Ravens vs. 49ers: the matchups
BY BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 6:42 AM
View a breakdown of Ravens/49ers stats.
When the Ravens have the ball
When QB Joe Flacco looks out from behind center Matt Birk on Sunday, he could be seeing two things: $$$$, and the fiercest defense he's faced all season.
Flacco's contract is up after this game, and while it's a near cinch the Ravens won't let the five-year veteran leave, it's going to cost them to keep him. A victory over San Fran and its bevy of All-Pro defenders would add even more moolah to the pot.
This is one formidable challenge for Flacco because the Niners are more versatile than the defenses presented by Indianapolis, Denver and New England in the postseason.
Start with the league's best linebacking corps, featuring Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman Aldon Smith is considered a linebacker, but is a hybrid LB-DE and he led the NFC with 19 1/2 sacks.
But Flacco and his targets - WRs Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, TE Dennis Pitta and do-everything RB Ray Rice - should be encouraged by what the Falcons accomplished in the first half. They found seams and gaps everywhere, and the 49ers' secondary must be stingier this time.
Boldin has been sensational on every route in the postseason (16 catches, 17.3-yard average, 3 TDs). Niner CBs Carlos Rogers , Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver will have a difficult time with the smart, physical Boldin. Smith can get deep on anybody, so safeties Dashon Goldson, an All-Pro, and Donte Whitner have to be sharp. In each playoff game, Smith has gotten open for a long pass, even if it wasn't a completion.
When the 49ers have the ball
Everyone tries to run on Baltimore; all three opponents in the playoffs did so and the Niners will, too. The difference: San Francisco has, by far, the best running back in Frank Gore, best running QB in Colin Kaepernick, and best run blocking, led by left guard Mike Iupati and left tackle Joe Staley that the Ravens will face.
But the Ravens have the most physical and fundamentally sound front seven that San Fran has seen in the playoffs. Ray Lewis looks like he is in his prime and has 44 tackles in the three playoff wins. Fellow LBs Dannell Ellerbe, Terrell Suggs and rookie Courtney Upshaw must be especially active in getting to the holes if San Francisco's line remains dominant.
To prevent the 49ers from winning the trenches, DT Haloti Ngata, NT Terrence Cody and DE Pernell McPhee need to be stout.
Gore is complemented by rookie RB LaMichael James, who has a nice burst, and, of course, Kaepernick. The second-year QB set a record for the position with 181 yards rushing against Green Bay in the divisional round. Kaepernick isn't just a run threat. His arm is strong and accurate, and he isn't timid about letting go into tight spots to connect with TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker and WR Michael Crabtree.
Ravens rushers Suggs, DE Paul Kruger and McPhee will need help containing Kaepernick, so watch for frequent blitzes from the secondary of safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, CBs Cary Williams and Corey Graham.
Controlling Davis is a key because he's a nightmare matchup for Baltimore's less-than-fast LBs.
Baltimore has the edge on returns and field goals. San Francisco gets the nod in punting.
Ravens All-Pro Jacoby Jones led the league in kickoff returns with a 30.1 average and scored twice. He also ran back a punt for a TD.
Rookie Justin Tucker has made 30 of 33 field goals, including the winner in double overtime in Denver. But P Sam Koch had too many low kicks that New England returned for good field position in the AFC title game.
The Ravens were solid on coverages during the season, but fell apart against Denver as Trindon Holliday ran back a punt and a kickoff for scores. They also struggled stopping Wes Welker's punt runbacks in New England.
San Francisco PK David Akers has slumped this season and missed his only try against the Falcons. But the Niners have stuck with him.
Andy Lee is among the top punters in the NFL. James and Ted Ginn Jr. have breakaway capabilities on returns, but aren't consistent.
The Har-bowl is unique, but hardly a fluke. Both Harbaughs owe a strong debt to their dad, Jack, a lifelong coach who not only taught them how to play football, but how to teach it.
John's pro resume is record-setting: the only coach with wins in his first five postseasons. He was selected over Rex Ryan and several others to take over the Ravens in 2008 after making his mark as Philadelphia's special teams coordinator.
Unlike John, who did not play in the NFL, Jim quarterbacked 14 seasons with four teams. He has been in coaching a relatively short time, but his meteoric rise took him to San Diego - the Toreros, not the Chargers - and Stanford, where he tutored Andrew Luck.
Both of them will make the difficult decisions. John fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in December. Jim Caldwell took over and the offense, particularly Flacco, has been strong since.
Jim made the move to Kaepernick in November.
Baltimore's additional boost has become tangible, actually, with the way the Ravens have performed at such a fevered pitch during Lewis' final postseason. Saying goodbye by giving him the Vince Lombardi Trophy to parade around is pretty darn motivating.
For the 49ers, a record-tying sixth Super Bowl - Pittsburgh also has six, but has been beaten twice, while San Francisco is 5-0 - and a first since the days of Steve Young is quite an inducement.
And, of course, each coach wants to sit atop the family tree.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, (right) 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. AP Photos