The Freak sizes up the big game and predicts winner
The great day is almost upon us, and the excitement is building as the Super Bowl is finally just hours away.
We are all sick of the hype, and now it’s time for the players to put on the gear, strap up the helmet and settle it themselves. There’s nothing like game day, and there’s nothing like the Super Bowl.
Since we can’t be down in New Orleans, sit back with a beverage and all the party favourites, enjoy the game with family and friends and see who wins this year’s Super Bowl – the San Francisco 49ers or the Baltimore Ravens.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
It’s no fluke the 49ers’ offence caught on fire when Colin Kaepernick took over the reins. He gives the offence that explosion and big-play ability that was missing with Alex Smith.
With Kaepernick at quarterback, Coach Harbaugh is using the “pistol offence.” This is when Kaepernick is in a mini-shot gun, which still allows them to do many things offensively, including using their power-running game with Frank Gore.
The “pistol” also allows Kaepernick to use the “read option” in which he can either hand off to Gore or keep the ball himself if the end or outside linebacker bites on the fake handoff.
So you might think the key is just shut down Kaepernick from running. This sounds easy, but the problem is he is very accurate throwing the ball, which makes him so very dangerous. When he wants to throw the ball he has wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who runs great crossing routes; Randy Moss, who can still stretch the field, and tight end Vernon Davis, who has wide receiver speed and will be targeted by Kaepernick any time he is in single coverage or has a linebacker covering him. The 49ers need to keep this up-tempo offence rolling, and keep the Ravens’ D guessing.
Running back LaMichael James, who is a great change-of-pace back, has big-time speed. If the Ravens cheat on the outside to contain Kaepernick there will be lanes for James to hit inside, and he may be in the end zone in the blink of an eye with his speed.
Unlike many teams in the NFL, the 49ers’ defence tackles very well. They led the league in fewest yards after contact for a second straight year. This defence is very good, but at the same time they don’t do anything exotic, and they don’t even blitz much (6.9 per cent in the playoffs compared to 32.4 per cent for other teams), which in turn leads to giving up very few big plays.
Aldon Smith, who had 19.5 sacks on the season, has shown he can get pressure on the quarterback, but hasn’t had a sack since Week 14. If you give Joe Flacco time, he will hurt you with the deep ball against the suspect San Fran corners. This defence may give the Ravens a few yards, but they really dig down and play physical in the red zone.
Justin Smith hasn’t been the same player since he hurt his tricep against the Patriots, and this has affected Aldon Smith. If JS can be the player he was earlier in the season, then the 49ers will be able to get pressure on Flacco by just rushing four players.
In a big game like this it may come down to one play on special teams, and the 49ers aren’t great in this department.
Kicker David Akers missed a pile of field-goal attempts in the regular season, and he missed a 38-yarder against the Falcons in the playoffs, which almost cost the 49ers a trip to the Super Bowl. San Fran fans must be very nervous and holding their breath every time he attempts a kick.
In the return game, Ted Ginn Jr. has the potential to bust one, but he scares The Freak as he doesn’t take care of the football and makes some bad decisions.
Joe Flacco, who has eight touchdowns and zero picks in the playoffs while outplaying Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, is the reason the Ravens are in New Orleans. He is averaging 16.7 yards per completion by going deep to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
Running back Ray Rice is a complete back who can keep the chains moving on the ground and through the air. Tight end Dennis Pitta patrols the middle of the field, and will definitely take some shots from both of the hard-hitting 49ers’ safeties.
Coach Harbaugh changed up the offensive line in the playoffs, and they have only given up four sacks in three games, and it will be vital to give Flacco time. The Ravens need to get their running game rolling early so they set up those play-action deep passes.
Veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was warming the bench for part of the season, needs to keep pass rusher Aldon Smith in check to give Flacco time to throw the deep routes.
The Ravens have some experience with this read option when they played RGIII in Week 15, so they have an idea what scheme may work. However, the 49ers’ read option is different than Washington’s.
However, it will still come down to executing your defensive assignments, especially Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger, who will need to keep contained on the outside so Kaepernick will have to hand it off inside to Gore.
If that is executed and Haloti Ngata can control the middle with his size and quickness, it will allow the ancient one, Ray Lewis, and Bernard Pollard to run down hill to make plays. Finally, the pass rushers need to stay disciplined because if they get themselves too far up field against No. 7 it will give him lanes to take off running.
Both Suggs and Kruger need to control Kaepernick’s speed to the outside, and if they do Baltimore has a good shot.
Rookie kicker Justin Tucker has proven he can make the big kick (Denver in OT), and he might be needed to make one in this game. Returner Jacoby Jones has proven he can make big plays with his speed, and if he can “take one to the house” it would be a huge momentum changer.
Even as young and inexperienced as Kaepernick is, he is very tough to rattle.
That was evident from a pick-six early in the divisional game against the Packers, and then being down 17 points on the road in a hostile environment in Atlanta, where he didn’t panic and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
If the 49ers can make Terrell Suggs and Paul Krueger tentative in their pass rush, then it will lead to big plays for San Fran.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens remind The Freak a lot of the Giants in last year’s Super Bowl. Flacco is playing like Eli did after he said he was an elite quarterback, and the Ravens have also been big underdogs on the road during this playoff run similar to what the Giants accomplished.
However, at the end of the day, the 49ers have a much better defence than both the Broncos and Patriots, who the Ravens beat. Along with a dynamic offence with the slippery Kaepernick, the 49ers will just have too much speed for the Ravens’ D.
The Freak would like to take the Ravens because of the “Giants feel,” but three weeks ago The Freak said the winner of the Packers-49ers’ game would win the Super Bowl.
The difference in this game will be a big turnover in the second half by Baltimore that Kaepernick will turn into an important touchdown.
The 49ers win Super Bowl XLVII, 31-27!
John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to email@example.com.