What’s a little eerie however, is how these teams are near mirror images of one another, although the 49ers will be slight favourites over the Ravens in the big game. Much of that has to do with impressions, as the Ravens looked done at midseason when they lost three games in a row, while the 49ers started to surge at the same moment. But don’t count out how inspiring Ray Lewis’ swan song will be to even up the odds. Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape and see how these teams stack up.
Though they weren’t exactly the same, there were two dramatic moves in season-one for each team-that has propelled the Ravens and 49ers into New Orleans two weeks from now. For the Baltimore Ravens, their big move was firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and elevating Jim Caldwell to let Joe Flacco loose. Though Flacco has been widely criticized over the years, the reins have been finally taken off his arm with the ultimate validation being given in his win over the Patriots Sunday. As was discussed here, the 49ers big move was quickly replacing Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh has been validated ever since, with remarkable performances that open up both running lanes and an aggressiveness on the passing end that Alex Smith just did not seem to possess. And it’s not like either the 49ers or Ravens were bad before they made these moves, but kudos to them for having the kahunas to make a move to elevate their position.
I wish I could show more than one video here, because Terrell Suggs, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith all deserve to have their own highlight show, but considering it will be Ray Lewis last game ever, he gets the nod on this one. The 49ers and Ravens’ defenses are very much linebacker oriented, and feature two of the greatest of all time in Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis, with another to possibly make the hall of fame as well in Terrell Suggs. Willis though, looks to be a younger Ray Lewis, and should be taking his mantle for best linebacker when Lewis retires. What does this mean in terms of the game? Just look out for the large amount of hard hits coming through the gaps.
Ray Rice is a great running back, but he hasn’t had the best season out of the gate for the Baltimore Ravens. Nonetheless, Rice will be matching Gore stride for stride in New Orleans, which as you can see above, will be a feat upon itself. Gore, a four-time Pro Bowler has overcome serious knee injuries and surgeries over the last six years, so it’s fitting that one of his most successful season has also translated into the 49ers’ reaching the SuperBowl for the first time in 18 years. On Sunday Gore didn’t have any big plays, but his persistent nature and tough mentality will be on full display against Ray Rice. With the amount of linebacker help each team has, I’ll be surprised if any one of these guys breaks off for a huge run, but expect a lot of cuts, ducks, and powering through for those extra two yards.
You can make a case for maybe Anquan Boldin here, and Michael Crabtree has also played well for the 49ers since Colin Kaepernick has shown up, but the guy to keep your eye on in this game is Torrey Smith. Quite frankly, he will be the most talented receiver on the field for both teams come Super Bowl Sunday, and the 49ers will definitely game plan to keep this guy out of the end zone. Anquan Boldin seems to be the Ravens’ redzone guy when it gets down to making a play in traffic, but Torrey Smith will be dictating to Flacco when Boldin should get his touches. And just in case the 49ers corps gets a little nervous in the big game, they always have Randy Moss that they can turn to for one or two plays.
It’s funny, because if the Ravens don’t miss the Billy Cundiff kick last year against the Patriots, they could very well be in the Super Bowl two years in a row. But the Ravens have replaced that problem with rookie Justin Tucker, so that burden shifts to the 49ers, who have David Akers, a kicker who has missed 29/42 field goal attempts during the regular season, and this one against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. If the game goes the kicking route, I’d be very nervous if I was on the 49ers’ sideline. Ironically, the 49ers picked up Billy Cundiff because Akers was playing so horribly, but cut him a few weeks before they played the Seahawks.