Most people would tell you that the San Francisco 49ers were the best team in football this season from top to bottom. The Ravens come into Super Sunday playing their best ball of the year after knocking off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks on the road. So will the trend continue and the team that peaks at the right time win, or will it be the team that stayed consistent and balanced all season long?
In order to answer that question we need to take a look at some of the key match ups in this game:
49ers Offense vs Ravens Defense
The big question regarding facing the Niners offense is how do you stop Colin Kaepernick? The Falcons did a pretty good job of that but they forgot to stop everyone else. If you concentrate on Kaepernick then Gore will burn you. If you focus too much attention on the 49ers run game then Kaepernick will toss it to Crabtree, Davis or Moss. The phrase "pick your poison" really rings true here.
I think the best way to at least attempt to contain Kaepernick and the Niners offense is to play a zone blitz scheme. You don't want to do what the Packers did and play straight man defense the whole game because then the defenders backs are turned away from the play. The Ravens best bet is to keep their backs to the end zone and their eyes on the quarterback. All the action occurs at the line of scrimmage. The 49ers cause confusion and get the opposing defense thinking, then over-thinking.
Playing a zone won't be enough though because young Colin Kaepernick can find the holes in the zone defense and throw darts at his targets all night. San Francisco has one of the best offensive lines in the game and they do a great job in both run and pass blocking... So in order for the Ravens to apply pressure and disrupt the line of scrimmage they'll have incorporate a few different blitzes and get in the QB's face.
For the 49ers to be successful on offense they'll have to test the Ravens run D early. The first few plays of the game can really dictate how the 1st half is played out. Putting the Ravens on their heels early gives the Niners a huge advantage with all their options on offense. If Haloti Ngata can get the initial push at the line then the advantage goes to Baltimore. If San Fran gets off the ball quickly then Gore will run all over the Ravens 20th ranked run defense.
But Baltimore still knows how to stop the rushing attack, especially with a healthy starting line up. Therefore the Niners will have to pass the ball and I suspect that's what the Ravens want. Well, be careful what you wish for because Kaepernick has proven he can throw the ball with a high level of accuracy. He completed 76% of his passes against Atlanta last week. Crabtree has shown the NFL world why he was a first round draft pick and Vernon Davis has finally developed a rapport with Kap just at the right time. The Ravens knew the Patriots and Broncos were going to drop back and throw the ball the majority of the time. With the 49ers, they'll have no idea what's coming.
Ravens Offense vs 49ers Defense
It would surprise me if the Ravens were able to run the ball with consistent success against the Niners 4th ranked run defense. They'll try to run the ball and keep the 49ers defense honest but we all know if Baltimore is going to win this game it will be through the air. So basically that means Joe Flacco will have to be the MVP of the Super Bowl in order for the Ravens to win.
If you're going to beat the 49ers, passing the ball deep is the way to go. Luckily for the Ravens that's what they do best. Flacco has one of the best deep balls in the game. He has a burner in Torrey Smith and a veteran receiver in Anquan Boldin who keeps proving that he's a top tier WR when his number is called. Look for the Ravens to take advantage of 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver who has struggled against the long ball all year. The Ravens like to line up with 3 WR's and that puts the Niners in a vulnerable position. San Francisco's secondary will need to play big time under the bright lights Sunday night.
Most people's eyes will be locked on #52 when the Ravens defense takes the field for Super Bowl XLVII. But they should be watching the other #52 on the 49ers side. Patrick Willis may be the best linebacker in the game. Willis is a 3 down linebacker which means he rarely takes a play off. The 49ers don't take him out because he's one of the best cover linebackers in the league as well as a tackling machine. He'll have the task of locking on Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice at times on 3rd down situations. Not to mention the 49ers lack of pass rush due to the injury of Justin Smith and the ineffectiveness of team sack leader Aldon Smith, the Niners will be relying on their defensive captain to make some big plays. Willis is up to the challenge and in my opinion will be the MVP of this game.
If Patrick Willis is the MVP then that means I have the 49ers winning the Super Bowl. That is unless your Chuck Howley and your Cowboys lost to the then Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V. I've said before these two teams are mirror images of each other and that's not because the head coaches look alike. It's tough defense, solid running game and big time play makers on both sides of the ball. Turnovers are usually a big factor in the outcome of any game. It may not be which quarterback you trust more but which defense you have the most confidence in to create a turnover. I give the Niners the edge there because the Ravens will take more chances. The 49ers will be ready.
49ers 23 - Ravens 20
MVP: Patrick Willis (12 Tackles, FF, INT)