Given how things turned out on Sunday, I’m fairly certain I’m going to grow weary of all of the Ray Lewis and “Harbaugh Bowl” talk that will happen over the next two weeks. It’s hard to deny both teams deserve to meet in the Super Bowl, and on paper, it should be a great match up of two very physical teams with a lot of play making ability on both offence and defence.
Here’s what I saw during the two conference championship games:
49ers – Falcons: When Atlanta went up 17-0 early in the game, it was an uneasy lead. Any type of reasonable defence gets you a win with that lead, but the Falcons provided virtually no resistance in the last three quarters while their offence hibernated for about 30 minutes. Their secondary couldn’t cover Vernon Davis over the middle, and they were so worried about Kaepernick’s scrambling around the edge that Frank Gore had open running lanes between the tackles on most of the option-read plays. With almost no pass rush (some of that attributable to the 49ers offensive scheme) and undersized corners defending the larger 49ers receivers, Atlanta just couldn’t hold on. The 49ers Achilles heel before Kaepernick was their inability to come from behind. Their offence has gone from a creative game management type attack under Alex Smith to one that can light up the scoreboard when needed.
Ravens – Patriots: It can be dangerous to read too much into a single game. Such is the beauty of football, there’s no best-of-7 series so you get one crack to beat a team. With all of the evidence supporting that the Pats offence just had a very bad game (even the best offensive teams have them), I want to comment on the other side of the ball. I have to wonder about the overall salary cap and talent management of the Patriots. When Aqib Talib went down hurt, the Ravens were able to relentlessly attack a very weak secondary. Since acquiring Talib during the season, the Pats plugged a hole on a very thin defence. That patch job was exactly one person deep. For multiple years now, the Patriots have come up short on defence and expect to simply outscore teams. It’s hard to beat them up too much since they do keep making the playoffs, but some of the shine on Bill Belichick as a defensive wizard is wearing off. Sometimes your defence has to win a game when the offence has an off day. On the other side, full credit to Baltimore. Once they saw the Pats secondary weakened, they opened up their offensive play calling and allowed Flacco to go win the game. I really didn’t think they had the talent and ability to consistently play well enough to make it this far. Their defensive play in the second half in shutting out the Pats was a sight to behold. They were physical, challenged each pass and held one of the top offensive teams in the league to virtually nothing for thirty minutes of football.
The results really do make for a great Super Bowl match-up. The Ravens and 49ers have a lot of the same football DNA (and I’m not talking about the soon to be overdone brother vs brother storyline) – they both have tough, aggressive defences, good young QBs, solid running games, reasonable special teams and coaches who like to gamble in the heat of the moment. Should be a good one two weeks from now.