Nothing like keeping it in the family for the biggest game of the year.
The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers meet up this weekend in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII in one that will be remembered as “The HarBowl.” This will be the Ravens 2nd Super Bowl appearance with their first one being in January of 20o1 when the beat the New York Giants. As for the 49ers, they make their 6th Super Bowl appearance with their last being back in January of 1995 when they defeated the San Diego Chargers.
As for their separate journeys to New Orleans, Baltimore had a rough end to the regular season and, along the way, made the questionable decision of making Jim Caldwell the offensive coordinator after letting Cam Cameron go. The Ravens then got hot in the postseason after Ray Lewis, the face of the organization, announced he was going to retire at the end of the year. They won three straight games, including a stunner in New England, to get to the Big Easy.
San Francisco’s journey to the Super Bowl was highlighted by perhaps the boldest move of the entire NFL season: a change at quarterback. Colin Kaepernick took over as the new leader of the offense in mid season after a brief concussion injury to Alex Smith. Kaepernick lit up the league and continued that trend into the postseason where the 49ers won two playoff games, including the NFC Championship.
Off the story lines mentioned in this Super Bowl, it’s brother vs. brother that has grabbed the headlines. John Harbaugh, the coach of the Ravens, is squaring off against his younger brother by 15 months, Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers.
John has been in the league longer than Jim as a head coach. John took over as the Baltimore head coach in 2008 after the team had fired Brian Billick. One of the first things John did was draft Joe Flacco from the University of Delaware in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Since then, John and Joe have taken the Ravens to the AFC Championship three times in their first five seasons together with their breakthrough to the Super Bowl being this year.
While John certainly has more coaching experience in the NFL, Jim has more overall league experience. Jim was a decent quarterback in the NFL for 14 years before retiring and starting a career coaching football. He eventually became San Francisco’s head coach after four years coaching the Stanford Cardinal football team.
He also drafted a quarterback in his first draft picking Colin Kaepernick from the University of Nevada early the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Jim would keep Alex Smith as the starting quarterback and almost got to a Super Bowl with Smith being beaten by the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game last year. With the change from Smith to Kaepernick, the 49ers were able to win the NFC Title this time around.
Jim and John’s teams did square off against each other once before on Thanksgiving day 2011. The Ravens would win that game 16-6. As for this game of brotherly love, the stakes are higher with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.
While both teams are known for being defensive squads, it’s the offenses that have received a lot of attention this year, particularly the quarterbacks.
The Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a relatively quiet regular season while managing to shine in the postseason. In the playoffs, Flacco has 8 passing touchdowns with no picks and a quarterback rating of 114.7. Though he is throwing a completion percentage of 54.8%, he maximizes his throws averaging 9.17 yards per attempt in the postseason.
“Joe has transformed us in a lot of ways,” John Harbaugh said. “It’s been a process and Joe has been hugely successful doing it.”
Unlike Flacco, Colin Kaepernick’s time as a starter has not been quiet this year. His bullet passes down field along with designed runs and scrambles has made him the ultimate mobile quarterback in the entire league. Kaepernick’s performance against the Packers with 181 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns along with 263 passing yards and 2 touchdown passes grabbed the country’s attention so much that it got him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Kaepernick will make just his 10th NFL start when he takes the field on Sunday. With that in mind, Colin is eager to go out and win a 6th Super Bowl for the city of San Francisco.
“It’s a great opportunity to get a win and to bring back the legacy to San Francisco that great teams and great quarterbacks have before,” Kaepernick said.
Kaep also has several good targets to throw such as Vernon Davis who caught 5 balls for 106 yards and one touchdown grab against the Falcons a couple weeks ago. Davis is certainly looking to put up a great performance against the Ravens.
“I just want to do my job,” said Davis. “I just want to be there to help my teammates in this game. I want to win this game. I want to come up with the victory. Just like anybody who competes, they want to win and come out on top.
Along with Davis include the team’s top receiver statistically in Michael Crabtree and future Hall of Famer Randy Moss. Covering all three guys will prove to be a chore for the Ravens’ defense.
As great as Kaepernick and the passing attack is, however, the 49ers are still very reliant on the running game. The read option was used in both playoff games for San Francisco but the NFC Championship game it was primarily used to the benefit of the running backs. Kaepernick only kept the ball once in that game on a designed run play for a loss of two yards. The six time thousand yard rusher Frank Gore and rookie LaMichael James ran for a combined 124 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Falcons a week and half ago.
Even if it’s just the threat of Colin running, the 49ers can play some brilliant football.
“Bo Schembechler talked about it before, Lou Holtz has said it, maybe in the best way that I’ve ever heard it, said was that by running option football, it allows you to play 11-on-11,” the 49ers coach explained. “Football without an attack is basically playing with 10. A quarterback that doesn’t block anybody, isn’t an ineligible pass receiver basically leaves the defense with one more than you have. But when you have a quarterback that can run in the option attack, or give, or pitch, you get the numbers back to even, 11-on-11. Long had an appreciation for that type of football.”
Of course there must be a dual threat for an effective read option to work and Frank Gore certainly covers the other end. 49ers running backs coach and former fullback for San Francisco Tom Rathman had high praise for the #1 back in team history.
“Very complete player,” Rathman said of Gore. “I mean the guy doesn’t have any faults in his game. Very complete guy, does everything extremely well.”
On the flip side, it’s not that the Ravens don’t have an effective ground game themselves. Ray Rice and Bernard Price have ran the ball for 416 yards in three postseason games averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Baltimore has over 100 yards of rushing in each of their three playoff games.
San Francisco’s run defense certainly has the ability to stop Baltimore’s running game being ranked 4th in the NFL and holding the Falcons to just 81 rushing yards in the NFC Championship game. However, the Ravens ran for 155 yards against the 3rd best run defense in the league when they beat the Broncos in the AFC Divisional round. They also put up 121 rushing yards in New England the following week.
The Ravens also were hard to run on in both of those games. Though Denver managed 125 rushing yards, they averaged 3 yards a carry running it 41 times. New England averaged 3.9 yards per carry against Baltimore in the AFC Title game. The Ravens might be tricked a few times this Sunday by the read option but looking at their performance in the postseason coupled with the experience of facing Robert Griffin III in week 14 could help them contain the 49ers’ ground game. Ray Lewis certainly thinks they can stop it.
“They’re doing a good job with it,” Lewis said regarding the 49ers pistol formation. “But when you do watch the film, a lot of the people who’ve played against it didn’t communicate at all. One thing we do, we communicate very well.”
Looking back at the 49ers-Ravens Thanksgiving game and also at the 49ers 2012 season as a whole, the most important factor for San Francisco and whether or not they will win Sunday has to do with their defensive line against Baltimore. The 49ers didn’t sack Flacco in that Thanksgiving game and only hit him three times. San Francisco defense is at their best when they can bring pressure with just a four man rush.
“You have to make sure you get some pressure on him because he has a good arm and some receivers who can make some big plays,” 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said on stopping Joe Flacco.
But no matter what happens in New Orleans, it will be an exciting game to watch with two brothers leading their teams against one another while their parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, watch on.
“You’re going to ask us how we feel on this historic day?” Jack said. “Jackie, who has it better than us? Nobody!”
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Written by Daniel Trucios