To continue the wall-to-wall Super Bowl coverage going on this week, here is a list of five keys to victory for both teams:
1. Handle emotions – Yes it’s cliché, but it’s also true. There will be a lot going on Sunday night in the Superdome, including the final game of one of the NFL’s best linebackers of all time, a brother vs. brother matchup of head coaches, a quarterback making just his 10th career start on the game’s biggest stage, and a quarterback with a lot of doubters and who has a lot to prove.
Plus, on top of all of that, it’s also the Super Bowl; so needless to say, emotions will be high all around. Football’s an emotional game, but it can’t be emotional to the point where it becomes a distraction. Emotions will be highest at the beginning of the game, so whichever team can settle in faster and put all the pre-game hype aside will have an advantage.
2. Win at the line of scrimmage – In any game, winning at the line of scrimmage is important, but in this game it’ll become even more important. Both teams need to stay balanced on offense, so neither can afford to have their running game shut down or their ability to run play-action taken away.
Throughout the playoffs, Colin Kaepernick has been relatively untouched and Frank Gore has had plenty of running room, both coming as a result of strong offensive line play, something that the 49ers will have to continue. On the other side of the ball, the Raven’s offensive line has played its best football in the postseason, shutting down even the Broncos pass rush, keeping Joe Flacco protected and giving him plenty of time to throw the ball. Both offensive lines look strong heading into the game, so if either defensive line can find a way to be disruptive, it’ll give their team a big lift.
3. Reading the read-option – Like it or not, the zone-read play is in the Super Bowl, and like it or not, it’s going to play a big part in who wins. Kaepernick was masterful in the NFC Championship Game when it came to his decision making on option plays. He was unselfish enough to only take two carries for himself, as he took what the defense made available to him, and he’ll have to be equally poised and equally unselfish in the Super Bowl to keep San Francisco’s read-option offense functioning at a high level. Conversely, the Ravens will need to be quick in their defensive reads and reactions to what Kaepernick and the 49ers are doing on offense. If Baltimore can’t figure out the zone-read from a defensive standpoint, they’re going to have a difficult time stopping the San Francisco offense.
4. The kicking game – As always, special teams is an important factor, especially if the game is close and a field goal could be the difference between winning and losing. Both teams should know the importance of the kicking game, as it was a missed Billy Cundiff field goal that eliminated the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game last year. Baltimore has replaced Cundiff this season with rookie Justin Tucker, who has been great all year, connecting on 30 of 33 field-goal attempts, including the game-winner in double overtime against Denver. For San Francisco, veteran David Akers has struggled all season, converting just 69% of his field goal opportunities.
The 49ers went so far as to bring in Cundiff to compete with Akers for his job during the postseason. On paper, the Ravens have a big advantage in the kicking game, but Akers is a veteran and should be no stranger to the big stage, while Tucker is just a rookie and has never felt the pressure of such a big game before, so there is some reason to think that Akers and the 49ers could actually have the advantage here. Either way, if the game is close, there’s a good chance this game comes down to someone’s kicker being able to come through in the clutch.
5. Halftime adjustments – With all the emphasis and attention on pre-game plans and preparations, it’s often overlooked how important the changes are that get made after coaches have been able to watch the first 30 minutes of the game unfold. The familiarity the coaches have with one another only adds to the importance of making adjustments, as the two head coaches know each well, so there’s going to be a lot of pride and ego on the line, as they’ll both be wanting to out-smart the other one. Both teams were able to overcome deficits in their conference championship games, so both coaches have proven that they can make the type of adjustments that can change games, and if this game is close, the smallest adjustments made in the second half can make all the difference in the world.