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December 30, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers (2) reacts after missing a field goal against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl 2013: Comparing Defensive Personnel Between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens

I hope you enjoyed the breakdown of the offensive players I posted an hour or so ago. Here’s the analysis of the defenses.

First of all, let me point out that both teams’ base defense is the 3-4, so that tosses out one variable in order to get a good comparison between the two.

Defensive Line:

San Francisco:

LDE – Ray McDonald
NT – Isaac Sopoaga
RDE – Justin Smith*

Baltimore:

LDE – Pernell McPhee
NT – Terrence “Mount” Cody
RDE – Haloti Ngata*

Comments: Ironically, both Pro-Bowlers here were voted in as “interior defensive linemen.” Both Smith and Ngata CAN play nose tackle, but are better suited with their team makeup to be ends. Baltimore’s d-line is physically larger than San Francisco’s is and Justin Smith’s effectiveness is in question since he has a torn elbow tendon. You will see the brace he’ll wear in the Super Bowl and his play could dictate what the Ravens are able to do – or not do – on offense. He’s the best player of any in the bunch and the best pass rusher. Some say he’s a better player even than Houston’s J.J. Watt, but the Ravens’ line is at least healthy. Hard to predict with Smith’s injury, so keep an eye on how he plays in the early going.

edge to Baltimore

Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (52) during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers:

San Francisco: (regular-season tackles-sacks)

LOLB – Ahmad Brooks (46-6.5)
LILB – NaVorro Bowman* (149-2.0)
RILB – Patrick Willis* (120-0.5)
ROLB – Aldon Smith* (66-19.5)

Baltimore:

LOLB – Terrell Suggs (22-2.0)
LILB – Dannell Ellerbe (92-4.5)
RILB – Ray Lewis (57-1.0)
ROLB – Courtney Upshaw (60-1.5)

Comments: San Francisco sent 3 of 4 linebackers to this year’s Pro Bowl while injuries kept the Ravens from sending anyone. However, rookie LB Courtney Upshaw has grown over the season and Terrell Suggs is getting stronger each day coming off an offseason knee injury. There’s a massive “X-factor” here as anyone who has been awake the past 2 weeks knows. Win, lose, or overtime, this is Ray Lewis’ last game and the emotional aspect of it should have the Ravens opening the game with great energy and desire even more than they would, if such a thing were possible. The Ravens have a fresher group of players here than the Niners do, but 3 Pro Bowl caliber seasons speaks for itself.

edge to San Francisco

Defensive Backs:

Dec 9, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner (31) tackles Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush (22) during the third quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco:

CB – Carlos Rogers
CB – Tarelle Brown
SS – Donte Whitner*
FS – Dashon Goldson*

Baltimore:

CB – Corey Graham
CB – Cary Williams
SS – Bernard Pollard
FS – Ed Reed*

Comments: Ed Reed is the biggest name and certainly is a first-ballot future Hall of Fame free safety and the best DB on the field for either side. Whitner and Goldson are a pair of Pro-Bowlers this year, and could spell trouble for Flacco-to-Smith deep passes and seal up the deep seam, keeping Dennis Pitta running underneath routes. Both secondaries will be prodded and searched for weaknesses either in their game or their scheme at some point. Also don’t forget that Carlos Rogers is a recent Pro Bowler at one corner. The last time the Niners went to the Super Bowl with 4 Pro Bowl defenders in the secondary, they shut down Dan Marino. While they don’t have 4, they have 2, but Flacco is no Marino.

edge to San Francisco

Special Teams:

San Francisco:

The Niners have had 5 different kickoff returners handle those return duties even if Ted Ginn, Jr. is the best-known returner they have. LaMichael James has the speed to do returns as well, but their KO return average is a full two yards less (24.8 to 26.9) than opponents in 2012, though they didn’t allow a kickoff return TD. They make up for it in punt coverage, where they’ve allowed only 6.9 yds/return while averaging 10.5 yds/return themselves and the punt average includes a 75-yard TD in there. However, don’t look for them to change momentum or break out with 6 points on a return themselves, as they didn’t have a punt nor a kickoff return for a TD the entire 2012 campaign. Kyle Williams had a 94-yard return but not for a TD in the regular season and suffered a season-ending injury on the very field the Super Bowl will be played on. The Niners really need to keep Baltimore’s returners inside the 25 or better on kickoffs to equalize things. If this team has a weakness, it’s in kickoff coverage.

Baltimore:

The Ravens have Jacoby Jones handling most of the return duties on both kickoffs and punts. He had an outstanding season as a returner and indeed made the Pro Bowl in that capacity with 2 kickoffs and one punt returned to the house in 2012. Baltimore’s coverage units are outstanding, allowing only 23.2 yds/return on kickoffs and 7.8 yds/return on punts. They did not allow any TDs on kicks or punts in 2012.

big edge to Baltimore

Kicking and punting:

San Francisco:

K – David Akers
P – Andy Lee

Baltimore:

K – Justin Tucker
P – Sam Koch

Comments: Neither team had a Pro-Bowler here, but David Akers’ struggles in 2010 are well-known. Akers missed a league-leading 13 FG attempts – almost one per game – while Tucker missed only 3 the entire season. The “wild card” here is that Akers also tied the 63-yard FG distance record – in GREEN BAY in September – so we know he has the leg to make long kicks. The question tonight may be in his mental status under the pressure of the biggest of stages, knowing that he’s had a very poor kicking year overall. Another consideration is kicking outside in the swirling winds in San Francisco during home games that won’t be a factor indoors in the Superdome. For Baltimore, Tucker’s long is 56 yards and the conditions at home in Baltimore may not be quite so windy but can be colder especially late in the season. Since climate is removed from the equation (although it will be HUGE in next year’s Super Bowl outdoors in the Meadowlans), it should give the kickers every chance to shine when called upon.

Good edge to Baltimore

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION:

San Francisco 27
Baltimore Ravens 23

Super Bowl MVP: Michael Crabtree (offense); Aldon Smith (defense)

I know Kaepernick is the obvious choice in a San Fran win, but Crabtree could get the nod as both defenses should hold the upper hand in the early going. Kaepernick could well be hemmed-in more than he’s accustomed to and Crabtree has a way of getting open against most defenders. Look for Crabtree to have a good outing while Ed Reed helps to keep the lid on Vernon Davis.

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Tags: Baltimore Ravens San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl 2013

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