Biggest Liabilities for Each Team in Super Bowl XLVII
The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers aren't perfect.
Both clubs have their liabilities. They're relatively insignificant, but they exist.
Will those respective liabilities ultimately decide the winner of Super Bowl XLVII?
They very well could.
Here's a comprehensive breakdown of each club's shortcomings.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis in Coverage
Everything that's been stated about Ray Lewis over the last two weeks is true.
He's a first-ballot Hall of Fame player who transcended the middle linebacker position. He recovered quickly from a torn triceps muscle and has been a tackling machine for the Baltimore Ravens during their stunning run to the Super Bowl.
And yes, Sunday will (in all likelihood) be his last NFL game.
But the 37-year-old isn't nearly as adept in coverage as he once was.
He has lost a step (maybe just a half-step depending on who is asked) of burst and overall speed, and many teams have exploited him in the passing game.
In fact, ProFootballFocus (subscription required) rated Lewis as the worst cover man on the Ravens for the regular and postseason combined (minus-5.5).
With tight end Vernon Davis being a primary pass-catching target for Colin Kaepernick, don't be surprised if the San Francisco 49ers attempt to create mismatches with Lewis in coverage.
San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith as a Pass-Rusher
Justin Smith's primary responsibilities are disrupting the opposition's running game and occupying two blockers to free guys like Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.
The veteran is absolutely off the charts when it comes to those two extremely difficult tasks.
But, as a pass-rusher, his production has waned.
After returning from a torn triceps of his own, ProFootballFocus (subscription required) has graded Smith as the least effective pass-rusher on the 49ers with a minus-3.8 rating during the postseason.
Baltimore Ravens: Handling the Blitz
When Joe Flacco faced pressure during the regular season, he completed 46.3 percent of his passes and finished with a 72.2 QB rating, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
In his three playoff outings, his numbers have actually gotten worse—he's completed 39.1 percent (subscription required) of his passes and has a 47.1 completion percentage when the pressure came via the blitz.
His overall touchdown-to-interception ratio when pressured is 9-to-3, but the completion percentage is a worry, especially when playing the 49ers, a team with a sound defensive line and a proficient pass rush.
San Francisco 49ers: Dashon Goldson in Coverage, Especially Deep
Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are safeties who rarely shy away from lowering the boom on receivers and running backs, but Goldson has been a liability in coverage of late, especially on deep balls.
ProFootballFocus has graded him as the worst cover man on the 49ers during the postseason (minus-1.6), and he was burned on an early touchdown from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones at the start of the NFC title game.
San Francisco's secondary must communicate well, especially with Baltimore's downfield stalwarts Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith flanked out wide.
Baltimore Ravens: Terrell Suggs Rushing Colin Kaepernick
Before his Achilles tendon injury, Terrell Suggs was the AFC's most prolific and deservedly feared edge-rusher.
The key word in that sentence—was.
His frightening blend of size, speed, power and unparalleled desire helped him win the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year when he totaled a career-high 14 sacks.
Unfortunately, T-Sizzle just hasn't been the explosive sack master in 2012.
Only rookie Courtney Upshaw was less effective as a pass-rusher during the regular season, and no Ravens player has a lower rating as a pass-rusher during the playoffs than Suggs, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
Suggs totalled two sacks in eight games during the regular season and two in the postseason, both coming against the Denver Broncos.
Maybe he's on his way back, but Baltimore cannot rely on him to get continual pressure on Colin Kaepernick against San Francisco's stellar offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick Under Pressure
For as tremendous as Colin Kaepernick has been, like Flacco, he hasn't been great when faced with pressure (not many quarterbacks are).
During the regular season, the young signal-caller completed 50.8 percent of his passes and a respectable 58.3 percent when that pressure came from a blitz, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
However, on the 13 dropbacks in which he has been pressured during the playoffs, he has completed 1-of-6 passes for 17 yards without a touchdown and one interception.
The 49ers offensive line has been a five-man stone wall in front of Kaepernick for the overwhelming majority of his time as San Fran's starter, but the uniquely gifted quarterback hasn't been stellar when teams do get in his face.
Baltimore Ravens: Chykie Brown, Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams in Coverage
While Corey Graham and, to a certain degree, Cary Williams have been major playmakers during the playoffs, they haven't been especially tight in coverage.
Most of the secondary hasn't.
Situational cornerback Chykie Brown has the second-worst postseason pass coverage rating, only outperforming Lewis with a minus-4.3 rating by ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams haven't been much better, both grading in the negatives with scores of minus-1.5 and minus-1.3 respectively.
San Francisco 49ers: Red Zone Defense
Despite all of the 49ers' gaudy defensive numbers, they have not been particularly stout when the opposition reaches the red zone.
During the regular season, they finished with the 27th-best red zone defense in the NFL.
San Fran allowed a touchdown on 59.52 percent of the opposition's red zone trips, according to TeamRankings.com.
If the Ravens can move the ball inside the 49ers' 20-yard line often, John Harbaugh's team should be able to score touchdowns.
Baltimore Ravens: Running Behind Kelechi Osemele
Kelechi Osemele has been a fine left guard for the Ravens during his first season in the NFL, but he is the greatest liability on Baltimore's offensive line.
While running behind Osemele during the postseason, feature back Ray Rice has 14 carries for 35 yards with a long of six.
Justin Smith typically lines up on the right side of the defensive line, so running in his direction may not be the most intelligent plan of attack for Baltimore.
San Francisco 49ers: Another Wide Receiver Threat Besides Michael Crabtree
Michael Crabtree has emerged as legitimate No. 1 receiver for the 49ers. He caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards with nine touchdowns during the regular season and has 15 receptions for 176 yards and two scores in the postseason.
San Francisco's second-most productive wide receiver is Randy Moss—he accounted for 28 receptions and 434 yards during the regular season.
The 49ers have been able to get by with creative running plays and the matchup headache Vernon Davis, but outside of Crabtree, they certainly don't have another wideout who is a consistent threat.