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Ravens vs. 49ers: 10 Key Matchups for San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII

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Ravens vs. 49ers: 10 Key Matchups for San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII
Rob Carr/Getty Images
The 49ers hope the refs don't call back yet another Tarell Brown interception (see: 2011).

John Harbaugh. Jim Harbaugh. Baltimore Ravens. San Francisco 49ers.

Super Bowl XLVII.

Ready for some more key matchup analysis?

The Ravens and 49ers hit the gridiron on Sunday in Mercedes Superdome style—with a New Orleans Bourbon Street, Super Bowl ambiance, to be sure.

It’s a matchup that pits two coaching brothers and seemingly brotherly teams against each other in many regards. This NFL battle will materialize in a trench-warfare, punch-you-in-the-mouth special, yet also feature captivating big-play ability on both sides.

In appeasing to both the old and new school—in other words, no-nonsense defense and explosive offense—could you really ask for more?

 

RDE Haloti Ngata versus LG Mike Iupati

6’4’’, 340 lbs., 5.13-Second 40 versus 6’5’’, 331 lbs., 5.24-Second 40

We recommend you take a gander at two thoroughly strong, considerably athletic and exceptionally nasty interior linemen who will engage in a veritable bear fight on Sunday.

Haloti Ngata will look to generate pressure on Colin Kaepernick with an inside pass rush and halt San Francisco rushers (a la Frank Gore) up the middle. Even in a five-sack “down year” (0.5 fewer than his career high), the former Oregon Duck is a nightmare on the defensive line.

Mike Iupati must generate inside push in the run game against this monster: The NFL top-five guard and one of the 49ers’ best needs to operate as such in the trenches.

 

RB Ray Rice versus ILB NaVorro Bowman

Rob Carr/Getty Images
The NaVorro Bowman vs. Ray Rice matchup will be an intriguing battle on Sunday.

5’8’’, 212 lbs., 4.42-Second 40 versus 6’0’’, 242 lbs., 4.70-Second 40

A running back with tremendous yards-after-the-catch ability squares off with an inside linebacker who specializes in limiting YAC by backs masquerading as receivers.

Ray Rice owns a 9.1 yards-after-the-catch average and total of 591 YAC on the season, including 27 against the New England Patriots last week. He is incredibly elusive in the open field.

Only two inside backers with 1,000-plus snaps have surrendered fewer such yards than NaVorro Bowman’s 183, according to Pro Football Focus (membership required). 

When pass-catchers out of the backfield need to go down, they do exactly that when Bowman arrives on the scene.

Also, when the Ravens utilize multiple wide-receiver sets and spread San Francisco out, Bowman must wrap up Rice in quick fashion. One missed tackle could easily lead to a game-breaker in this hotly contested affair.

 

LG Kelechi Osemele versus RDE Justin Smith

6’5’’, 335 lbs., 5.36-Second 40 versus 6’4’’, 285 Pounds, 4.64-Second 40

Rookie Kelechi Osemele can’t be entirely too enthused about being moved from right tackle with All-Pro Justin Smith mauling toward his general direction.

Justin and Aldon Smith need to execute their patented inside-and-outside stunt. Joe Flacco cannot receive a clean pocket with which to attack the 49ers downfield.

Justin, for his part, must own the first-year guard on the inside, while setting edge contain against the run on the outside.

Less than full strength or not, this is a huge mismatch in favor of the 49ers.

 

WR Torrey Smith versus CB Tarell Brown

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Brown must be physical with Smith all game long.

6’0’’, 205 lbs., 4.32-Second 40 versus 5’10’’, 193 lbs., 4.45-Second 40

When the Ravens implement two wide-receiver sets, expect them to line up their speed freak and deep-threat in Torrey Smith against the heavily targeted Tarell Brown.

Atlanta attacked San Francisco’s No. 2 cornerback 14 times in the NFC Championship Game. The freakishly strong and fast Julio Jones, despite instances of fine coverage, ate up Brown for 80 yards and one touchdown.

It was the first TD he had surrendered all season.

Brown must stay physical with Smith within the allotted five yards, and eliminate him as a downfield target. The 4.3-second running wideout led the Ravens with eight scores and 17.4 yards per reception.

Brown will surely have his hands full.

 

ILB Dannell Ellerbe versus TE Vernon Davis

6’1’’, 240 lbs., 4.63-Second 40 versus 6’3’’, 250 lbs., 4.38-Second 40

Can you say, 1-800-Mismatch?

Baltimore had better hope a serious weakness doesn’t materialize as such this weekend.

Dannell Ellerbe performs poorly in coverage against opposing tight ends, having surrendered a 71.7 completion percentage and 97.1 efficiency rating in 2012 (via Pro Football Focus).

Vernon Davis has a distinct advantage over the smaller and much slower Ellerbe. Beating him underneath (as he should) will bring strong safety Bernard Pollard out from deep, and open up the field for other 49er receivers.

Davis recording another 100-yard output would bode quite well for the 49ers’ winning aspirations in this 47th Super Bowl.

 

QB Joe Flacco versus FS Dashon Goldson

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6’6’’, 245 lbs., 4.84-Second 40 versus 6’2’’, 200 lbs., 4.60-Second 40

Joe Flacco can throw the deep ball. Dashon Goldson can defend it.

Baltimore’s 6’6’’, big-armed quarterback ranks No. 1 in the NFL with an 11-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio on deep throws (20-plus yards downfield) according to PFF.

Goldson, to his credit, has limited opposing QBs to a 54.3 completion percentage, one TD and a 44.8 efficiency rating. He also owns three picks and four pass breakups.

This matchup will certainly attract the attention of many Super Bowl observers.

 

ILB Ray Lewis versus Frank Gore

6’1’’, 240 lbs., 4.58-Second 40 versus 5’9’’, 217 lbs., 4.55-Second 40

The Ravens’ heart-and-soul—check. The 49ers’ heart-and-soul—check.

Put another way, the Lewis versus Gore matchup pits each team’s most honored leader on defense and offense, respectively, in a head-to-head battle.

These gentlemen (and former Miami products) are two grisly ole veterans who rely more on pure grit and determination to maintain their high-level performance on the gridiron. Even with diminished skill sets, both are still high-functioning athletes.

They’ll surely pace their respective clubs throughout the biggest game of their career. Gore will head the 49ers’ top-five rushing attack against a still side-to-sideline proficient Lewis.

San Francisco must account for the Ravens’ middle linebacker at all times and isolate him with misdirection, read-option runs.

At the end of the day, Gore would love nothing more than to win one in honor of his late mother, while Lewis seeks to go on top—straddling the pinnacle of American sports one more time.

 

KR/PR Jacoby Jones versus K David Akers and P Andy Lee

Rob Carr/Getty Images
If Jacoby Jones is striking this pose on a return, the 49ers are in trouble.

6’2’’, 220 lbs., 4.50-Second 40, 2 KR TD, 1 PR TD

We felt it appropriate omitting David Akers and Andy Lee’s 40 times because, well, Jacoby Jones is taking it to the house if they’re the last line of defense.

Jones returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns in 2012. The underwhelming receiver is actually a rather dynamic weapon in the return game.

Akers must continually kick it out of the end zone, while Lee needs to further his league-best status in eliminating the opposition’s punt returner. The latter’s 43.2 net average (No. 1) must be on display.

In a game where one score will ultimately decide the outcome, the 49ers must keep Jones in check.

 

SS Bernard Pollard and FS Ed Reed versus QB Colin Kaepernick

6’1’’, 225 lbs., 4.57-Second 40 versus 6’4’’, 230 lbs., 4.53-Second 40

Unlike the Flacco versus Goldson matchup, its QB-S counterpart is a battle predicated on running the football, big hits and outside contain—at least for the most part.

Pollard loves playing down in the box and inflicting his soul-crushing hits on would-be ball-carriers. The 49ers must not allow him to register one against Kaepernick when he keeps it on the ground in designed runs and scampers.

Kap going down via a Pollard hit could very well doom San Francisco in this game.

On the other hand, future Hall of Fame free safety Ed Reed also belongs in this equation.

Kaepernick is one of the best in the business when it comes to downfield passes. He ranks No. 1 in the NFL with 60.6 completion percentage on throws of 20-plus yards (via PFF).

Despite four interceptions and an impressive 59.4 completion percentage given up, Reed is no longer the player he once was in his ball-hawking youth.

Kaepernick must try to increase his three-TD allowed total with deep, accurate passes to Davis, Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and perhaps even an overlooked Delanie Walker. The 49ers’ No. 2 tight end owns the No. 4 mark for yards per reception out of the 62 rated at the position (16.4 yards).

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
The 49er faithful would sure wish to see some more "Kaepernicking"—this time post-Super Bowl style.

Reed, as one of the greatest safeties of all time, will have one of his toughest assignments against a young, dynamic quarterback hoping to raise himself to that echelon.

 

WR Anquan Boldin versus CB Chris Culliver

6’1’’, 220 lbs., 4.72-Second 40 versus 6’0’’, 199 lbs., 4.36-Second 40

This matchup may not always present itself. Baltimore’s No. 1 wideout Anquan Boldin will line up with San Francisco’s No. 1 corner Carlos Rogers when the Ravens send out just two wide receivers.

That said, Chris Culliver is the stronger, more physical CB who will prove more capable against Boldin if the 49ers can scheme towards that coverage scenario. A top-10 worthy 49.3 completion percentage allowed by Culliver is testament to that assertion (h/t PFF).

And Boldin, celebrating his 10th year in the NFL, is the most physical receiver in football. He has amassed three touchdowns and numerous game-changing catches so far in the playoffs when using that dominating physicality.

Culliver must hold his ground and use that powerful safety-esque strength when covering Baltimore’s leading WR.

 

CB Cary Williams versus WR Michael Crabtree

6’1’’, 190 lbs., 4.45-Second 40 versus 6’1’’, 214 lbs., 4.46-Second 40

Even as the Ravens' top corner, Cary Williams has surrendered six touchdowns, a 65.7 completion percentage and 238 yards after the catch. His 98.4 efficiency rating allowed is fourth-highest among CBs with 1,000-plus snaps (via PFF).

Crabtree, for his part, totaled the fourth-most yards after the catch (543) and the fifth-highest average YAC per reception (6.4 yards) in 2012.

This 49ers’ strength vs. Ravens’ weakness will be yet another pivotal matchup.

No. 15 will cement his elite wide receiver status if he breaks one open during Super Bowl crunch time against the best Baltimore has to offer.

 

Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16

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