Ravens on Offense: Do not turn the ball over! The Ravens have pulled off upsets against the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots on the road by not turning the ball over. Joe Flacco has been almost perfect this postseason, throwing 8 TDs and 0 INTs. He did lose 1 fumble in the Broncos game but I think everyone forgave him after he threw a 70 yard TD pass with 30 seconds left in the game to force OT.
The Ravens must establish their run game early. Baltimore is averaging 148 yards per game on the ground in their 3 postseason games. Rice is averaging 82 yards per game and backup running back Bernard Pierce is averaging 56 yards per game, while only getting only about 10 carries a game. They'll face a tough 49ers front 7 who ranked 4th in stopping the run this season, but if they want Flacco to have time in the pocket and keep the 49ers defense off balance, they need to have a successful running game.
Flacco must attack the secondary. San Francisco has had trouble all season defending the deep pass and we've seen it this postseason as Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers had several passing plays of 20+ yards. The Ravens must take advantage of Torrey Smith's speed and Anquan Boldin's size and strength. However if the run game is not there then Flacco will not have the time to sit in the pocket and make accurate deep passes, but if Rice and Pierce hit the holes and find running lanes, then Flacco will have another big game.
Ravens on Defense: The Ravens front 7 will have to contain Colin Kaepernick and not let him beat them with the read option plays. Not only that but if they do not get pressure on him, he'll have all day to sit in the pocket and once he sees an opportunity to run, he's going to take it and will run for 20+ yards.
Although it doesn't show in the box score the Ravens got a lot of pressure on Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game, even though they failed to record a sack. Brady was uncomfortable all game as he was constantly on the ground and finished 29/54 for 320 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs.
Frank Gore is another guy the Ravens front 7 will have to worry about. Haloti Ngata, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Arthur Jones will be relied on heavily to make the initial tackle at the line of scrimmage or at least slow Gore down to allow the linebackers to make the tackle. Ray Lewis who has 44 tackles in 3 postseason games this year will be very active in the Super Bowl as well. Being that it's his last game before he retires, he's going to playing at 110%.
The best bet for the Ravens is to stack the box and force Kaepernick to beat you with his arm. Baltimore needs to have faith in their defensive backs to be able to keep Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, and Vernon Davis in check. Cary Williams has played much better as of late and has 24 tackles and 2 INTs this postseason.
Because Vernon Davis is one of the fastest guys on the field, it's really tough for a linebacker to cover him and because of that I would love to see the Ravens have Ed Reed guard him all game. That would make for a very interesting match-up.
49ers on Offense: We all know the attention will be on Colin Kaepernick when the 49ers are on offense. After his record setting day against the Packers running 16 times for 181 yards and 2 TDs while also throwing for 263 yards and 2 TDs, Kaepernick followed up with a 21 yard rushing game in the NFC Championship against the Falcons. It's hard to know why Kaepernick only ran the ball twice so either the Falcons just focused their game plan on stopping the QB run or the fact the 49ers were trailing 17-0 in this game changed the 49ers offensive game plan. Either way, Kaepernick is proving he can get it done on the ground or through the air.
Losing Kendall Hunter was supposed to be a big blow to the 49ers run game, but rookie LaMichael James has filled in nicely. James has made the most of his 8 carries, running for 55 yards and a TD. Frank Gore is averaging 104 rushing yards and has 3 TDs in the 49ers two postseason games. I don't think the 49ers will have any problem establishing a run game between Gore, James and Kaepernick. How much they run will depend on the Ravens defensive scheme, and whether or not they try to take away the run.
Ever since Alex Smith lost his starting job and Colin Kaepernick took over as the starting QB, Vernon Davis became a ghost in San Francisco's offense. However Davis was resurrected last week as he had 5 catches 106 yards and a TD. He honestly might be the most important piece to the 49ers offense if they want to win the Super Bowl. With Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams out for the year, the 49ers are slim at WR and really only rely on 3 guys in the passing game. Kaepernick has 33 completions this postseason - Michael Crabtree has 15 catches, Vernon Davis has 6 catches, Randy Moss has 5 catches. Crabtree, Davis and Moss has caught 79% of the teams passes. If San Francisco does not get Davis involved then the Ravens can focus on shutting down Crabtree and really take away the pass from Kaepernick.
49ers on Defense: Lets be honest, this is not the same scary defense that everyone once feared early this season. San Francisco is giving up 27.5 points and 414 yards per game this postseason. With the way the Ravens offense is rolling right now, that spells trouble for the 49ers.
The most important man to this 49ers defense is Justin Smith. When he was forced to miss time with a torn bicep the whole 49ers defense lost a step. When Justin Smith was playing at 100% this was a scary defense, especially because he made Aldon Smith a better player. San Francisco only has 2 sacks this postseason and Aldon Smith has 3 tackles. If Justin Smith doesn't come out at 100% this Sunday then you have to imagine Aldon Smith won't be much of a factor and if both of those guys aren't getting to Flacco then it might be a long day for the 49ers defense.
The secondary is giving up 327 yards through the air and 5 TDs in two games, allowing a lot of big 20+ yard plays. Cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers will have to tighten up the coverage on Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin if they don't want to get burned in the Super Bowl. They'll also need safties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson to help out in coverage. Without a heavy pass rush expect Smith and Boldin to torch this secondary, but if the Smith brothers can get it going then Flacco won't have time to throw it deep. Expect Patrick Willis to make plays against the run as he usually does as he has 19 tackles and a sack this postseason.
Prediction: After that miracle against the Broncos and a convincing win against the Patriots, it's hard to bet against Ray Lewis and the Ravens right now. The 49ers were able to come back against the Falcons but the fact that they trailed 17-0 in that game scares me. I have to go with the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 against the San Francisco 49ers on Super Bowl Sunday.