More To Super Bowl Than Harbaughs

Ray LewisThe matchup between the Harbaugh brothers was a funny thought at the beginning of the playoffs, but it has become a reality as we kick off Super Bowl week, which will conclude with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens battling for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVII (or 47 for those of you who prefer your numerals in number form.)

While the amazing feat of the brother’s leading their teams’ to this point is quite the storyline, it writes itself and simply is lazy journalism to strictly focus on just that. Here are some other intriguing story lines to follow:

Both teams are run heavy teams with strong defenses. Baltimore’s defense may not have been the greatest defense throughout the regular season, but the return of Ray Lewis as well as Ed Reed has been just the spark they have needed. How will 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick fare against a Ravens defense that has had two weeks to break down and dissect the second year quarterback who has had just a handful of games under his belt? I know, I mentioned many times on the Bears Cast that I didn’t think Kaepernick could handle it in his first season, but he has proven me wrong already, and even a poor performance here wouldn’t change that. It may be what holds San Francisco from its first title since 1995. They likely wouldn’t be here without the play of Kaepernick though.

On the other side of the ball, you have “Mr. Elite” himself, Joe Flacco. It is sort of a joke in discussing Flacco as elite, mostly because he was the only one referring to himself as elite when the season began. Once again, the playoffs kick in and Flacco’s team continues to win games. In fact, he outplayed Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, both on the road, on his way to the Super Bowl this year, and he has turned enough heads to cause people to discuss just how elite he is. That discussion could end either way on Sunday, and the 49ers defense is no easy test. Flacco has thrown eight touchdowns without an interception in this year’s playoffs, so much like Kaepernick, a loss here won’t necessarily end that talk. He does face more of an uphill battle that Kaepernick.

Back to the strong running games. The thought of Frank Gore and Ray Rice pounding the ball is enough to make any defensive player shake a bit. Both are physical runners who run low to the ground and deliver punishing blows as the move downfield. San Francisco ranked fourth in rushing during the regular season, while Baltimore ranked 11th. The teams are one and two in rushing during the playoffs. Gore ran for over 1200 yards while Rice ran for just under that. Combine that with Bernard Pierce, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry, and there should be plenty of running featured in this game.

Another thing is whether or not the Ravens wide receivers can continue doing what they have done throughout this run. Be it Torrey Smith running past everyone, leaving them in the breeze as he runs way down field, or Anquan Boldin becoming the Boldin of old, they are a large part in why the Ravens have been able to sustain success in the playoffs. Can they be consistent enough to do it again for one more game, the most important game most of them will ever play in? The 49ers passing defense ranked fourth in the NFL this season, and Niners cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown will look to hold the Ravens air game in check.

Then there is Ray Lewis. No I’m not talking about the retirement storyline, although that does peak my interest. The fact that this guy was almost guaranteed to not be playing right now, then stating he would come back and make it his final season is remarkable, especially because of how much the defense has improved since his return. That improvement is much to the surprise of many people watching, because Lewis hasn’t really been anything better than average at best. He has been getting pushed around, often looking like he’s on skates as lineman push him out of the way. But there is something about him in which he brings out the best of those around him, and it’s tough to deny that. As a guy who seems to leave everything on the field each and every game, he legitimately has nothing left to play for after this game.

The final one is what we will see on the field, the X factor if you will. In the coaching department, you have John Harbaugh who has playoff experience and has made improvements with the team step by step. Jim Harbaugh has never been to the Super Bowl, even as a player, so he hasn’t been in this situation. Will his antics work on the big stage in which everything is magnified? That remains to be seen.

However you want to stack it up, we have a great matchup in which both teams seem to be evenly matched. Not many, if anyone, envisioned this matchup a couple weeks ago, but we’re here with just under a week to go. The Harbaugh storyline may get tiresome, but there are plenty of other things to focus on. Do yourself a favor and focus on those. You’ll thank me later.

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