The San Francisco 49ers' run defense has been solid all season and the Baltimore Ravens are going to have to score some points if they expect to win Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday.
That means it may once again be up to quarterback Joe Flacco and his receiving corps.
The deep ball has been tremendously important for Flacco and the Ravens in the playoffs. During the postseason, Flacco has averaged 9.17 yards per pass attempt (third among playoff quarterbacks) while tossing eight touchdowns to zero interceptions.
In the regular season, 17.3 percent of Flacco's throws went 20 yards or more, but he only completed 40.2 percent of them (ranked 15th in that category), according to Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, via ESPN. But in the playoffs, Flacco has completed 54.3 percent of his deep throws.
The speedy Torrey Smith, Baltimore's greatest deep threat, has posted five catches of 20 yards or more during the postseason (tied for first among playoff receivers). His partner-in-crime, veteran Anquan Boldin, has registered four catches of 20 yards or more (tied for fifth).
Among receivers with nine catches or more in the playoffs, Smith and Boldin rank first and second respectively in yards per reception. They've scored five touchdowns between the two of them.
On the flip side, San Francisco's top three cornerbacks—Chris Culliver, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown—all ranked in the top 27 in "yards per cover snap", according to Palazzolo's report (yards allowed when they've been the primary cover man on passes thrown their way).
But then there's the second level of San Francisco's secondary: safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner.
Pro Football Focus ranked Goldson and Whitner 20th and 53rd among safeties respectively during the regular season, via Marc Lillibridge of Bleacher Report. Whitner actually received a negative coverage grade.
Given the attention Goldson and Whitner have received due to their ability against the run and vicious tackling, some of their troubles in coverage have largely gone unnoticed. If Flacco can find some openings beyond the coverage of San Francisco's cornerbacks, that could be the difference between a win and a loss for the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
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