Who's the Better Coach, Jim or John Harbaugh?
Everything that an NFL team does on the field reflects on its head coach in some way. Because John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens and Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers will be meeting on Feb. 3 to play out Super Bowl XLVII, it’s safe to say that both of those guys are pretty good.
Determining which of the two head men in headsets is better is a multifaceted process. A head coach has to do a lot of things—and not all of them show up tangibly in the form of statistics at the end of a ballgame.
All of the undeniably deserved hype surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s rushing ability following a QB-record 181-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round had spectators expecting—and the Atlanta Falcons fearing—that he would follow up with a similarly spectacular showing in the conference championship.
He carried the ball twice for 21 yards, only gaining yardage on one carry; his long was 23. Meanwhile, Frank Gore and LaMichael James combined for 124 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. The San Francisco 49ers offense is potent on the ground and through the air, edging the Baltimore Ravens offense by 9.3 yards per game (361.8 to 352.5) on 4.6 fewer plays per game (60.6 to 65.1) in the regular season.
Baltimore (24.9) scored 0.1 PPG more than San Francisco (24.8) in the regular season, but the 49ers hold the scoring edge in the playoffs: The Ravens are averaging 30.0 PPG, but the 49ers are putting up 36.5.
EDGE: Jim Harbaugh
While the Baltimore Ravens were middle-of-the-pack in terms of defensive yards allowed during the 2012 regular season, the San Francisco 49ers were elite in the category. Baltimore surrendered 350.9 yards per game (17th in the NFL) on 5.2 yards per play; San Francisco gave up 294.4 (third) on 4.7 yards per play.
The Ravens allowed 21.5 points per game over their 16-game slate, 4.4 more than the 49ers’ second-place 17.1 PPG allowed. In the postseason, the Ravens hold the advantage after holding the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots to 22 points combined.
While Baltimore’s 35 points allowed to the Denver Broncos represents the highest postseason total between the two Super Bowl participants, it also has the two most dominant defensive showings in these playoffs: The Ravens have allowed 15.7 points over three contests, while San Francisco surrendered 27.5. In this what have you done for me lately? NFL, the edge goes to the hotter defense right now.
EDGE: John Harbaugh
Special teams are the hardest element of the game to predict, but very frequently can be the reason that a team wins—or loses—in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are intimately familiar with the feelings caused by the latter, based on postseason exits following the conference championship games in the 2011 NFL season.
Now that each team has redeemed itself, the special teams game is highly likely to be a key focus during Super Bowl XLVII. Neither Super Bowl participant has returned a kick or punt for a TD during these playoffs, but the 49ers (21.8) are averaging 4.5 more yards per kickoff return than the Ravens (17.3). Baltimore (11.3) has been more successful running back punts than San Francisco (10.0).
The Ravens are the only team this postseason to allow a kickoff return or a punt return—they allowed both to the Denver Broncos—so the 49ers get the edge in this category.
EDGE: Jim Harbaugh
Dealing with Adversity
Adversity strikes every NFL team in every NFL season in some capacity. Injuries are a part of the game, but they were a major part of the Baltimore Ravens story of 2012—particularly defensively. Ray Lewis tore his triceps—an injury that’s supposed to end a player’s season—and returned just in time to make a lot of noise in the playoffs, racking up 44 total tackles in the first three games.
Terrell Suggs started the season on the physically unable to perform list, totaled just two sacks in eight regular-season games after a 14-sack Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2011 and matched his 2012 regular-season sack total in three playoff games since.
The team’s No. 1 cornerback, Lardarius Webb, tore his ACL in an Oct. 14 game against the Dallas Cowboys and has been out for the season since. Despite all that, the Ravens are the team with the hotter defense heading into the Super Bowl—a major testament to coach John Harbaugh and all the guys who filled in for the stars who went down.
Across the country, Jim Harbaugh found himself with a quarterback quandary with the San Francisco 49ers. He had to choose between the safety of Alex Smith and the potential of Colin Kaepernick. Against conventional wisdom, he went with the young guy: a decision that could have been catastrophic.
Jim took a major risk offensively, as did John—who fired his offensive coordinator and play-caller Cam Cameron with just a handful of games left in the regular season.
EDGE: John Harbaugh
John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens (three) have more division championships than do Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers (two)—but the younger Jim is two-for-two in that department. John has coached for five seasons. Each of them will be coaching in their first Super Bowl.
Jim’s got a dominant .750 head coaching record (24-8) in his young career. John’s is a little less so (.675, 54-26), but still very impressive. The 49ers' record under Jim Harbaugh has been much better than John’s in his first two years with the Ravens (20-12), so the little brother gets the edge.
EDGE: Jim Harbaugh
OVERALL: Jim, 3-2
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