With the Super Bowl two weeks away, many are trying to find an edge or a weakness with both the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. Certainly a difficult task to undertake, as both teams are categorically the two best teams in the league, and many opponent has already tried to highlight those weaknesses. Fact of the matter is, neither one of these two teams have glaring weaknesses to exploit, and to dig deep enough into it is really just nit picking. But alas, there has to be some sort of focal point to key in on for 49ers fans.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is not a weakness, contrary to what many sports reporters have wrote about him, as a matter of fact he was ranked 11th in the league during the regular season in total quarterback rating. Flacco threw for 3,817 yards during the regular season and had 22 touchdowns to only ten interceptions. His ten interceptions rank him in the top five of quarterbacks that have started all 16 games during the regular season. Actually the only concern with Flacco is his sack rate; he had the seventh most sacks of any starting quarterback during the regular season. But when he throws 35 times per game as his average dictates, he is going to experience a sack or two per game.
It’s very difficult to say, but it is quite possible the only weakness on offense is the running game of Ray Rice. Not because Rice isn’t a high level talent, he’s one of the best in the league. It’s because he doesn’t get the ball enough, during the regular season he only carried the ball 16 times per game. And in three of their six losses on the regular season he rushed 12 times or fewer. The last and final loss of the season didn’t count as they rested him for the playoffs. Point is, the Ravens tend to move the offense away from his services at times, especially if they are playing against a good run defense. This votes well for the 49ers and their fourth ranked run defense. If the 49ers can put the brakes on Rice early, the Ravens may gear their offense in a different direction.
As far as the receiving and tight end core that the Ravens have, it will be another long day for the 49ers. While the pass catchers for the Ravens don’t have the high number of receptions as some of the standouts in the league or the number of total yards that rank them high in the league. What they do have is an innate ability to make the most of what they do get. Their leading receiver Anquan Boldin only caught 65 balls on the year, but with an average of over 14 yards per reception he amassed an impressive 921 yards on the regular season. He’s not the only one either, Torrey Smith only caught 49 balls this regular season, still he ended up with over 850 yards, that’s over 17 yards per catch. Tight end Dennis Pitta averaged over 11 yards per catch in route to 61 receptions for 669 yards. Jacoby Jones averaged over 13 yards per catch, totaling 30 receptions for 406 yards. And let’s not forget the screen passes to Rice that garnered him 478 yards. Just by statistics alone, one can see that the Ravens that catch balls from Flacco make the most of every possession.
And while it is blasphemy to speak of the Ravens defense as a potential weakness, it has been one element of their game that has seen it’s better days. And that is not a shot at the age of Ray Lewis, it’s fair to say that he has NOT lost a single step in his game. They just tend to be weaker on the defensive side of the ball than in years past. In rush defense alone they ranked 20th in the league, giving up 123 yards per game. Though a healthy Lewis will have a lot to say about that statistic. In pass defense they were 17th in the league during the regular season, giving up an average of seven yards per pass play. And with only 13 interceptions on the season, it seems pretty clear that quality receptions can be made against them.
So what are the weaknesses that can be exploited in the Ravens game? First slow down Ray Rice, make Flacco hang in the pocket longer on pass attempts. Second, make use of the play action and option offense to open up holes in the defense.
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