The two weeks before the Super Bowl gives teams a chance to perfectly scheme against their upcoming opponent. Both the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will have their hands full.
These two teams ranked near the top of the league in points scored during the season, but they have simply been on fire in the playoffs. The Ravens are averaging 30 points in their three games, while the 49ers scored 73 in their two contests.
However, this does not mean that the game will become an offensive shootout. Both sides have experienced defenses that should be able to at least slow down the opposing attack.
Still, it will be important to follow these keys in order to keep the game low scoring.
Don't Be Too Aggressive
Against the New England Patriots, the Ravens surprisingly had zero sacks. However, the team was able to hit Tom Brady seven times. Most of this production was done by rushing only four players.
Baltimore needs to get this type of result from its front line against the 49ers.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is lightning fast and extremely difficult to bring down. If teams come in on a blitz, he often is able to get to the outside and beat defenders with his legs. Against the Green Bay Packers, he finished with 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
What the Ravens must do is stay back and force him to beat the team with his arm. While Kaepernick has shown he can be very impressive as a passer, he is much less dangerous and it gives the team a chance to stop him.
Baltimore did a solid job holding Robert Griffin III to only 34 rushing yards, thanks mostly to 8 quarterback hits and 3 sacks by just the defensive line and blitzing linebacker Paul Kruger.
In addition, keeping extra players in coverage will allow for potential double teams on players like Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. No one else on the active roster had more than 30 receptions this season, so taking these players out will go a long way toward winning this game.
Stop Frank Gore
Although Kaepernick is a dangerous player, the 49ers offensive success is based on the team's ability to run the football. They need Gore to be productive to keep the pressure off of the passing game.
During the season, San Francisco was only 1-3 when the veteran fails to top 60 rushing yards. When he passes that mark, the squad is 12-1-1.
Since Ray Lewis has returned from his triceps injury, Baltimore's defense has been much better against the run. The Denver Broncos were held to 3 yards per carry, while the New England Patriots only managed 3.9 YPC.
The Ravens need to clog holes up front and make sure they wrap-up when tackling. Gore is one of the most powerful runningbacks in football, and he can make even the best linebackers pay if they are not prepared.
However, if this team can slow down Gore and the speedy LaMichael James, it will make the 49ers much less effective on offense.
Utilize Safety Help
While the Ravens have good balance, the team's strength this season has been its ability to throw the deep ball.
Anquan Boldin was ninth in the NFL with 17 catches over 20 yards and Torrey Smith was one behind with 16. This has continued in the postseason with the pair totaling nine such plays in three games.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers were vulnerable to this type of play as Roddy White and Julio Jones combined for 282 receiving yards.
The problem was that San Francisco attempted to rely on the cornerbacks winning one-on-one matchups with the receivers. It seems like the coaching staff forgot that both safeties were selected to the Pro Bowl this season.
In the Super Bowl, the 49ers need to let Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner stay back and help the cornerbacks on deep passes. Otherwise, Joe Flacco will continue to complete deep passes that become game-changing plays.
Get to the Quarterback
Matt Ryan torched the 49ers defense in the NFC Championship to the tune of 396 passing yards because he had all day to throw the football.
Aldon Smith—who had 19.5 sacks this season—has now gone five games without a sack since defensive end Justin Smith injured his arm. The two play very well together, and the next two weeks should really help heal the injury that the veteran has been playing with.
Either way, Smith needs to find a way to get into the opposing backfield and put the quarterback under pressure.
If you look at the games where Flacco has struggled during the regular season, each of the defenses had an elite pass-rusher that caused problems for the offensive line. James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans and Denver's Von Miller all harassed the quarterback en route to wins over the Ravens.
Inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have enough speed to recover on screens and draws, so rushing players should have no fear going into the backfield as hard as they can.
The only way Flacco will be able to succeed is if he has time to throw the ball, so the 49ers must not allow it.
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