The dust has settled. What began as a 12-team tournament has dwindled down to just two.
With two weeks to prepare for kickoff, there are certainly some concerns for each team as the Super Bowl looms.
Let’s start with San Francisco.
The 49ers landed in the Super Bowl thanks in large part to the stellar performance of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has less than a dozen NFL starts under his belt.
But when the 49ers square off with the Ravens, their defense will be tested early and often.
Pass Defense: The 49ers boasted the fourth-best passing defense and allowed the ninth-fewest touchdowns during the 2012 regular season. But they will be facing a much larger and advanced receiving core in the Ravens.
Keeping an eye on Joe Flacco will be one thing San Francisco will need to address. Though Flacco isn't known for making plays with his legs, he can move in and out of the pocket, locate his target and fire the ball off with time to spare.
The 49ers will also need to maintain the Ravens receivers, specifically Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta. To say Boldin’s postseason has been impressive would be an understatement. He’s averaging 92 yards per game with at least 5 catches in each of the three games, while racking up 276 yards and three touchdowns on 16 receptions heading into the Super Bowl.
Smith isn’t too far behind with 198 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just nine receptions.
Pitta has emerged as an underrated and lethal threat for Flacco. The third-year tight end out of Brigham Young has flourished in the playoffs thus far, snagging 10 balls for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
Shutting down the Ravens passing game may seem an impossible task for the 49ers, but limiting the damage is most certainly doable for this unit.
Pressuring Flacco: What the 49ers must do is create havoc for Flacco and the Ravens offensive line and force turnovers. The 49ers tallied just 14 interceptions during the regular season, 18th in the league.The 49ers will also need to consistently pressure Flacco. Sacking the quarterback aided the San Francisco defense during the regular season, recording 38 sacks, 14th-most in the league.
Run with Kaepernick: This has not been a problem for San Francisco, as they feature a read-option offensive scheme that has worked to perfection thus far. But they must stick with what has worked. In the Divisional Round, Kaepernick ran 16 times for 181 yards, while he carried the ball just twice for 21 yards last week, leading an offense that featured the running backs more prominently. By running the ball with Kaepernick, the 49ers should be able to keep the aggressive Ravens defense honest.
Let’s turn to Baltimore.
Defense: Stay Aggressive. It will be both important and vital for the Ravens defense to stay true to their gap responsibilities and aggressive as well. The 49ers like to run the read-option and all it takes is for one player to over pursue and the game could changed dramatically.
Spy Keapernick: Green Bay attempted to keep a defensive player locked in on Kaepernick, but that failed miserably. Atlanta tried to as well, but Kaepernick dished the ball off to Gore and LaMichael James. This will be crucial for the Ravens defense.
Capitalize: If the Ravens force a turnover, they must capitalize (as the Packers did with their pick-six two weeks ago) with points, especially considering how explosive the 49ers offense is.