Ravens vs. 49ers: Keys to Victory for Each Team in Super Bowl XLVII
Two weeks...two whole weeks.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens have two whole weeks to get ready for one another. On top of that, I'm not sure if you've heard, but the two head coaches are brothers! They already know each other pretty well—they've only been studying each other's tendencies and discussing strategy since grammar school.
The problem with having two weeks, however, is some coaches can over think the game itself. While the media stays wrapped up in the narratives, the staffs on each of these teams are continuing to break down tape to find an edge.
For two teams that are so talented, that can be both a blessing and a curse.
Here are the keys to victory for both teams. Hopefully, the team you're rooting for is paying attention.
San Francisco 49ers: What Has Greg Roman Cooked Up for This Game?
The 49ers have done a great job disguising their offensive packages this postseason, and that starts with Greg Roman and the trust he has in what Colin Kaepernick has between his ears.
First, at the end of the regular season, it was a "normal" offense. Against the Packers, it was read-option heavy. Then, against the Falcons, they largely eschewed the quarterback run and went with ground and pound with a sprinkle of the diamond formation and heavy utilization of tight end Vernon Davis.
Roman has had two weeks. What sort of wrinkle has he cooked up, and how well will the 49ers offense execute it?
Baltimore Ravens: How Do Dean Pees and the Ravens Defense Adjust?
Of course, Roman isn't the only talented coordinator in this game. Dean Pees knows what he's doing on defense, but the only question is how quickly his unit can adjust once the 49ers show their hand.
Overall, Pees would be better off using these two weeks to get his defense ready for anything—going through every single iteration of the 49ers offense he has on tape. It's a veteran-laden defense that isn't going to wilt under Super Bowl-level pressure.
However, if Roman surprises them and the Ravens aren't able to immediately flip the switch, it could result in a couple of quick scores for the 49ers, which could mean all the difference in this game.
San Francisco 49ers: How Effective Is Justin Smith Going to Be?
When the Ravens have the ball, the 49ers will largely be tasked with stopping the Ravens' vertical passing attack. If they can't get to Joe Flacco, this game could be over very early.
That all depends on Justin Smith.
See, Aldon Smith is who he is—he's not the type of rusher who can set up multiple blockers with a variety of moves and bust through double teams.
Aldon is at his best when Justin is at his best in front of him. When the elder Smith takes up blockers and creates multiple pass-rushing lanes, the younger Smith can do serious damage.
Baltimore Ravens: Will Joe Flacco Connect Deep?
With Flacco taking so many shots deep downfield, the Ravens can win many games whether he connects or not. Just the pressure of pushing the defense vertically creates running lanes for Ray Rice and other opportunities in the passing attack.
But against the 49ers, he will need to connect.
Without at least one long touchdown, there isn't much hope against a staunch 49ers defense that was top five against both the run and the pass this season. An overthrow here, a dropped pass there, and all of a sudden, the Ravens will find themselves behind the eight ball.
San Francisco 49ers: Will David Akers Cure What Ails Him?
Nothing can ruin a kicker's career more than the insinuation he no longer has "it."
Akers hasn't been a basket case this season, but he certainly hasn't been himself as he deals with lingering injuries and the pressure of the team turning to Billy Cundiff (yes, the Billy Cundiff) as a potential replacement.
If the mistrust of Akers means that the 49ers are a little more ballsy on the other side of the 50, this could be a blessing in disguise. However, if they trust Akers and he falls short, those missed points will come back to haunt them.
Baltimore Ravens: Can the Ravens Linebackers Get Sideline to Sideline?
With mobile quarterbacks like Kaepernick, it is more often about execution rather than planning. You know the overarching battle plan, but you have to deal with new wrinkles as they come.
Eventually, it all boils down to the defensive line winning battles at the line of scrimmage and the linebackers flowing from sideline to sideline, shutting down the quarterback runs.
Like most good 3-4 teams, the Ravens are built to rush pocket passers. That's the way the NFL has done business for the last decade, and business has been good for Baltimore. Now, against a mobile, running quarterback, it's a bit of a game changer.
If Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and company can't stop Kaepernick at the line of scrimmage, it won't matter what blitzes or schemes they've put into action.
San Francisco 49ers: Can Colin Kaepernick Continue to Rise to the Occasion?
Kaepernick has done everything that has been asked of him this season. He's validated the decision to go with him over Alex Smith and has excelled with his running ability and shown marked improvement as a passer.
As we noted earlier, he's also a great student of the game and has shown he can be a leader. So, we know the intangibles are there.
The biggest game of his college career was a game against Boise State in which the Broncos shut down Nevada's running game. Kaepernick showed he could be a passer and beat Boise with his arm.
Will he be able to find that magic in the Super Bowl, or will he take some chances that end up in the hands of Ed Reed?
Baltimore Ravens: Will Jim Caldwell Run Ray Rice No Matter What?
If you're expecting a ton of rushing yards from Ray Rice on Sunday, it may be asking a bit much against the 49ers' defensive front. However, even two or three yards a clip would be enough to hang your hat on and keep the Ravens in 3rd-and-short most of the game.
More importantly, running the ball, even ineffectively, helps the vertical passing game. The mere specter of Rice gives the 49ers' safeties plenty of reason to creep up toward the line of scrimmage.
Even if he's only got a handful of rushing yards after the first couple of drives, Caldwell can't give up the run.
San Francisco 49ers: Can Vernon Davis Keep Pressuring Defenses on the Seam?
Vernon Davis has been a bit of an afterthought for much of Kaepernick's tenure. However, against the Falcons, he became an important piece of the puzzle, going for over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown.
The reason Davis was so effective was because the Falcons' cornerbacks found themselves thinking rather than playing football. They had to pay attention to Davis in the seam, but simultaneously guarded their men out on the perimeter or flying in the space that Davis left.
The Ravens have some shaky cornerback depth and could find themselves facing the same problem that the Falcons did. If Davis can get loose, he will provide opportunities for himself and others.
Baltimore Ravens: Can the Ravens Continue to Ride That Wave of Emotion?
It's not Xs and Os, but one of the biggest keys of this game is how the Ravens deal with the wave of emotion they have ridden so effectively this postseason.
Sometimes, though, emotions get the better of us. That edge they're playing on could quickly become jitters or playing outside themselves, especially for some of the team's younger players.
If they don't stay on that edge, the mistakes could come early and often.
We know both teams will be ready for Sunday's big game, but the lights and the spectacle bring a whole new level of pressure once the teams walk out of the tunnel. The Ravens need to ride that wave of emotion toward their ultimate goal.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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