Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers is filled with engaging storylines. It is hard to imagine any one player being more vital to his team’s chances above the rest.
Each of these teams will put forth similar game plans by establishing a sound rushing attack, protecting the football and playing solid defense.
How the Ravens and 49ers go about mitigating each other’s offensive success will be slightly diverse, though containing either Joe Flacco or Colin Kaepernick should be top priority.
For Baltimore, the key will be to keep Kaepernick contained within the pocket. Allowing him to define his own edge will permit the dynamic quarterback to dictate the action, rather than forcing him into hurried decisions.
While the Ravens' task may be more difficult in trying to stop Kaepernick, San Francisco must also direct what Flacco is able to do within the pocket. Giving the big-armed signal-caller extra time will allow Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta to easily shed contact off the line and find the second and third levels of the defense.
No one expects these three to duplicate the output of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez for the Atlanta Falcons during the NFC Championship loss to the 49ers (26 catches, 360 yards and three touchdowns). That certainly doesn’t diminish their impact, however, which will only create a softer front for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to work out of the backfield.
Who will have a bigger impact against the Ravens offense?
Choosing which Ravens’ offensive threat to contain can easily be thwarted by putting pressure on Flacco. While Aldon Smith relies on others around him to maximize his individual impact, the second-year pass-rusher must find a way to dominate this game.
Smith was all the rage in the regular season, tallying 19.5 sacks through San Francisco’s first 13 games. But since that time, he has been unable to get to the opposing quarterback—including the 49ers’ two playoff wins.
His inability to record a sack over the last five games can be attributed to teams constantly barraging Smith with double and triple teams. Not having defensive lineman Justin Smith at full health could be pointed to as well.
However, the bottom line is that reasoning and excuses mean very little at this point.
Though Aldon Smith is only in his second year, he is one of few players on Sunday that can take over in a way that he carries his team to victory. A constant presence in the Ravens backfield, and in Flacco’s back pocket, would do just that.
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