The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are going to try to push the ball up the field. Both Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco have the arm strength to stretch a secondary to the breaking point. But which corners and safeties will be able to hold the opposing quarterback in check, and even provide a turnover or two for their team?
Let's take a look.
The San Francisco 49ers had one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. Obviously their superb defensive line forced some bad passes but the secondary is truly elite. Dashon Goldson leads the team with 3 picks but Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown boast 14 pass deflections each. This is a very talented group but the Ravens are one of the hardest teams to defend in the pass game. It’s not that they have a dynamic aerial assault like the Saint or Patriots, but Joe Flacco has an arm second to none.
On plays that would be over for many teams, Flacco can wing one down field to spots only he can reach. This causes great strain on a secondary and requires constant vigilance. I think this group is going to do a decent job, and maybe even pick off a pass. But I also think that they will get burned by Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin at least once. That’s not a knock on their talent but a credit to the Raven offense that is really hitting on all cylinders right now.
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The Baltimore Ravens have a less impressive secondary. They rank in the middle of the pack in both passing yards allowed per game and interceptions. Of course, you can never discount Ed Reed, one of the best ball-hawks of all time. Reed has 4 picks this year to match teammate Cary Williams. Despite the lackluster regular season performance, this group has been great in the postseason. Getting as close to shutting down Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (two of the best to ever play the game) as you can get will get you some credit in my book. A lot of this success came by way of their devastating hits. We saw reliable receivers drop balls after Reed, Pollard, and others laid out huge hits to jar the ball loose. This mentality and momentum, coupled with my belief that the Niners will try to make the passes as easy as possible for their young QB will lead to some good success.
Overall, I’m going to have to call this a push. Yeah, San Francisco has some very impressive regular season stats compared to the ravens but the Ravens have passed the eye test in the playoffs. I also think the maturity and experience of Baltimore brings them to at least an even playing field with the 49ers. The biggest impact the defensive backs will make is trying to not allow big plays. Both teams are going to score, we all know that, but neither team can afford those big 50+ yard plays that put your offense right back on the field.