The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers enter Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans with similar styles of play. They both have physically punishing defenses and hot running games. The biggest difference is the quarterback position with the established Joe Flacco and the second-year starter Colin Kaepernick.
In what should be a closely contested game, the winner will be decide based on which team wins crucial matchups. The team that better controls these matchups will force its opponent out of its comfort zone.
Let's take a look at the most crucial matchups that will determine a Super Bowl champion.
Justin and Aldon Smith vs. Ravens Offensive Line
Against the New England Patriots, the Ravens did a wonderful job protecting Joe Flacco. The Patriots did get home twice with Rob Ninkovich, but throughout most of the afternoon, Flacco had enough time to find open receivers. When given that time, Flacco has been lights out this postseason.
In the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers struggled to get consistent pressure on Matt Ryan. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith weren't able to dominate like they did most of the season. Ryan shredded the 49ers in the first half with close to 300 yards and three touchdowns.
If Flacco is given time to throw, he will be able to find Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin down the field. The 49ers need to get pressure with the Smith brothers. If they don't, they need to bring blitzes and put pressure on Joe Flacco.
Dennis Pitta vs. Patrick Willis
Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez had his way with Willis throughout the NFC Championship Game. So much so that the 49ers had to adjust their defense and use corners to cover the big tight end. Pitta is a step down from Gonzalez, but the 49ers need to prove they can shut him down.
Pitta hasn't been a huge piece of the Ravens offense this postseason, but he's consistently been a threat. In the three games the Ravens have played, Pitta has 10 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
The 49ers need Willis to step up and take care of Pitta. That would allow the 49ers to control the middle of the field with Rogers shutting down the slot guy and forcing the Ravens to use the outside of the field. If not, Flacco will have options to spread out the 49ers' defense.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Ravens Front Seven
Kaepernick has shown his value as a dual-threat quarterback both against the Green Bay Packers and the Falcons, despite his game looking very different. With Kaepernick running all over the Packers, the Falcons spread the defensive line to contain the quarterback. Kaepernick read that and handed off to his running backs, who exploited the vacancy.
The Ravens have been a disciplined team defensively, but they need to have a better plan than the Packers and Falcons did. They are much better against the run, giving up 4.0 yards per carry to finish seventh in those rankings. The Packers finished 25th by allowing 4.5 yards and the Falcons finished 29th with 4.8 yards per carry allowed.
If the Ravens can shut down the run and force Kaepernick into passing situations, they have a much better chance of slowing the 49ers' potent attack.