The big game is upon us once again. The Super Bowl has the unique ability to bring together football fans and non-football fans alike in the spirit of showmanship, scrutiny and alcoholism. I’m joking, of course (partially), but in all honesty about half of the country tends to watch the big game, despite the fact that a good amount of those people couldn’t care less about who wins or loses.
But we here at the Daily News sports department couldn’t care less about the commercials, the pageantry, the anticipation or any of that other nonsense. We care about football!
Jim Harbaugh’s teams live under the mantra “Who’s go it better than us? Nobody!” Well, for the first time as he looks across the sideline to see a worthy adversary.
Most years, this game doesn’t grab me as a matchup I’m looking forward to. Most of that probably has to do with the New England Patriots, but I digress. This is a year when I am pumped to see the game. As football fans, there is nothing more we could ask for than to see the Harbaughs leading their respective teams into battle. These teams are built around almost the same defensive emphasis: hit, hard.
Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis are beasts up the middle. They rarely miss a tackle and relish the opportunity to make the quarterback uncomfortable. Aldon Smith and Terrell Suggs are cut from the same cloth as well. Down the roster, the defensive parallels are seemingly endless.
So, as such, I’m going to regard the defenses as a wash. Both will and have scared the living daylights out of opposing offenses this year. Smith’s 19.5 sacks led the league and considering that was from the linebacker position, it puts him in elite company with Lawrence Taylor along with a 2006 steroid-infused Shawne Merriman, whose 17 sacks through 12 games seemed super-human at the time.
Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. Everybody who says otherwise can go check the cold, hard stats. His regular seasons have been nothing to write home about, but when the bright lights shine, Flacco shines brightest. Flacco had three fourth quarter comebacks in the regular season this year, two of them on the road and the other against New England.
In the playoffs he’s been even better with yet another comeback against the Broncos to tie it late, ultimately getting the win in double overtime. He has 853 passing yards, eight touchdowns and zero picks this postseason. Should he throw at least two more TDs against the 49ers and steer clear of the turnover, he’ll own the postseason record for TD:Int ratio in one playoffs.
The threat of Ray Rice running the football or catching it out of the backfield make Flacco that much more dangerous. After watching him torch the Broncos long, the Patriots played a softer zone and Joe tore them up underneath. I have no doubt he will be able to do the same in a much friendlier environment.
On the flipside, former Nevada standout Colin Kaepernick will be starting just his tenth NFL game. Up until this point, the 49ers have been doing a phenomenal job of shielding him from big hits. The pistol formation they use much of the time is designed so that Kaepernick, at the very least, is able to see the hit coming before he makes his decision to hand the ball off or not. LaMichael James has provided huge bursts of speed and agility to counterbalance Frank Gore’s tough running.
However the savvy veteran linebackers of Baltimore will be able to quickly pick up Kaepernick’s reads and will constantly be putting immense pressure on him from the outside. Kaepernick has yet to sit in the pocket and deliver big time throws throughout a game. His youth and inexperience will cost him and by the fourth quarter, he won’t even entertain the idea of getting out of the pocket for fear of his head being taken off on a hit from Suggs or Haloti Ngata.
The Ravens have the better, more poised quarterback, which is always the deciding factor in such an evenly matched game. Be ready to put Joe Flacco up with Favre, Manning and all the rest as he will lead the Ravens to what will likely be a dramatic Super Bowl victory.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh will undoubtedly ask his team on Sunday once again “Who’s got it better than us?” And I’m afraid he won’t like the answer he gets.