make at least two big plays could be the key to the game.
- DefenseThe Ravens were 17th in total defense during the regular season, but they have been much better in the postseason. They blanked Tom Brady and the Patriots in the second half of the AFC championship game. Much of that is due to the return of Ray Lewis. The Ravens have played with more aggressiveness since his return and they have been delivering knockout-type hits on a regular basis. Strong safety Bernard Pollard provides this team with its signature and he can turn any game around with his punishing tackles.The 49ers played sensational defense for much of the season (3rd overall), but that defense struggled out of the gate in the NFC title game as the Falcons built a 17-0 lead. However, the defense played much better in the second half and took control of the game. Look for the speed of linebacker NaVorro Bowman (team-high 149 tackles) to have an impact in this game along with the speed of pass rusher deluxe Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks).
- Special TeamsThe Ravens gave up a pair of special teams touchdowns in the divisional playoff victory over the Denver Broncos, but that was an anomaly as the Broncos had the best overall special teams play in the league this season. Placekicker Justin Tucker made 30-of-33 FG attempts, including 4-of-4 from 50 yards and beyond. Sam Koch averaged 47.1 yards per punt and he put 28 of his kicks inside his opponents’ 20.The 49ers may have a big problem if this game comes down to special teams. David Akers has endured a painful season and he has had to endure challenges from Billy Cundiff to keep his job. Akers was 29-of-42 on his regular-season FG attempts. Andy Lee averaged 48.1 yards on his punts and placed 36 of his 67 kicks inside the opponents’ 20.
The Ravens are this year’s hot team as they have been rolling since the start of the playoffs. Much of that is due to Joe Flacco’s error-free play. Colin Kaepernick has risen to the occasion as a big-game quarterback who has risen to the occasion. Since Jim Harbaugh has the slightly better quarterback, we’ll give the Niners the edge.