Super Bowl 2013: Weakest Offensive and Defensive Starters for Ravens and 49ers
Enough of all this buoyant talk about Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco and the rest of Super Bowl XLVII's potential heroes. A chain's not necessarily as strong as its strongest link, but as we've all been told (almost to a hackneyed degree) it can be as weak as its weakest.
The Super Bowl can be lost just as easily as it can be won, something Lovie Smith and the 2006 Chicago Bears can readily attest to. Sometimes those who are incapable of making a competent play are just as important as those who are capable of making a stellar one.
Both teams have weak spots on both sides of the ball, and it will be up to each team to exploit those areas in their opponent. In many ways, the team who more successfully accomplishes that feat is the team with the greatest advantage.
Here is each team's weakest link on each side of the ball:
Offense: OG Kelechi Osemele
The Ravens' offensive line, as a whole, has fared better since inserting Bryant McKinnie at left tackle in Week 17. The move allowed Michael Oher to play his much more natural (and ironic) position of right tackle, which has drastically improved their play on the edges.
But it also slid former right tackle Kelechi Osemele to right guard, where he's mightily struggled this postseason.
Per Pro Football Focus, the second-year player from Iowa State has posted grades of minus-3.3 and minus-1.5 in the Ravens' past two games. His cumulative score from the postseason is minus-3.9—the lowest of any guard in the Super Bowl. (For comparison sake, Alex Boone is plus-4.8, Marshal Yanda is plus-3.6 and Mike Iupati is minus-1.1)
It would be hard for Baltimore to abandon Osemele now, especially given the unit's collective success. But they'd better find a way to compensate for him against a tenacious Niners run defense.
Defense: CB Cary Williams
Hard to articulate this one more clearly than Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders:
Over the last few games, the Ravens have settled on a lineup that has Cary Williams covering the offensive left and Chykie Brown the offensive right, with Graham in the slot.
We don't have that many charted targets to go on with Brown, but Williams has been awful. Williams has 43 percent success rate (82nd) and 7.8 yards per pass (59th).
Nothing makes the injury to Lardarius Webb quite as graphic as Williams's profound struggles in his stead. The Ravens have struggled to find consistent perimeter defense all season—a big reason why they sputtered so badly heading into the playoffs.
If defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows what's good for him, he'll have Ed Reed keep a watchful eye on Williams's man all game long.
San Francisco 49ers
Offense: WR Randy Moss
This one's not really fair to Randy, who—given his age—has performed admirably all season. He's been even better in the playoffs. But on a team that has—gulp—no offensive holes, someone has to be the odd man out.
That man is Moss, who has had to assume an even bigger receiving role since the team lost Mario Manningham to a torn ACL. It's a role that he was capable of filling (better than almost every player in league history) in another life...but this is 2013 Randy Moss, not the 1998 version.
Again: Randy's not a weak player in every sense of the word. He's not even a weak player in many senses of the word. But relative to the rest of San Francisco's starting offense, he's the lesser of 11 evils.
Defense: NT Isaac Sopoaga
Sopoaga doesn't play that many snaps—and with good reason—but he's listed as a starter, and becomes the obvious answer to this question.
In his 335 regular season snaps, Pro Football Focus rated Sopoaga the worst defensive player on the Niners' roster, period. His grade of minus-12 was over twice as bad as the team's second-worst defender, DB Perrish Cox.
He played well (by any standard, not just his deficient one) against the Falcons in Atlanta, but that performance could very well be an outlier—the exception that proves the rule. With so few other holes to attack, Baltimore would do well to run it at Sopoaga when they can.
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