As the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens head into Super Bowl XLVII, each coaching staff is looking for the advantage. By evaluating common opponents like the New England Patriots and even breaking down the 2011 Week 12 matchup, the coaches are trying to find or create mismatches in their game plans.
Both teams have solid rushing attacks, defenses that are playing good football right now and quarterbacks who are playing extremely well. By using schemes, formation adjustments or varying personnel, each team is working to outsmart the other.
In the coming slides, some of the players may be just slightly better than the opponent they are facing, but if the best player can get the upper hand, his team will be one step closer to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
A healthy Dannell Ellerbe is the key to the Ravens stopping the 49ers' rushing attack. Ellerbe has unseated Ray Lewis as the best linebacker on the Ravens' roster. He is consistently around the football and takes on the lead runner with power and force.
Bruce Miller is a decent lead blocker, but he is not a true thumper, as he blocks better when he can gain the angle on the defender. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees will use Ellerbe as a hammer to attack the line of scrimmage at the snap.
This will force the 49ers' running attack to bubble, and that will allow safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard to scrap and make tackles. If Ellerbe is constantly knocking Miller back, the 49ers' run game will not be able to get going.
Advantage: Dannell Ellerbe
Colin Kaepernick is the most important player for the 49ers in the Super Bowl. How the second-year professional plays will determine which team wins the Super Bowl. If he plays like he did versus the Green Bay Packers a few weeks ago, the Ravens do not have much of a shot.
Containing Kaepernick, especially as a rusher, will fall into the hands of Terrell Suggs.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is known more for his pass-rush ability than run-stopping prowess. But when the 49ers line up in the Pistol formation, the onus will fall on Suggs to read the mesh point of Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore.
If Suggs can contain Kaepernick’s running ability, the Ravens can win the game. But if Suggs loses containment or bites on the play-action fakes too often, Kaepernick will chew up the Ravens defense.
Advantage: Colin Kaepernick
Both players have had great seasons, and this will be a key matchup in the Super Bowl. Pro Football Focus ranks Paul Kruger the sixth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in football. His nine sacks in the regular season and 2.5 in the playoffs are career highs.
Anthony Davis is ranked the 12th-best offensive tackle in football, but that grade comes more from his run-blocking ability than his pass-blocking. Good pass-rushers have shown the ability to set Davis up and beat him to the quarterback.
Look for Kruger to use the first half to get a feel for the 49ers game plan before using his assortment of pass-rush moves to get to quarterback Colin Kaepernick later in the game. Kruger will finish with at least one sack if the Ravens win the game.
Advantage: Paul Kruger
Iupati was voted to the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl but did not attend since his team is in the Super Bowl. He is a strong player who plays best when playing power on power. He has a strong lower body and can dig the defender out of the hole. Iupati’s hand strength is excellent, and he can turn and ride the defender to the ground.
Cody is a mountain of a man, but he has struggled holding the point of attack this season. Opponents have been able to initiate double-team blocks on Cody, only to leave him single-blocked, which then allows the center to block a linebacker.
Look for the 49ers to use Iupati to pin Cody inside on Pistol runs by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. If Cody is consistently blocked by one man, the Ravens will be gashed by the run.
Advantage: Mike Iupati
Joe Flacco is playing the best football of his career right when the Ravens need him to. He has eight touchdown passes in this year’s playoffs and will need the same production if he hopes to be a Super Bowl champion.
In the Ravens’ three playoff wins in 2013, Flacco has not had a quarterback rating below 106.
Pro Football Focus ranks Dashon Goldson the 20th-best safety in the NFL, and Donte Whitner is 53rd. Whitner actually has a negative grade in terms of pass coverage. Both have shown they are susceptible to being beaten deep, and that is Flacco’s biggest strength.
Flacco needs to use the speed of wide receiver Torrey Smith to split the seam of the 49ers secondary and get behind the safeties. Then he can use tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson to take advantage of the two safeties in the curl and hook zones.
If Flacco can keep Goldson and Whitner guessing in coverage, the Ravens can win the game.
Advantage: Joe Flacco
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is a smart man who rarely makes the same mistake twice. In the 49ers' matchup versus the Ravens last season, Vernon Davis was only targeted five times for 38 yards receiving. One of his four receptions was for 20 yards.
San Francisco lost that game. Davis needs to be targeted over 10 times this time around.
Davis is coming off a 106-yard receiving day in the win over the Falcons. He will be used similarly when matched up in coverage versus Ray Lewis. The future Hall of Famer is playing his last game partly due to his liability in coverage.
Once considered one of the best coverage linebackers in the game, age simply caught up to Lewis.
Davis needs to run stick and out routes on Lewis to use his speed and gain separation. If Davis has another 100-plus-yard game, the 49ers should be heading home as champions.
Advantage: Vernon Davis
One common opponent each of these teams faced in the 2012-13 season was the New England Patriots. Against the 49ers, Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd had 190 yards receiving. Most of that was when he was lined up over Carlos Rogers.
Rogers is ranked the 46th-best cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
Boldin has three touchdown catches in these playoffs, and he has continually come up clutch for the Ravens. He will need to use his strength and deceptive deep speed to beat Rogers. As long as Flacco puts the ball where it should be, Boldin's strong hands and solid route running should take care of the rest.
The Ravens will need to take advantage of this matchup to win the game.
Advantage: Anquan Boldin
Aldon Smith has not had a sack in his last five games, but he still finished the season with 19.5 sacks. He is still considered one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, and fate picked a good time to give him one of his better matchups of the season.
Bryant McKinnie wasn’t even the Ravens' starting left tackle until the playoff opener against the Indianapolis Colts. He has played solidly since replacing Michael Oher, but the 49ers coaching staff likely sees him as a liability.
If Smith can get one-on-one pass-rush opportunities versus McKinnie, he'll win his fair share. Smith may not come up with a bunch of sacks, but if he can force Joe Flacco from the pocket, the 49ers gain the upper hand.
Advantage: Aldon Smith
Jacoby Jones was voted to the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl due to his ability to change a game with his return ability. He had three return touchdowns on the season, and against the Dallas Cowboys, Jones tied the NFL record for longest kickoff return in NFL history.
The 49ers' kickoff coverage unit allowed 26.9 yards per return on the regular season, and the punt coverage team gave up a score. According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers do not have a top-40 coverage player.
If Jones can get going in the return game, the former Lane star will gain momentum and field position for the Ravens. If the 49ers are constantly defending a short field, the Ravens offense can better dictate the pace of the game.
Advantage: Jacoby Jones
The 49ers rushing defense is one of the best in the NFL, and most of the credit belongs to Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Both players are Pro Bowlers and two of the top tacklers in the league. Bowman finished the regular season with 144 tackles; Willis had 120.
Rice had a huge game versus the Broncos in the playoffs but was fairly quiet in the win over the New England Patriots. If the 49er linebackers can bottle up Rice and the Ravens rushing attack, the 49ers will put themselves in a position of strength.
If Bowman and Willis can keep Rice under 80 yards rushing and out of the end zone, the 49ers should win the game. They'll need to control the line of scrimmage and keep Rice from gaining yards after contact.
Advantage: Patrick Willis/NaVorro Bowman