Although there will be 22 players on the field at every point during the Super Bowl, the intense game will come down to a few individual matchups.
The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers are two of the most balanced teams in football. These squads got to this point because there is a tremendous amount of talent at every position on the football field.
However, there are certain players that can significantly help their team by winning one of the key battles in this game.
OT Bryant McKinnie vs. LB Aldon Smith
One of the big changes that helped the Ravens get to this point was the decision to put Bryant McKinnie in the lineup at left tackle and move Michael Oher to right tackle.
Since the switch, the entire offensive line has been much stronger.
Yet, McKinnie's greatest test of the season will likely come in the Super Bowl as he will have to protect his quarterback from both Justin Smith and Aldon Smith.
Aldon finished second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks, but he has not brought down a quarterback in his last five games. He needs to be able to get out of his current slump in order to put pressure on Joe Flacco and not allow him to get comfortable in the pocket.
The linebacker had more than half of the team's sacks this season, so shutting him down will make the 49ers much less effective defensively.
QB Joe Flacco vs. FS Dashon Goldson
Joe Flacco has been incredibly efficient this postseason, throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has been looking for his best receivers and finding them down the field for big plays.
In the Super Bowl, he must continue to avoid mistakes as well as keep teams honest with the deep ball.
However, Dashon Goldson of the 49ers has been outstanding at safety over the past couple of years. He was selected to his second straight Pro Bowl this season and was named first-team All-Pro.
He is very good at covering a lot of ground and can turn potential touchdowns into interceptions.
For Flacco to be successful, he must know where No. 38 is at all times. He should still be able to find Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin throughout the game, but Goldson has the ability to ruin his plans if he plays well.
Although quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been truly outstanding this postseason, San Francisco's offense is only effective when Frank Gore is running well.
The 49ers need him to force teams to defend him in order to set up the pass later. This strategy has worked effectively this year, as San Francisco did not lose any of the 12 games where Gore rushed for at least 64 yards.
However, things have been much worse when he is shut down, like when he was held to 28 yards against the Seattle Seahawks and 36 yards against the New York Giants. Both of those performances resulted in massive losses.
Ray Lewis is a key player who will look to make sure Gore is held to a low rushing total. The veteran linebacker has 44 tackles through three playoff games and his ability to cover the field has made the entire Ravens defense much stronger.
Still, Gore is a very powerful running back and tough to bring down. Lewis must make sure he finishes his tackles to prevent any big plays on the ground.
CB Corey Graham vs. WR Michael Crabtree
It took a few years for Michael Crabtree to reach his potential, but he has made himself one of the better receivers in the NFL.
The former first-round pick was by far the biggest target for the 49ers this season. His 85 catches and 1,105 receiving yards gave him more than double the amount of production compared to anyone else on the roster.
On the other hand, this puts a lot of pressure on Crabtree to succeed in every game. If he cannot get going, the team has limited alternate options.
Corey Graham has been a great surprise this season since taking over for the injured Lardarius Webb. He made his biggest impact in the second round of the playoffs by intercepting Peyton Manning twice, including once in overtime.
In the Super Bowl, the cornerback will not necessarily need to force any turnovers, but he and Cary Williams will need to do their best to prevent Crabtree from having a big game. Otherwise, the receiver will make some game-changing plays on the big stage.
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