Super Bowl XLVII is the epitome of everything an NFL player strives for. It happens in the opening months of 2013 but it’s the culmination of an entire offseason and grueling season of competition, victory and defeat.
It’s the one chance some get to prove not only their individual worth, but also the value of their team and entire system. That’s why the top players of both the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are going to need to play at the top of their game on Super Bowl Sunday.
In all of this there are specific head-to-head matchups that will come into play when the game is decided on the field.
Let’s take a look at some of these key matchups and break down which key players from each team will need to bring their "A" game to New Orleans in order for their team to be crowned champions.
Ray Rice, RB vs. Patrick Willis, LB
Baltimore’s offense is no longer dependent on the success and failure of running back Ray Rice. But, that doesn’t mean the team is not going to need to lean on Rice throughout the game in order to pick up key conversions and keep San Francisco honest defensively.
Joe Flacco has been remarkable in guiding his team to the Super Bowl, but he will not be able to beat the 49ers defense on his own. This is not the New England unit that allowed him to walk all over them in the second half of the AFC Championship Game. It’s a hard-nosed, no-nonsense group that will get after the quarterback if the Ravens abandon the run.
That makes Patrick Willis, the Niners' middle linebacker and leading tackler, the biggest key to their defensive success against the Ravens. The game plan should read: Stop Ray Rice and force Flacco to withstand the pressure and outscore your offense that has been rolling as of late.
Ray Lewis, LB/Terrell Suggs, LB vs. Colin Kaepernick, QB
Keying in on quarterback Colin Kaepernick could end up being the most important matchup for the Ravens defensively. While Kaepernick didn’t run wild on the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, Baltimore has been susceptible to giving up big games on the ground this season.
That weakness could call for more of the running game by San Francisco in the Super Bowl. If Frank Gore is getting the ball more that leaves the possibility for the ever-threatening and daunting read-option to be put into play.
Lewis and Suggs have the experience, instinct and speed to shut down those types of plays, and Baltimore will have to lean on them heavily in order to bottle up the potentially explosive running of the 49ers’ young QB.
Vernon Davis, TE vs. Bernard Pollard, S/Ed Reed, S/Linebackers
After a quiet season, for the most part, the 49ers utilized tight end Vernon Davis efficiently off of the play-action pass in the team’s win over Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. He responded, exploding for one touchdown and 106 yards receiving on six catches.
Davis poses a problem in that he is too fast for Ravens’ linebackers and too big of a target for their safeties to cover. However, the Ravens do have a competent combo in their defensive backfield with future Hall of Famer Ed Reed and the ever-imposing Bernard Pollard.
Baltimore will need to account for Davis, and his counterpart Delanie Walker, in addition to keeping tabs on Kaepernick and Frank Gore out of the backfield. It’s a daunting task, especially if the 49ers get rolling in the running game. Their experience and ability to stay disciplined will likely lead to better results than the Falcons found.