The Ravens and 49ers excel in a lot of ways not because of individual talent but the sum of their parts. This is most clear when you look at their receivers. Neither team boasts a pass catcher who ranked among the NFL's top 10 in yardage or grabs. Besides San Francisco's Michael Crabtree, who hauled in 85 passes for 1,105 yards, there is not another receiver on either team with more than 65 catches. No other player threatened the 1,000 yard mark. This is not a bad thing. History shows us that the unheralded WR frequently makes the big difference.
We remember David Tyree, the special teamer who made a miraculous catch against his helmet to help the Giants beat New England in 2008. Tyree was not the MVP of that game, but without his catch it is another championship for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Six times wideouts have been named Super Bowl MVP. Since Jerry Rice in 1989 that group includes Deion Branch, Hines Ward, and Santonio Holmes. While Ward has an argument, albeit not a good one since he was never among the best receivers in the league, that trio consists of good, not great players, who rose to the occasion to propel their team to victory.
Baltimore is led by the speedsters Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, sure handed Anquan Boldin, and Tight End's Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Boldin led the way during the regular season with 65 catches for 921 yards. Smith scored a team high eight times in the passing game and averaged more than 17 yards a catch. Pitta caught 61 balls for 669 yards and seven scores. Boldin and Pitta have been workhorses in the playoffs. Boldin leads the NFL with 276 receiving yards on 16 catches in the postseason, while Pita has snagged 10 passes. Smith and Jones have scored on touchdowns of 59 and 70 yards respectively, and have each averaged more than 22 yards a catch. Raven quarterback Joe Flacco likes to take his shots down the field when given the opportunity.
The San Francisco defense ranked fourth in the NFL against the pass this year. During the playoffs Matt Ryan passed for 396 yards and three scores against the 49ers, while Aaron Rodgers threw for two scores and 257 yards. Both quarterbacks were picked off once by the San Francisco defense.
Since Colin Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith, the San Francisco passing game has revolved around Crabtree. Before Smith was injured Crabtree had one game of seven catches or more and exceeded 100 yards receiving just once. After needing two weeks to adjust to Kaepernick, Crabtree has three 100 yard games in the last seven weeks and has caught seven or more passes five times. He has scored six touchdowns in the last five games.
Mario Manningham, who has not played in a month, and is out for the year with a knee injury was second on San Francisco with 42 catches during the regular season. Tight End Vernon Davis, and the ageless Randy Moss are the only players on San Francisco with more than two playoff grabs. Of 33 postseason completions, Kaepernick has hit Crabtree 15 times for 176 yards, Davis on six occasions for 150 yards, and Moss has made five catches for 71 yards.
Baltimore's pass defense was only 20th best during the regular season. In the playoffs Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady have averaged 299 yards a game through the air. However, the Ravens were second in the NFL allowing only 15 passing scores during the regular season, and in the playoffs Baltimore has yielded four passing touchdowns while intercepting five throws.
If you include RB's, the Ravens and Niners boast five of the top six, and seven of the top 10 receivers in the playoffs when it comes to average yards per reception. Davis is second in the NFL with 25 yards per completion in the playoffs, while Niner RB Frank Gore is third at 24 yards a catch. Jones and Smith average 22.8 and 22 yards per reception ranking fourth and fifth on the list.
Two teams that like to make big plays square off on Sunday. It might not be a big name, but whoever makes the impact play puts his team in position for a championship.