The Baltimore Ravens are playing inspired football, especially on defense. After shutting out the New England Patriots in the second half of the AFC Championship Game, Ray Lewis and the Ravens turn their sights to stopping an incredibly dynamic San Francisco offensive attack.
Colin Kaepernick took the reins in San Francisco this season when Alex Smith was sidelined with a concussion. Jim Harbaugh’s decision to stick with Kaepernick instead of his veteran signal-caller was widely scrutinized, but it was the right call.
Kaepernick accounted for 15 total touchdowns in the regular season, and his success carried over into the playoffs. He posted 698 total yards and five touchdowns in two postseason games and has been one of the biggest reasons for the 49ers’ deep playoff run.
Still, San Francisco’s offensive success can’t all be attributed to Kaepernick. Last week against Atlanta, he threw for 233 yards and one touchdown, but that was the extent of the damage. He scrambled just twice for 21 yards, and only one of those was for a positive gain.
The key to San Francisco’s offensive attack last week was Frank Gore and his ability to pick up yards after contact. Gore is a dynamic runner who is as dangerous between the tackles as he is off the edge. He rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons, but he’ll run into a buzz saw in less than two weeks.
With the Ravens playing their best football at the perfect time of the season, Gore, Kaepernick and the rest of San Francisco’s offense will have difficulty getting much going in the Super Bowl.
Baltimore held the Patriots scoreless in the second half last week due in large part to their ability to stop the run. New England became one-dimensional on offense, and the Ravens keyed in on Tom Brady and his receivers.
As well as Baltimore’s offense has been playing, the 49ers may find themselves playing from behind early in the game. If that ends up being the case, San Francisco must not abandon the run at any cost.
Kaepernick is a talented quarterback, but he’s still inexperienced and has some problems with downfield accuracy at times. The running game will keep Baltimore off-balance and buy Kaepernick more time in the pocket to allow passing lanes to open up.
The Ravens front seven won’t let the 49ers to pick up many yards on the ground, though. They held New England to 3.9 yards per carry last week and Denver to just three yards per tote in the divisional round. Baltimore’s run defense was uncharacteristically porous during the regular season, but it has played much better in the playoffs.
Baltimore is simply playing too well right now, and San Francisco will struggle to put up points when they face off on Feb. 3. Fortunately for the 49ers, their defense has also been playing terrific football, and this game could be one of the lowest-scoring Super Bowls in recent years.