By Derek Noehren, Contributor
After the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens punched their tickets to Super Bowl XLVII, the big game became chocked full of storylines to choose from. The most intriguing brings the two head coaches, Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore), together head-to-head in what is being dubbed the “Har-bowl”.
Ray Lewis, one of the most controversial and beloved linebackers in the history of the NFL, is playing the final game of his career. Colin Kaepernick replaced 49ers starter Alex Smith midseason, then becomes one of the most dynamic players in the league in just nine starts.
The Raven’s quarterback, Joe Flacco, outplayed Tom Brady for the second AFC Championship in a row and is riding a hot streak to his first Super Bowl appearance as well. But whatever part of the matchup catches your interest, the game will be played by two teams who both pride themselves on being physical and imposing their will on the opponent.
Below is a preview of what to expect from each team’s offensive, defensive and special teams’ units.
Ravens’ rush offense vs. 49ers run defense
The Ravens feature one of the NFL’s best running backs in Ray Rice, while the 49ers boast one of the best front seven’s in the NFL, anchored by star linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. The 49ers defense allowed the second fewest point per game at 17.1 and allowed the third fewest yards at 294.4 per game. The key for the Ravens will be to get Ray Rice into a rhythm early to open up the passing game for Joe Flacco. Rice ran for 1,142 yards and nine touchdowns. In games in which Rice ran for more than 97 yards, the Ravens were 6-2 including his 132 yard effort in the 38-35 double overtime win against Denver in the divisional playoff round. Advamtage: 49ers
Ravens’ pass offense vs. 49ers’ pass defense
Since Cam Cameron was fired as offensive coordinator on Dec. 10 the Ravens have opened up their passing game under new OC Jim Caldwell. The Ravens averaged 233.7 yards per game in the regular season and are now averaging 276 yards per game in the playoffs. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has an arsenal of weapons to throw to in speedy receiver Torrey Smith and reliable veteran Anquan Boldin, who had two big touchdown receptions in the Ravens 28-13 victory over the Patriots in the AFC championship game. The 49ers secondary does not have as many big names as they do in their front seven, but they are extremely physical and just as good. The Niners will try to jam the Ravens receivers off the line and try to not let them get clean breaks into their routes. Advamtage: Ravens
49ers’ rush offense vs. Ravens’ rush defense
The 49ers were fourth in the regular season in rushing with 155 yards per game. The Niners workhorse is Frank Gore who ran for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns this season. San Francisco also has another wrinkle in their running game with their explosive dual threat quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 181 yards against Green Bay in the divisional playoff round. The Ravens’ front seven is led by Ray Lewis at linebacker and Terrell Suggs their massive defensive tackle listed at 330 lbs. Despite the Ravens’ reputation as one of the NFL’s most ferocious defenses their rush defense ranked 20th in the regular season giving up 122.8 yards per game. Advamtage: 49ers
49ers’ pass offense vs. Ravens’ pass defense
Kaepernick is also a threat with his arm, having passed for a combined 496 yards in the 49ers two playoff games. In those games Kaepernick completed 63.5 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and only one interception. Like Flacco, Kaepernick also has an array of targets to get the ball to. The 49ers leading receiver, Michael Crabtree, had a breakout season and has continued his success in the playoffs with a combined 15 receptions and two touchdowns. Another player who is a match-up nightmare for defenses is tight end Vernon Davis. Davis had five catches and a touchdown in the NFC championship game and has a unique combination of size and speed. The Ravens ranked 17th in passing yards against at 228 per game. One player Kaepernick must identify and be careful of is the Ravens’ ball hawking safety Ed Reed, who has 61 career interceptions. Advamtage: 49ers
Ravens kicker, Justin Tucker had a great rookie season, converting 30 of 33 field goals including the 47-yard game winner against Denver in double overtime. On the other hand, 49ers veteran kicker David Akers has struggled this season, making just 29 of 42 attempts. Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones led the NFL averaging 30.7 yards per return with two TD’s. Advamtage: Ravens
Predicition: 49ers 27 – Ravens 20