Drawing Up a Game Plan for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII
You wake up.
Everything is dark. You've got a remote control in your hand and drool on your elbow. You must have fallen asleep watching Baltimore Ravens film!
Your boss, coach Jim Harbaugh, told you to come up with a sure-fire game plan to shut down the AFC champions in Super Bowl XLVII, but you spent so long in the darkroom you crashed out. Now what?
Don't worry: Your friends at Bleacher Report have you covered.
Attack the Intermediate Coverage
The Ravens struggled in pass coverage all season long. Many of their cornerbacks and linebackers are consistent liabilities in coverage.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in the divisional round game against the Denver Broncos, all eight Denver passes targeted at Ray Lewis' man were caught. It's hard to go 8-of-8 playing catch in the backyard; let's see how the Broncos pulled it off:
The Broncos are lined up in shotgun, with tailback Jacob Hester in to pass protect. Tight end Joel Dreessen is in line with the offensive line to the right. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and outside linebacker Paul Kruger are highlighted.
At the snap, Dreessen runs a quick drag route across the middle of the field. Lewis appears to be focused on quarterback Peyton Manning. For some reason Kruger does a head check on the slot receiver running past him; the receiver is being covered man-to-man by the slot corner.
Now, the truly odd part: Both Kruger and Lewis backpedal, allowing Dreessen to fly through the box unchecked:
Manning steps up and delivers the ball, and it's nearly there before Lewis reacts:
Without knowing the linebackers' assignments, it's tough to say why they played this pass the way they did. But this was far from the only time the Broncos used Dreessen, fellow tight end Jacob Tamme or slot receiver Brandon Stokley to attack the intermediate coverage.
Stop Torrey Smith
Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta are excellent pass-catchers and reliable third-down and red-zone targets, but it's receiver Torrey Smith who gives defenses fits downfield. To put a lid on Baltimore's vertical passing game, you have to put your best cover corner on Smith.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11, Smith was covered mostly by cornerback Ike Taylor. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith was targeted only four times when covered by Taylor; he didn't catch any of those passes.
Smith was held to one catch for seven yards on the day, and the Ravens were held to just 13 points.
The Ravens were, again, held to just 13 points.
If you want to neutralize Flacco's downfield threat, you'll need to lock your best cover corner, Tarell Brown, on Smith all game. Double-team Boldin as appropriate, but make sure Smith doesn't get open deep.
Attack the Pass Protection
Besides second-team All-Pro left guard Marshal Yanda, the Ravens have struggled with pass protection all season long. More importantly, according to PFF, Flacco has a 98.1 NFL passer efficiency rating when he's feeling no heat, and a 74.9 rating when pressured.
If you really want to get off to a great start and knock the Ravens back on their heels, you'll want to get after Flacco.
The best pass-rush weapon you have is outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Try to deploy him like the Kansas City Chiefs used their most talented pass-rusher, Justin Houston, in Week 5 (4:12 mark of video):
Houston created havoc all game, from the left side and the right. That week, Flacco was sacked four times, had a passer efficiency rating of just 55.6, completing just 13 of 27 passes for no touchdowns and one interception.
Oh, and the Ravens only scored nine points, their lowest output of the season.
Good news: You have a big advantage in talent on both sides of the ball. You'll want to press that advantage by giving your offense as many reps as possible.
You can afford to be aggressive on defense; early sacks or turnovers could put the game away immediately. You have little to fear if Flacco burns you deep; you know your offense can win a shootout.
You can also afford to be aggressive on offense. Running a lot with Frank Gore and being timid in the passing game would be playing into the Ravens' hands. Test their secondary early and often, especially any of their back seven not named Ed Reed.
If you can jump out to an early lead, take the ball out of Ray Rice's hands and force Flacco to beat you throwing, you can make Super Bowl XLVII the next big blowout yawner everyone complains about.
Now go tell Coach Harbaugh you have a plan.
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