Ravens, 49ers set to face off in Harbaugh Bowl
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 23:01
Ray Lewis and Raven Nation against the thrilling Colin Kaepernick and his San Francisco 49ers in the Big Easy—what more could you ask for? How about two brothers, Jim and John Harbaugh, coaching against each other in the game cleverly deemed the “Harbaugh Bowl?” These two story lines have captivated the nation’s media outlets since the two teams earned their spot in the game of the year.
The final journey for arguably the best middle linebacker in NFL history Ray Lewis, whose first sack came against 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh when he was a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, will end his legacy in dramatic fashion against the man who had a first-hand role in his first spark of greatness.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco’s second-year quarterback out of Nevada, has enthralled fans everywhere with his rocket arm and blazing speed. The former fourth-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies—yes, the Colorado Rockies in Major League Baseball, not football, replaced ex-starter Alex Smith after what was arguably Smith’s best stretch of football of his career. The move to replace Smith with the unproven Kaepernick was met with much criticism, and many said that head coach Jim Harbaugh was making an irrational decision. Let’s leave the coaching to the actual coaches, shall we?
On the Raven side of the ball, many analysts said Joe Flacco was fighting for his job and would need a playoff run of epic proportions to keep his job and earn himself a new contract. Flacco has answered the critics by delivering eight touchdowns to zero interceptions in this year’s playoffs to lead Baltimore to a Super Bowl XLVII berth, the best mark of any quarterback in the playoffs ever. Flacco can smell the money already.
Ravens fans are used to seeing a phenomenal defense, anchored by their stud linebackers Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and ball-hawking safety Ed Reed, but have seen a different story unfold this year. The Ravens ranked 17th against the pass during the regular season and just 20th against the run. For fans who had grown accustomed to seeing both of those rankings in the top five nearly every year, this was definitely a surprise. The decline this year can be attributed to their inability to stay healthy in the regular season as Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Pro Bowl offensive lineman Haloti Ngata were out for at least a portion of the season. But injuries and all, the Ravens find themselves on the grand stage in the grandest of venues at the Superdome on Sunday.
The biggest advantage the Ravens might have has little to do with the game of football. The leadership that Ray Lewis brings to the locker room is an intangible that can’t be measured. It is said in sports that the heart of a champion can trump even the best of talent, and Ravens fans hope that is the case this Sunday.
The 49ers on the other hand have a bit more talent on their side and have no shortage of playmakers on the defensive side with Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson, NaVorro Bowman…need I go on?
San Francisco ranks fourth against both the run and pass and was only second to the Seattle Seahawks in opponent’s points per game with 17.1 points against per game. For all intents and purposes, the Ravens are matching up their defense of previous years plus an explosive offense. Speaking of explosive offense, this Kaepernick guy is the real deal. Since San Francisco has transitioned to Kaepernick at the helm, the offense is averaging more points per game, more passing yards, more running yards and has finally reached the Super Bowl (they fell short after losing in the NFC Championship game to the Giants last year with Smith).
Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers have unleashed a new package, or new to the NFL at least, called the pistol formation. The formation, created by Kaepernick’s old coach at Nevada Chris Ault, is similar to the singleback formation with one back behind the quarterback. But, instead of the quarterback being under center, Kaepernick lines up a few yards back in a near-shotgun position. The formation is extremely versatile and has been the kryptonite to many defensive schemes this year. The read-option packages that the 49ers use can be utilized to knife through the middle with halfback Frank Gore, or can be kept by Kaepernick and swung outside the tackles for some high-yardage scrambles. The package can call for more than one back, multiple tight ends and even Kaepernick lined up as a wide out, creating even more headaches for the opposition.