By Tony Grossi
Baltimore Ravens v. San Francisco 49ers … in Four Downs
First Down: By air or by land?
The versatility of the 49ers’ offense was displayed in their two playoff wins. Against Green Bay, QB Colin Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and two TDs and ran for 181 and two TDs in a record-breaking post-season performance. Against Atlanta, the Falcons sealed the edges and kept Kaepernick from running outside. So he consistently read correctly and handed off to Frank Gore, who then pounded the interior of the defense. The challenge for the Ravens’ defense is not merely to “pick their poison,” and shut down one or the other. It is to force Kaepernick into mistakes, which have been very rare in his game since assuming the starting position 10 weeks ago.
Second Down: Making the bold moves.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is rightly credited for boldly benching starting QB Alex Smith for Kaepernick after Smith returned from a concussion after mid-season. The move has expanded the 49ers’ offense tremendously. But Jim’s brother, John, also made a bold move in-season when he fired coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with QB coach and former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. The Ravens had lost two in a row at the time and were 9-4. They lost two of their last three during the adjustment to Caldwell, but swept three wins in the playoffs to get to the Super Bowl. Under Caldwell, the offense has been more balanced. Cameron often ignored RB Ray Rice and had too many games with a lopsided pass-run ratio. The switch has enabled QB Joe Flacco to run up a 114.7 passer rating in the post-season on the strength of eight TDs v. zero INTs.
Third Down: Get the goat horns fitted.
No. 1 candidate to be “goat of the Super Bowl” is David Akers. The 38-year-old kicker has missed 14 field goals (30 of 44 made) and somehow hung on to his roster spot and made it to the Super Bowl with the 49ers. After repeated blowouts in previous Super Bowl eras, these games have increasingly come down to small margins. Akers carries some psychological baggage into the biggest game of the year. Conversely, Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker is a rookie who, proverbially, may be too young to grasp the moment. Tucker was 30 of 33 in the regular season and is 2 for 2 on field goals in the playoffs.
Fourth Down:Waiting for his moment.
If the Ravens are vulnerable anywhere, it is in the kick return game. They allowed two long touchdown returns to Denver’s Trindon Holiday in the division playoff game – and did a Houdini act to escape with a victory in overtime. 49ers special teams coordinator Brad Seely is an expert at game-planning and finding weaknesses to exploit. Cleveland native Ted Ginn Jr. has six career return touchdowns – none this season – and could be an under-the-radar impact performer in the game. The only special teams player to earn the MVP award of a Super Bowl was Desmond Howard, also a Cleveland native, in SB 31.
Prediction: Ravens, 27-24.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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