If the Baltimore Ravens hope to add a second Super Bowl trophy to their collection, they must slow the Colin Kaepernick train.
Lately, that's been a task easier said than done.
Just ask the Green Bay Packers how difficult it is to shut down a 6'4", 230-pound quarterback who runs a 4.53 40-yard dash and can sling the ball 50-plus yards with ease.
In the San Francisco 49ers' 45-31 stomping of the Packers, Kaepernick went off on Clay Matthews and Co. Though he completed just 55 percent of his passes, the second-year signal-caller threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns, posting a QBR of 94.7—his second-highest as a starter. However, it was his feet that led to an early playoff exit for Green Bay. The former Nevada star set the single-game playoff rushing record by a quarterback with 181 rushing yards and added two more scores.
Although he didn't go off against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, Kaepernick was efficient enough in the 28-24 win. He wasn't used as a running threat, but he did complete 76 percent of his passes for 233 yards and a touchdown.
What's made the Kaepernick train keep rolling is his ability to make big plays without turning the ball over.
Since becoming the starter in Week 11, he's thrown just four picks while going 7-2. That's elite, folks.
His ascension has catapulted former first-round pick Michael Crabtree from solid starter to bonafide No. 1 wideout. And after showing little chemistry with Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis in his first eight starts, the two hooked up for 106 yards and a TD on five receptions against the Falcons.
So what can the Ravens—who just held Tom Brady to one of his his worst playoff performances ever—do to slow the Kaepernick train?
Well, it's going to take a whole lot of pressure.
Starting with their defensive line, the Ravens must create a new line of scrimmage. Again, it's easier said than done considering San Francisco has the best starting five in the league.
Mammoths Haloti Ngata, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Pernell McPhee must not only tie up blockers, but also collapse the pocket. All three players have the size to challenge San Fran's talented offensive line, which makes this battle of the titans an exciting one to watch.
Dictating the line of scrimmage is key for the Ravens because it will force Kaepernick to make quicker decisions and move him off his spot. By making him think on the run, he could be forced into making bad decisions that Ed Reed and the Ravens secondary can feast on.
However, accomplishing that first part of the equation doesn't ensure success without edge containment.
Making Kaepernick scramble can lead to huge gains, meaning Baltimore must play sound, disciplined defense in order to reel in the athletic QB.
If Baltimore hopes to avoid a Green Bay-like meltdown, it has to get great play from its outside linebacker tandem of Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger. While Suggs carries the bigger name, it's been Kruger—the 2009 second-round pick—who's carried Baltimore's pass rush.
After serving as a rotational guy, Kruger emerged as a force in 2012, racking up a career- and team-high nine sacks. Suggs, on the other hand, battled back from an Achilles tendon injury but looked nothing like the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year.
The 6'3", 260-pounder recorded just 22 tackles and two sacks in eight games, looking far less explosive than in the past.
However, the five-time Pro Bowler must find his form in the Super Bowl, as he will be relied upon to put pressure on and chase after Kaepernick. Along with Kruger, Baltimore's two heavy outside linebackers can't run past the play and must be efficient in beating their man.
If the Kruger/Suggs tandem gets handled by 49ers offensive tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, the Kaepernick train will roll right over the Ravens.
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