Ravens vs. 49ers: Defensive Players to Keep Your Eye on in Super Bowl XLVII
The San Francisco 49ers, who have arguably the toughest front seven in the NFL, had the No. 3-ranked total defense during the regular season.
The Baltimore Ravens, bolstered by the return from injury of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, lead the playoffs in sacks (six) and interceptions (five).
With two of the NFL's best defenses on display in New Orleans, a handful of defenders deserve special attention.
And, yes, Ray Lewis is one of them.
He had one of the greatest regular seasons rushing the quarterback, but it's been a different story of late, as ESPN Stats & Info tells us:
After recording 19.5 sacks in 1st 13 games - most ever by player through 13 games - Aldon Smith has 0 sacks in career-high 5 straight games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 31, 2013
There's no question that when Justin Smith is healthy and on the field, Aldon's numbers increase.
But, according to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, Justin Smith will require offseason surgery to repair the tear in his triceps, so we know he won't be at full strength.
If the Niners are going to break through a Baltimore offensive line that's playing extremely well, Aldon Smith has to revert back to the guy we saw during the first 13 weeks of the regular season.
He is a crucial member of the Ravens' defense. His ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback do wonders for Baltimore.
At 6'4", 340 pounds, Ngata has some of the quickest feet I've ever seen in a man his size.
His stat sheet may not reflect it, but Ngata is arguably the best on this Ravens defense at stopping the run and clogging up the middle, allowing linebackers and other D-linemen to make plays.
If Baltimore is going to slow down the 49ers' explosive read-option offense, Ngata is going to be the key to blowing up plays in the backfield before they start.
Whether he's covering Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith, Rogers has to bring his best defense to New Orleans on Sunday.
Boldin leads the postseason with 276 receiving yards and three touchdowns, while Smith is averaging 22 yards per catch and has scored two TDs.
Rogers was somewhat exposed at times this season, especially against the Seattle Seahawks in that Week 16 pounding.
If the Smith boys aren't able to get enough pressure up front on Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense, Rogers will be largely responsible for keeping big plays to a minimum.
From his fiery pregame speeches to his bone-crushing hits on the field, Lewis is the most polarizing linebacker in football.
With this being the last game of his iconic 17-year career, you can bet all eyes will be on him in the Superdome.
Lewis has come back from a triceps tear to lead the NFL postseason in tackles with 44, posting double-digit tackles in all three playoff games, highlighted by 17 against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round.
No matter what your opinion is of the veteran linebacker, I'm willing to bet he'll leave his mark on Super Bowl XLVII.
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