Super Bowl Predictions 2013: Key Defensive Players Who Will Decide Fate of Game
Well you know what they say: defense wins championships. So it only makes sense that the 2013 Super Bowl features some of the best defensive squads around.
With both teams so evenly matched, it's become difficult to make predictions on a game that could go either way.
In the regular season, the San Francisco 49ers allowed 294.4 yards and 17.1 points per game, good for third and second in the NFL, respectively.
Right behind them were the Baltimore Ravens, who were 17th in yards (350.8) and 12th in points (21.5) per game.
At first glance that seems like a huge jump, but the Ravens were as banged up as possible this season. Now that they're healthy, the squad is decimating its opponents.
And so, with such an even match, it comes down to the guys on the field. While football is a team sport, both teams will rely on crucial players to decide the fate of this one.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners' explosive linebacker had a phenomenal second season in the NFL, registering 66 tackles, 19.5 sacks and an interception. On a team filled with talented pass-rushers, Smith is by far the best.
But after a hot start to the season, Smith has been eerily quiet down the stretch.
Playing in his second postseason, No. 99 has just three tackles and a forced fumble to his name in the playoffs. He hasn't recorded a sack since the 49ers' December 9 matchup with the Dolphins.
Smith showed some improvements against the Falcons. He was very good on the edge of the pocket, getting a hand on Matt Ryan several times. He didn't record a sack, but helped apply pressure when needed.
Baltimore's offense has been hard to stop this postseason, and a huge reason for that is the offensive line. Joe Flacco has been virtually untouchable, and in return he's making some huge throws.
The Niners will have to find a way to throw Flacco off balance. Pressure will be key, meaning the play of Smith will be a huge X-factor.
The 49ers are great against the run, but they're just as solid against the pass. A big reason for that is cornerback Tarell Brown, who had two interceptions and 14 pass deflections in the regular season.
While Brown had a key interception in the Niners win over the Packers in the Divisional Round, San Francisco was torched by the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
Not only did Matt Ryan throw for 396 yards, wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White combined for 18 catches and 282 yards.
Baltimore's top wideouts—Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin—are averaging a combined 19.0 yards per catch in the postseason, and have scored five touchdowns.
Pressure will be key to stopping the Ravens' passing attack, but so will shutting down the receivers. If Brown and crew play like they did against Atlanta, this one's already lost.
Ray Lewis is the heart of this Baltimore defense—as he has been forever—and it seems only fitting that in his final NFL season he has his team headed to the Super Bowl.
It's with that heart that the ever ferocious Lewis has led his team to victory after victory.
The linebacker has recorded a ridiculous 44 tackles in the postseason. That obviously leads all players—18 tackles ahead of second-place Corey Graham.
Baltimore has yet to face any real dual-threat quarterbacks in the postseason, and it will have to find a way to slow down Colin Kaepernick.
Kaep—who set a postseason record for rushing yards as a QB with 181 against the Packers—is as elusive as they come.
It will be up to Lewis to make sure his defense is disciplined. If he can do that, the Ravens should have no problem slowing down the San Francisco running game.
While shutting down the 49ers' running game is crucial, they can still pass the ball pretty well.
Kaepernick actually only managed 21 rushing yards against the Falcons, but he also completed 76 percent of his passes while averaging 11.1 yards per throw.
Which team has the better defense?
The young gun has been poised in the playoffs to this point, but he's yet to face a pass rush as explosive as Baltimore's. And leading that attack is linebacker Paul Kruger.
Kruger is one of the most underrated players in the league, and he really came into his own this season.
He led the Ravens with 9.0 sacks in the regular season, while registering 42 tackles and six pass deflections.
Kruger's been just as solid in the postseason, notching 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a pass deflection.
If Baltimore wants to set an early tone for the game, it'll have to find a way to knock the young Kaepernick off balance. Kruger is the best man for that job.
This game is sure to be a great defensive battle. Both teams are the best at what they do, and you better believe yards will be tough to come by.
While the Ravens are a team on a mission, the Niners have youth on their side. That's got to count for something.
San Francisco 24, Baltimore 20
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