We are going to hear for the next 11 days how cool it is that the two head coaches in the Super Bowl are brothers. It’s one of those human interest stories that, as Glenn Clark (Host of the Reality Check) says, is truly “American”. Of course, this is really interesting and compelling but I’ll let someone else tell the Harbaugh brothers’ story.
What is more compelling to me is that these two brothers made two of the gutsiest moves in the entire regular season and ended up in the Super Bowl because of them. I’m talking about John deciding to part ways Cam Cameron for Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator with three weeks left in the season, with Jim Caldwell having no prior experience calling plays within games. I’m also talking about Jim deciding to stick with Colin Kaepernick, after an Alex Smith concussion, while Kaepernick had no prior NFL starting experience.
These would come to be their defining moments. They knew it at the time. They stuck with their guts and look at where they are.
John went with Jim Caldwell after almost two full seasons of fans clamoring for Cam Cameron’s head. Even though the Ravens offense was in the top half of the league while Cameron was play caller, he still went to the chopping block. Perhaps John knew that it was Cameron holding Joe Flacco back from being what he has shown in the playoffs. Perhaps he was waiting for it to click with the two. Nonetheless, it never did and John went with the unproven Caldwell. Sure Caldwell had head coaching experience but calling plays in game is a totally different animal. The future seemed bleak after the Ravens fell to the Broncos in their first game with Caldwell calling plays, putting up zero points in the first half. However, an offensive epiphany in the Giants game showed a glimmer of hope for the playoffs after the team rested their starters in Cincinnati.
Jim went with Colin Kaepernick as starting quarterback after veteran Alex Smith went down with a concussion. Even after Smith was able to return, Jim stuck with the unproven 2nd year man (Kaepernick) over the guy who nearly brought them to the Super Bowl a year earlier (Smith). Jim liked what Kaepernick brought to the table. His dynamic playmaking ability, speed, and arm strength were all things Smith did not possess. One thing Smith did have though was superb decision making ability. Smith rarely turned the ball over. This was something Jim did not know if Kaepernick was capable of. No one did. Kaepernick ended the season with ten touchdowns and three interceptions. The gamble paid off.
Throughout the playoffs, the Ravens faced some of the best quarterbacks the league has to offer; the potential rookie of the year, the potential MVP, and a three time champion. They would have to put up points. They did, putting up thirty points per game on the way to the Super Bowl. Jim Caldwell’s play calling and thus John Harbaugh’s decision have played a huge part in that. Under Cam Cameron, the Ravens passed on sixty percent of their plays. Under Caldwell they are passing only 52% of their plays. They are getting the ball into the hands of their most dynamic player more. That would be Ray Rice. With that decrease in passing you would think that Joe Flacco’s numbers would be declining. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Flacco’s numbers have gotten better. He is the one who has led this team to the Super Bowl throwing for 8 touchdowns in three games and zero interceptions. Caldwell isn’t calling for more passes, he is calling more efficient passes; utilizing the middle of the field, screen plays, more complex routes, and more unpredictability.
The same can be said for Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s skills have led to a myriad of new options for the 49ers; the most notable of these being the read option like that of Washington’s or Seattle’s. Kaepernick usually has three options on such a play. He can hand off to the running back, keep it for himself, or pass to a wide receiver. My co-host on the Weekend Warriors, Jeff Kryglik, breaks down how to stop this here. The lack of film on this new offense, as is the case for Jim Caldwell’s offense, has led to great success for the 49ers and obviously a Super Bowl berth.
The Ravens and the 49ers have had great success because teams have yet to “open the book” on their offenses…and obviously because they are talented. Each team will have about a week and a half to figure each other out and that’s what it is going to come down to. Who figures out how to stop the other team first? This is going to be a high scoring game and it will be close. What defense makes a play at the end? What defense finally finds the key?