If the Baltimore Ravens are going to repeat the New York Giants' feat of a season ago and win the Super Bowl as a fourth seed, then they're going to have to go through one of the best defenses in the National Football League to do so.
Fortunately for the Ravens, the weak spot in that San Francisco 49ers defense lies in the secondary, and it's in attacking that secondary vertically where the Ravens have their best chance of moving the football.
The Atlanta Falcons had a great deal of success in doing just that, building a 17-point lead in the first half of the NFC Championship game beginning with the game's first touchdown.
Facing a 2nd-and-10 from the San Francisco 46 with 11 minutes and 31 seconds to play in the first quarter, wide receiver Julio Jones lined up at the top of the formation with cornerback Tarell Brown in coverage.
As the play begins to develop, Brown commits a tactical error, "peeling off" of Jones and letting his free safety Dashon Goldson assume primary coverage.
Goldson then makes the second tactical error of the play. Whether he's expecting Jones to break off his route or just gets beaten, Jones gets behind him and the deep safety is much too far away to be of any assistance.
The result was an easy touchdown for the Falcons for a 7-0 lead.
That wasn't the only time in the game that a lapse by Goldson almost cost the 49ers a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, the Falcons had a 1st-and-10 from their own 31 with about seven minutes to play. Jones lined up at the bottom of the formation, with Brown and Goldson once again in coverage.
As the ball is snapped, Jones cuts in and then up the field, getting Brown out of position, and once again, effectively leaving Jones man-on-man with Goldson.
Jones exploits the mismatch and is wide open, and only a late throw by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan allows Brown enough time to recover and break up the play.
This is exactly how the Ravens need to go at the 49ers, and it also happens to be where the Ravens have had the most success offensively during their run to New Orleans.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is averaging nearly 17 yards per completion in three postseason games this year with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. And it's when the Ravens handed the ball to Flacco and took to the air that they took control of the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots.
Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell needs to be aggressive from the start. Run a lot of three-wide receiver sets. Stretch the field and try to create mismatches in the defensive backfield.
And take shots down the field early and often.
After all, the Baltimore Ravens didn't come this far to get conservative now.
At least not if they want to win Super Bowl XLVII.
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