Punch Drunk Wonderland

Harbowl – A Super Bowl XLVII Preview

Jim Harbaugh v. John HarbaughAfter a surprising win over the New England Patriots, John Harbaugh and the Ravens have pushed us into a Super Bowl XLVII that will feature sweet Harbaugh on Harbaugh action. Earlier in the day his brother, Jim, came through with his surging 49ers team over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

This will be a very interesting Super Bowl matchup that will feature two teams that are known for tough defense and aggressive pounding run games. On paper the 49ers appear to be the clear favorite, but anything can happen. Let’s take a look at how these teams matchup on both sides of the ball.

Defense

Defense is where San Francisco really owns this matchup. They have been in the top 5 in the NFL in most defensive categories all season long. In terms of overall yards, the Niners gave up 294.4 yards per game during the 2012 season which was 3rd best in the league. Further breaking that down, they gave up 94.2 rushing yards per game and 200.2 passing yards per game which amounts to #4 in both of those categories. In terms of scoring, they were #2 in the NFL as they allowed an average of 17.1 points per game.

Fantasy football statistics can help shed some light on this defense as well. Particularly, the “points against” stats that allow us to see how many fantasy points the team gave up on average to the various skill positions during the 2012 season. San Francisco was #2 versus running backs for the season allowing only 11.3 fantasy points per game to all rushers. The slightly weaker point for the team would be the passing game in which they were ranked #8 and #9 in points given up to wide receivers and tight ends respectively (16.8 points per game to WRs and 6.1 points per game to TEs).

The Niners have a number of strong points on a defense that featured 6 selections to this year’s Pro Bowl. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are two of the best linebackers in the game right now. Bowman finished the 2012 regular season with 149 total tackles, 2nd in the NFL. In terms of pass rush pressure, Aldon Smith is the team’s quarterback killer. He finished the season with 19.5 sacks (#2 in the NFL). The team also has one of best tandems at safety in the league in Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner.

Cyborg Ray LewisThe Baltimore Ravens have long been known for their strong defenses, but the 2012 season has looked different for this aging and battered squad. With many of their star players nursing injuries, the team didn’t find itself near the top of the field in many defensive categories.  In terms of relevant categories, the Ravens found themselves in more or less the middle of the road statistically for 2012. The same is true for the fantasy points against numbers. The one exception is fantasy points allowed to tight ends in which they allowed the fewest in the league for the regular season (5.1 fantasy points per game).

The real defensive numbers of interest for the Ravens are those associated with their playoff run. With their stars back in the lineup the team has shined. They have given up the fewest points per game of all playoff teams thus far (19.0 points per game), and they have been solid in both run and pass defense (giving up only 128.3 rushing yards and 286.7 passing yards per game through 3 playoffs games). Ray Lewis has returned for his retirement run as a tackling machine, tallying 44 tackles in 3 games. Additionally, the turnover game has been their strongest point in the playoffs. The Ravens have compiled 5 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries on 4 forced fumbles. They have been the best in the playoffs in the giveaway-takeaway game at +6.

The Ravens defense has some aging talent, but is still very capable of performing. Ray Lewis has returned with a surge and has been a strong force in this playoff run for the Ravens both in performance and motivation. Young linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has been excellent, and the return of other stars such as Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed have helped drive them. The big question for this team will be whether or not they can keep up the pace defensively. They are clearly winning games because they are dominating the giveaway-takeaway game, but now they face a 49ers team that has also excelled in the category. Will the Ravens still be able to produce if they don’t get the turnover opportunities?

Offense

Colin Kaepernick and the read option offense that he’s taken control of in San Francisco has revitalized the team. While they saw some success with Alex Smith at the helm, Kaepernick brings an explosiveness that the Niners have been lacking. He had a strong end of the season and the big question was going to be how the 2nd year quarterback handled the pressures of playoff football. The answer is, excellently. Kaepernick has been a force during this playoff run for the 49ers. He has put up 496 passing yards, 202 rushing yards, a completion percentage of 63.5%, a passer rating of 105.9, 3 passing touchdowns, and 2 rushing touchdowns. Talk about putting a team on your back. Aside from Kaepernick’s strong performances, the Niners have seen strong play in the ground game by running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James. Further strengths for San Francisco going into the Super Bowl are the strong performances of Michael Crabtree of late and the resurgence of Vernon Davis in the offense. The two have accounted for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns in two playoff games.

49ers QB, Colin KaepernickThe key factor in whether or not the 49ers offense can find success in the Super Bowl will be how well the Ravens can defend the read option. Kaepernick’s decision making in this offense has been superb and he’s been keeping defenses off balance and out of sorts.

The Ravens are coming into the Super Bowl having recently put up some of their best offensive performances of the season. Joe Flacco has been hot and cold throughout his career, but in this playoff run he’s been very solid. Through three games he has compiled 853 passing yards for 8 touchdowns with a completion percentage of 54.8% and a passer rating of 114.7. Baltimore has seen strong play from Anquan Boldin as he’s really stepped into the spotlight in the playoffs. Boldin has racked up 276 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in the Ravens’ three playoff games. The team also has a premiere rusher in the always elusive Ray Rice. While Rice had a down year by his typical standards, he still put up decent numbers and remains a breakaway threat who can be incredibly difficult to tackle.

The key for the Ravens offense will be directly related to how much pressure the 49ers can put on Joe Flacco and how successful Ray Rice can be running the ball. If the run game stagnates and Flacco starts getting hit we could see a familiar downswing in Baltimore’s offensive production.

Ravens QB, Joe FlaccoEarly projections were putting San Francisco as 5 point favorites, and now 6 days before kickoff of Super Bowl XLVII the Niners remain projected as a 4 point favorite to win. This one is going to be a defensive struggle, but at the end of the day I feel like the 49ers have more tools in place to give them the win. Of course, anything can happen in playoff football. I mean, two brothers can appear as opposing head coaches in the Super Bowl for crying out loud.

Enjoy the game, Punch Drunkards!

 

 

K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...

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