Super Bowl Line: Under-the-Radar Factors That Will Decide Sunday's Clash
From second-year sensation QB Colin Kaepernick to his Baltimore counterpart, QB Joe Flacco, there are big names littered on each of these rosters. Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis, Frank Gore and both Jim and John Harbaugh have captured the headlines since these two teams punched their tickets to New Orleans.
No doubt each will have a profound impact on the game.
With the current line favoring the 49ers by four points and this game really a toss up when you think about the seasons of each, it's important to look at players that could both keep this game close or blow the door wide open.
The 49ers are the favorites and have the big names, but also have complementary pieces that help make the roster deadly. Baltimore, on the other hand, has plenty of talent mixed in with veteran leadership to turn this spread in its favor in the blink of an eye.
It's often the guys we don't expect to perform big that will affect this game in a big way—ways that aren't being highly publicized yet. Below are four men who have the capability to do so for the Ravens and 49ers.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans
When: Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS; CBSSports.com (Live Stream)
Listen: Sirius XM Radio-88, WBAL 1090 AM (Baltimore) or KNBR 680 AM (San Francisco)
Spread: SF by 4 (Bovada)
Over/Under: 47.5 (Bovada)
Baltimore OTs Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher
Stopping Aldon and Justin Smith is no easy task for any NFL offensive tackle.
These two bookends for Baltimore haven't exactly lit the world on fire in the 2012-13 season, but in the playoffs each have turned it on, keeping Flacco clean from names like Dwight Freeney, Von Miller most of the threats the New England Patriots sent Baltimore's way.
Sporting News writer Clifton Brown notes much of the same in his most recent article, recognizing that the Week 17 shift to move Oher to the right side and McKinnie to the left has payed dividends in the past three wins.
Against Mr. and Mr. Smith, the tackles will have to be smart, physical and ready for stunts from the San Francisco defense. As Brown notes in his article, the duo can also have a big impact in the running game:
If Flacco gets time, he can make deep throws as well as anybody. That much has been proved. The Ravens have been a better offensive team with McKinnie on offense—better in pass protection, better in run blocking. Ray Rice has been given the luxury to become more patient with his runs, confident that a crease will develop for him to scamper through.
In both pass protection and run blocking, this pair is important. Keep eyes on the outside of the Baltimore offensive line when Flacco drops back to pass and hands off to Rice.
San Francisco FS Dashon Goldson
Baltimore loves to stretch the field.
When you have receivers like Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, why not take chances against the secondary? That means Goldson is going to have his hands full in over-the-top coverage, and he doesn't want to end up like Rahim Moore of the Broncos.
Chances are he won't, but Goldson must still be active in coverage and will likely find himself matched up against a TE a time or two in this game as well. There are analysts that feel Goldson is one of the best free safeties in the NFL, but B/R's own Matt Miller notes a problem in that theory (Note: change "God" to "good" for tweet to read correctly):
If Goldson gives up big plays to these receivers, they will go for six points. San Francisco can score points in bunches, but has always hung its hat on its defense. Goldson can help keep it that way in coverage against these Ravens receivers.
Baltimore DT Haloti Ngata
The beast in the middle of the Baltimore defensive line is Haloti Ngata, who is looking to finish strong despite his run-ins with injury and the occasional setback with changing positions to fill a need.
Since San Francisco is a dangerous team on the ground and through the air—it's time to get back to basics when thinking about what will beat their attack: pressure.
And by pressure, I mean defensive linemen wreaking havoc in the backfield and forcing the play to go in a different direction than what was originally planned. As Matt Vensil of the Baltimore Sun reports, penetration is one of the only things that is a sure-fire way to slow the read option down:
The 49ers appear to have the edge in the trenches against the NFL’s 20th-ranked run defense, but Ngata is one man who can blow up their backfield. Quick penetration will disrupt their running game, especially when they use their read-option plays. Rest over the past two weeks will likely serve him well, and if Ngata is close to full strength, Cosell thinks he will be a handful for Iupati, Goodwin and Boone on the interior of their line.
Ngata, like the other men on this list, won't get much press for Super Bowl XLVII.
No matter. Their performances will likely have a profound impact on who walks away with the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.
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