Want a guideline on how the Baltimore Ravens defense is going to fare against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII?
Look no further than Week 14, when the Ravens faced Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
San Francisco, like Washington, employs the read-option, using a combination of dual-threat Colin Kaepernick and star running back Frank Gore (and sometimes rookie LaMichael James) to carve up defenses.
Kaepernick rushed for 415 yards and five touchdowns on 6.6 yards per carry during the regular season. He rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Gore rushed for 1,214 yards (10th in the NFL) and eight touchdowns on 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season. He's rushed for a combined 209 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers and the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.
It's not unlike Griffin and rookie running back Alfred Morris for the Redskins, who both dominated defenses in 2012.
In Week 14, the Redskins beat the Ravens in overtime, 31-28. While Griffin had to leave the field late in the fourth quarter due to injury, he had already done plenty of damage before retiring to the sidelines.
Griffin averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt and tossed a touchdown in that game. He also rushed for 34 yards on seven carries.
Will the Ravens have more success defending the read-option against the 49ers than they did against the Redskins?
But it was about more than that. Morris rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown. Both Morris and Griffin caused problems for Baltimore safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, who are generally solid against the run (especially Pollard these days). In fact, Reed had his worst performance of the year, as noted by Pro Football Focus.
It's also worth noting that, while the Redskins had trouble protecting Griffin in Week 14 (he sustained three sacks), San Francisco's offensive line is much better than Washington's. Football Outsiders ranked the 49ers first in the league in pass protection this season. Kaepernick has sustained a total of two sacks in the playoffs.
Baltimore is rolling, which is why I think this will be a close game. But, the fact of the matter is that nobody has been able to stop San Francisco's read-option, just as few were able to stop Washington's rushing attack.
The Ravens may be able to limit Kaepernick on the ground. They may be able to limit Gore. But, as the Falcons discovered in the NFC Championship Game, they won't be able to limit both of them.
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