Super Bowl Sunday has finally arrived. Capitalizing on the fact that we’re about to embark on a long football-hiatus, the media tends to inundate us with headlines, breaking news and statistics about the two teams in the Super Bowl to the point that it feels like we know all there is to know about the game, making it less worth watching. Nonsense, football fan. Here at The Drive, we’re all about going beyond the marquee players, the spotlight headlines and the front-page stories. Today, the two Bros go head-to-head examining the finer things of what you will see on Super Bowl Sunday.
What is the most intriguing storyline in Super Bowl XLVII?
DR: The rise and fall of superstars. For one player, it’s the finale of a storied career on the field and a somewhat tainted career off of it. As an NFL linebacker, Ray Lewis could be one of the greatest of all time as he brought a certain fire and passion to the game and really redefined the mold for middle linebackers (big and fast and good in coverage). However, in his personal life, Ray has been involved in some questionable acts ranging from the recent accusation of PED usage to the 2000 murder investigation where Lewis (innocent or guilty) was able to dodge more serious allegations. Now, in his final game, how will he choose to end? As a fading star or a fallen star? For another player, it is hopefully but the beginning of a long and stat-sheet filled career. Colin Kaepernick first burst onto the scene mid-season as Jim Harbaugh’s “bold move,” but truly became a household name as he racked up 181 rushing yards against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round. The sky is the limit for this humble and soft-spoken kid with a rocket arm and fast feet, but how will he respond to the pressure of the big game? Can he continue to mature before our eyes and take his game to the next level?
JR: How about the path to the big show for the two starting quarterbacks? Sure, the media has talked endlessly about Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick, in fact The Drive even detailed the untold story of Kaepernick’s childhood here. But more specifically, let’s talk about where they prepped themselves before making the leap to the NFL. Flacco, from the University of Delaware, and Kaepernick, from the University of Nevada, were both unheralded high school prospects who were passed over by the big time schools. Flacco transferred from Pitt, where he was benched behind Tyler Palko (and here are his headlines this year) and Kaepernick was more highly regarded on the baseball diamond. But from the small collegiate stage, they have both taken the tough path to the big leagues that included having to prove themselves at every opportunity and force themselves in front of an NFL scout’s eyes. Did you know that collegiate powerhouses USC, Ohio State and Texas have NEVER produced a Super Bowl starting quarterback? Yeah, this is Delaware’s second starting QB (remember ol’ gunslinger Rich Gannon? He’s a Blue Hen!).
Who is the most important Coach that does not have the last name Harbaugh?
JR: For the entire course of this year’s playoffs, it can be argued that Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has been dealt the toughest hand of any coordinator in the league. As for the Super Bowl? Not even debatable. After having to deal with two of the most prolific pocket-passers in the history of the NFL over the past 2 games in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Coach Pees is now tasked with completely switching gears and focusing on a Pistol-style attack orchestrated by 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. The Ravens only experience facing a similar quarterback came in Week 14 when Robert Griffin III, despite being knocked out by a late leg injury, controlled the game with his arm as the Baltimore defense sold out to stop his legs. Kaepernick is a similar beast, attacking defenses with his passing if given the time and space in the pocket. If the Ravens have aspirations of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, Dean Pees is going to have to step up and be the first man in the NFL this year to figure out the pistol-style offense.
DR: Even without the restriction of the question (last name ≠ Harbaugh), I’d still answer the same way – the most important and intriguing coaching match-up is Vic Fangio (49ers Defensive Coordinator) versus Jim Caldwell (Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator). Why? Well, to start, both coaches have been the backbone of each team’s strength this season (and post-season). For the 49ers, Vic Fangio is the mastermind for one of the NFL’s top defenses and has shown a keen ability to build and cultivate All-Pro defenders (see Willis, Patrick OR Smith, Aldon OR Bowman, Navarro). For the Ravens, Jim Caldwell stepped in as offensive coordinator after Week 14 and has breathed new life into a formerly stagnant Ravens offense to the tune of 155.3 rushing yards per game (up from 108.8 before Week 14) and a surfacing of Flacco excellence (10 TDs, 0 INTs). And with two weeks to game-plan, you better believe both of these coaches will have their respective units prepared mentally and physically to take control of the game. Oh and by the way, both coaches are also unofficially auditioning for future head coach positions. Should be a great battle and may the best man win.
Who will be the X-Factor for their respective team?
DR: For the Ravens, it is without a doubt a former All-Pro and critical piece of the intimidating Ravens defense of years past….Terrell Suggs (bet you thought I’d say Ray Lewis). Although Lewis might be drawing the big headlines (good or bad), Suggs may be the one that will be the difference maker. Against the 49ers and their dynamic Pistol offense, his importance will only be more magnified as he will be making the split-second decisions that will make or break the game: To tackle or not to tackle Colin Kaepernick. For the 49ers, I’ll stay on the same side of the ball. The player that can take this defense from pretty good to unstoppable is Aldon Smith. Smith had a career year this year, racking up sacks at a torrid pace (19 ½ total) to begin the year, but waning at the end of the season and in the playoffs. When he can get to the quarterback regularly, then the Ravens offense might suffocate under QB pressure and the NFL’s #2 rushing defense. But if he can’t get there and Flacco gets extra time to throw then we all know what he can do with a few extra seconds…just ask Rahim Moore.
JR: The headlines of this game provide us with each team’s strengths and how they’ll need to utilize those in order to win the game. But both teams can’t flex their strengths at the same time, so how do you attack the other team’s weaknesses? For the Ravens, they need Torrey Smith to wreak havoc in the 49ers secondary similar to the way Julio Jones did last week in the NFC Championship. If Smith, known as a deep threat, can take the top off of the 49ers defense then that steals the attention of hard-hitting safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner away from being playmakers. On the other side of the ball, the 49ers should install LaMichael James in a bigger role this week in order to provide a speedier, shiftier option in the pistol with Kaepernick. Though the Ravens linebacking core is supremely talented, with Lewis and Suggs, they are also on the downslope of their careers and don’t excel as much when forced to work sideline to sideline. Frank Gore has been excellent between the tackles but with Haloti Ngata, Lewis and Suggs working the trenches, the 49ers should seek to get James to the edges of the defense.
Your Turn – tell us if you agree with our thoughts or if you’d answer the questions differently…