Key Lessons Each AFC Team Can Learn from Super Bowl XLVII
As the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, 15 other AFC teams were watching at home.
For their own sake, these other teams should have been paying attention to both the Ravens and the 49ers to see what a team needs to do in order to win the big game.
Many a lesson could be learned by the other teams in the AFC about what it takes to not only build a contender, but to get over the hump and win a title.
All stats obtained from ESPN.com.
Lesson: The running game is a powerful tool.
Although BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a solid running back, he isn't Ray Rice or Frank Gore. “The Law Firm” will not be leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a championship any time soon.
Green-Ellis averaged 3.9 yards per carry, while Rice and Gore averaged 4.4 and 4.7 yards per carry respectively.
The Bengals ranked No. 18 in the league in rushing yards in the regular season. Baltimore ranked No. 11 and San Francisco came in at No. 4.
In the Super Bowl, rushing touchdowns from Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick aided the 49ers’ comeback attempt.
The Bengals already possess a big-play threat with A.J. Green at wide receiver and an accurate quarterback in Andy Dalton. If Cincinnati can add a more explosive back, they will become a feared dual-threat offense in the AFC North.
Lesson: Younger quarterbacks develop faster.
“But didn’t the Cleveland Browns play a rookie at quarterback last season?” is what you may be thinking right now.
While that would be correct, Brandon Weeden is already 29 years old. He’s one year older than Joe Flacco, who has been playing for five years and just won a Super Bowl.
A combination of mobility and youth are oftentimes secondary factors in assessing a quarterback’s ability, behind accuracy and arm strength.
Weeden, who will be 30 years old next year, doesn’t have the same amount of time Flacco had to develop.
He also won’t have Colin Kaepernick’s ability to spark his team with a big run for a touchdown.
Lesson: Creating turnovers wins games.
I thought that was obvious, but not to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL, leading the league in total defense. The only thing the Steelers had trouble doing was forcing turnovers. The Steelers forced 20 turnovers all year, ranking them as the fifth worst team in the AFC in total turnovers.
As seen in all games, but especially the Super Bowl, turnovers can change the momentum of the game.
With the help of a fumble recovery and an interception, the Ravens controlled the first half of action, jumping out to a 21-6 lead at halftime. After storming back and forcing Ray Rice’s fumble in the third quarter that led to a David Akers field goal, the 49ers were in prime position to to take the game. They were down by just five points.
A single turnover can cause a huge momentum shift in the game, something on which the Steelers need to work.
Lesson: Patience is the key to long-term success.
If the Houston Texans take anything away from the Super Bowl, it would be that Super Bowl champions and contenders are not built overnight.
Before making it to the Super Bowl this year, the Ravens qualified for the past four playoffs and made the AFC Championship Game twice. In each year with John Harbaugh, the Ravens won at least one playoff game.
Although it must have been tough being knocked out of the playoffs four straight years, the team did not change its philosophy.
The Texans shouldn’t either. They have a great mix of youth and veteran leadership on both sides of the ball and will only improve each year.
Lesson: Defense is still needed to be truly successful.
What a great year the Indianapolis Colts had. Going from 2-14 to 11-5 and earning a playoff spot is nothing short of outstanding.
I don’t mean to take anything away from the season they had, but what the team should have learned from watching the playoffs and especially the Super Bowl is the importance of defense.
The Colts ranked No. 21 in pass defense and No. 29 in rush defense. Ouch.
That’s not going to win many playoff games.
Both the Ravens and the 49ers have stellar defenses, both ranking in the top half in the league in total yards allowed and points per game allowed.
The Colts, however, allowed over 24 points per game, putting them at No. 21 in the NFL.
Lesson: Heart is needed to win.
If the Jaguars can take anything from the Super Bowl, it’s that the team needs heart.
The 49ers showed it in the second half when facing a 22-point deficit. The team didn’t surrender. They fought back and came to within a field goal of winning the game after Colin Kaepernick’s 15-yard touchdown run.
The Ravens also showed their heart, by fending off the surging 49ers. Jacksonville needs this type of mentality change.
In 2010 the 49ers went 6-10. Now they are a perennial favorite in the NFC, with the same core players as 2010.
A tougher mental attitude with the Jaguars will go a long way in their development.
Lesson: Bend, but don’t break.
I’ve heard of a bend-but-don’t-break defense, but I have never seen a bend-and-break defense quite like the 2012 Tennessee Titans.
The team allowed a league worst 29.4 points per game in 2012. Are you kidding me?
Both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers were able to put up 50-plus points on this defense.
Sure, they are both very capable offenses, but the Jacksonville Jaguars put up 44 points against Tennessee in two games.
The Titans can learn a thing or two from the Ravens from the Super Bowl. The Ravens allowed the 49ers to come back from a 22-point second-half deficit, but were able to keep them from taking the lead on a goal-line stand in the final minutes.
Lesson: Need to stop the run.
Daring a team to run on you should be a goal of any team. But the Buffalo Bills asked for it.
The Bills were horrendous at stopping the run this season, allowing 145.8 yards per game. That mark put them at second to last in the league.
Sometimes a quarterback will shred the best pass defense; that’s just how good the quarterbacks in the NFL are. But to allow close to 150 yards per game on the ground is just absurd.
If the Bills watched closely, the 49ers were able to hold Ray Rice to just 59 yards. The ability to stop the run consistently throughout the game helped the 49ers’ second-half comeback attempt.
Along the same lines, the Ravens’ lapse in rush defense allowed the 49ers to literally run back into the game.
Buffalo was No. 10 in defending the pass, so if the team is able to improve at stopping the run, the team can make some strides in 2013.
Lesson: The ability to win close games is essential.
Of the Miami Dolphins’ nine loses, five games were lost by a touchdown or less. In total, eight of the team’s games were one-possession games at the final whistle.
If Miami wins two of those games, it’s in serious talks of playoff contention at 9-7.
The Super Bowl was a tight game in the final minutes. If the Dolphins can learn to consistently win a close matchup, they’ll have the confidence to show for it.
New England Patriots
Lesson: Pass defense is the only thing holding them back.
The New England Patriots have one of the best offenses in the NFL, there’s no doubt about it.
But what hurts the team more than anything is its secondary. It’s pitiful. The team ranks No. 29 in pass defense, allowing 271.4 yards per game.
If this Super Bowl didn’t show the importance of a pass defense, maybe the last two Super Bowls the Patriots were in would teach them.
Sticking to this year, the Ravens allowed Colin Kaepernick to throw for 302 yards, which isn’t too good. But what is more telling are the seven passes defended by the Ravens, compared to only two from the 49ers.
If the Patriots can learn to defend the pass consistently next season, they will be the next Super Bowl champions.
New York Jets
Lesson: Physical receivers can win a game.
For most of the year the Jets were without a veteran wide receiver. What was even more glaring was the absence of a physical wide receiver.
Anquan Boldin was the work horse for the Ravens in the Super Bowl, and really for the entire playoffs. He caught six passes for 104 yards, including a touchdown on the Ravens’ opening drive on Sunday.
He’s been a killer in the red zone, scoring three red-zone touchdowns in the final two games of the playoffs.
The attention he draws and mismatches he causes were essential to the Ravens offense.
Any quarterback would look better with a receiver like Boldin. Even Mark Sanchez.
Lesson: Need to get hot at the right time.
It was difficult to find something wrong with the Denver Broncos, and the only thing that came to mind was that they were too hot heading into the playoffs.
After a loss to New England on Oct. 7, which dropped Denver to 2-3, the Broncos won 10 straight games and clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The Ravens entered the playoffs coming off a loss to Cincinnati, showing that in the NFL, it’s all about who can get the hottest in the playoffs, not who’s coming in the hottest.
Kansas City Chiefs
Lesson: Kickoff returns can spark a team.
Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return surely gave the Ravens momentum in the second half. Not only did it excite the crowd, but it really won the game for Baltimore.
It was Baltimore's last touchdown of the game and gave the Ravens an insurmountable lead over the 49ers.
The Chiefs, who did not return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown this season, can see the importance special teams has on the momentum of a game.
The Chiefs, who won only two games this year, desperately need a boost on special teams.
Lesson: A balance on offense is necessary to win.
The one thing the Oakland Raiders were able to do well consistently in 2012 was throw the ball. The Raiders ranked No. 8 in the league in passing yards per game, throwing for 255.3 yards per game.
Although a good statistic, this does not always mean victory.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 302 yards, compared to Flacco's 287 yards. And we all know which quarterback came out on top.
Just because the Raiders are good in one area doesn't mean they should rely solely on the passing game.
A balanced attack led by the passing game is the formula the Ravens and 49ers used in the Super Bowl. It worked well for both teams.
San Diego Chargers
Lesson: Success is never achieved with inconsistent quarterback play.
Phillip Rivers was as inconsistent as you can get in 2012.
In the team's seven wins, he looked like a stud. He passed for 15 touchdowns to only three interceptions. In losses, he threw for 11 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Not what you expect from a nine-year veteran.
The Chargers will never be serious contenders unless he improves.
Both Flacco and Kaepernick shined at separate times during the game. It inevitably came down to Kaepernick's interception in the first half that made the difference on which quarterback played a better game.
With Rivers, even entering his 10th year in the NFL, you still don't know which side you will see.