Ravens vs. 49ers: Breaking Down Which Team Has the Advantage in the Trenches
Forget Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore or Patrick Willis.
Never mind Joe Flacco, Ray Rice or Ray Lewis.
Neither the San Francisco 49ers nor the Baltimore Ravens would be participating in Super Bowl XLVII without their offensive and defensive lines.
Time to get familiar with the true unsung heroes of each team's journey to the NFL title game.
Which team has the advantage in the ever-important but occasionally overlooked trench battle?
San Francisco 49ers Defensive Line vs. Baltimore Ravens Offensive Line
Let's start with defense, because, despite Kaepernick's emergence at the quarterback position, San Fran is still known for its defensive prowess and intimidation.
The play of the 49ers defensive line—and its entire defense—hinges on the health and subsequent production of Justin Smith.
He is a powerful block-eater with deceptive penetrating skills, a guy who opens up pass-rushing lanes for Aldon Smith and lets Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to attack the line of scrimmage unimpeded more often than not.
Essentially, he's a fabulous athlete who thrives due to an exceptionally high motor and brute strength—no offensive linemen have fun blocking him.
After partially tearing his triceps muscle, Smith hasn't been the same player, but with two full weeks off heading into the Super Bowl, he should be close to 100 percent.
The veteran defensive lineman will give Bryant McKinnie and youngster Kelechi Osemele trouble, but they won't be totally overmatched.
Remember, McKinnie, Osemele and the right side of the offensive line have faced and fared well against pass-rushing stalwarts like Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
While stopping the exquisitely complementary Smith duo will be the primary offensive line onus for Baltimore, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga certainly reap the benefits of playing alongside Justin and can make plays in the backfield as well.
The Ravens boast a cohesive offensive line, a group that's massive from tackle-to-tackle that should be able to give the 49ers vaunted defensive line more than it can handle, especially from a pass-rushing perspective.
The 49ers may have more of an edge stopping the run, but that effort will include the linebackers, not solely the defensive line.
Advantage: Ravens (slightly)
San Francisco 49ers Offensive Line vs. Baltimore Ravens Defensive Line
The 49ers have the best offensive line in the NFL.
It is extremely well coached, and every linemen is capable of dominating the opposition from a technical and physical standpoint.
Joe Staley and Mike Iupati are punishing on the left side, and Alex Boone and Anthony Davis are as sound as they come on the right side, while Jonanthan Goodwin has come into his own at the center position.
The unit as a whole excels at mauling defensive lines and continuing to the second level to destroy smaller linebackers and defensive backs.
Impending free-agent edge-rusher Paul Kruger, technically a linebacker, has made some money this postseason and will present a formidable test opposite Terrell Suggs.
Which team has the advantage in the trenches?
Baltimore's Justin Smith is Haloti Ngata.
When he's bursting through the interior of offensive lines, the Ravens defense can be exceptional in all phases.
However, the 49ers offensive line has the ideal blend of size, strength and agility and should be able to keep the Ravens defensive line in check for most of the game, especially with Terrell Suggs not nearly as explosive as he was before his Achilles tendon injury.
Who Will Win?
Both teams possess remarkable assets in the trenches—it's a major reason they advanced to the Super Bowl. Throughout the course of the game, the Ravens should be able to limit the disruptive nature of the 49ers defensive line, but San Fran's offensive line will be more dominant over Baltimore's defensive front, giving Jim Harbaugh's group the ultimate edge.
Overall advantage: 49ers
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