New England and Denver fans were wrong. The Ray Lewis retirement party did not start on January 12 or January 20. Instead, the Ravens will be playing the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl!!!
This will not be the first time the Harbaugh brothers have coached against each other. They played in Baltimore week twelve of the 2011 season, on Thanksgiving night.
The game was dominated by the Ravens’ front seven as they registered nine sacks. Alex Smith is still having nightmares courtesy of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Corey Redding.
Things have changed on both sides of the ball for the Ravens and 49ers. Most of which, are similar.
1.Regression on defense
Last year’s game was advertised as a defensive battle and did not disappoint. However, both defenses have regressed. The 49ers defense was impenetrable in 2011, especially against the run.
This year’s 49ers defense is still great, but not dominant like last season. They are giving up almost three more points per game, and are a top five defense in only one category, which is rushing yards allowed per game.
The Ravens on the other hand have suffered a serious regression on defense, at least until the past few weeks. Still, the defense is not up to par with last season’s.
In addition to the injuries the team has suffered, players like Pernell McPhee, Jimmy Smith (when he has played), Terrence Cody, and Courtney UpShaw have not lived up to expectations.
2.Significant changes on offense
Remember when the Ravens replaced Tony Banks with Trent Dilfer in 2000? Well the 49ers have made a similar change from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick has only started nine games but is mature beyond his years. Not only is he a dynamic athlete, he can throw the ball with great velocity and accuracy.
Many Ravens fans rejoiced with the firing of Cam Cameron. After the Broncos game in week fifteen, the changes on offense did not look very promising. Flacco and Jim Caldwell responded the next week with one of the greatest games of Flacco’s career against the Giants.
Since Jim Caldwell took over, Flacco has completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,142 yards, has thrown 10 touchdowns, and ZERO interceptions. (I did not count the Bengals game since Flacco did not play for a majority of the game).
What I like about Caldwell’s offense is his ability to find mismatches and attack them. With Cam Cameron, he seemed conservative at times and did not have a good relationship with Joe Flacco. In contrast, Caldwell makes tremendous adjustments to find mismatches. Once that has happened, the offense has been dominant.
If the Ravens keep it close through the first half, the offense will eventually find favorable match-ups against a defense that Flacco had success against last season.
3.Both offensive lines have improved
As I said multiple times, the Ravens defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage the last time these two teams played. Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Corey Redding could do anything they wanted. Luckily for the 49ers, Redding is with the Colts, and Ngata and Suggs are not playing at 100 percent.
Despite the Ravens injuries, this should be a good battle with great individual matchups. Perhaps the best of which will be Mike Iupati against Haloti Ngata. Iupati is a young player but is already one of the best guards in the league. Despite Iupati’s talent, Ngata should win this battle more often than not.
Some question if the Ravens can handle the 49ers physical running attack. I guess they have forgotten the Ravens play in the AFC North. They will be able to handle this running game and should have success stopping Frank Gore.
Remember last year’s AFC Championship when Vince Wilfork dominated Matt Birk? Well the same can’t be said for last Sunday night. Birk played well but Kelechi Osemele played just as well.
He is bigger than Ben Grubbs, who left for New Orleans via free agency and also struggled against Wilfork. When Osemele was matched up with Wilfork, he more than held his own. Osemele should be matched up with Justin Smith for most of the game and will be able to hold his own physically.