News Column

Ravens and 49ers Share Characteristics

Jan. 23, 2013

Bob McGinn

Super Bowl

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, a pair of meat-and-potatoes, physical football teams, will meet Feb. 3 in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.

Making their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years, the 49ers were established as 41/2-point favorites over the Ravens, who haven't played in the game since the 2000 season.

"This will be power on power," Charley Armey, the retired general manager for St. Louis Rams teams that split two Super Bowls a decade ago, said Sunday night. "It will be a slugfest. There will be a few bloody noses in this one."

The last Super Bowl that pitted two teams heavily reliant on defense and the running game was the 40th contest between Pittsburgh and Seattle. Before that, it would be the Ravens' dreary drubbing of the New York Giants in January 2001.

It also is a dream coaching matchup between the brothers Harbaugh, Jim for the 49ers and John for the Ravens, that will dominate the sporting world over the next two weeks.

"These two brothers have the exact same philosophy," said Armey, who scouted for the Green Bay Packers in the mid-1980s. "They were shaped by their father. He had that old Michigan philosophy about him. You don't beat yourself.

"These two coaches are throwbacks to the old philosophy that you've got to protect the football and protect your space. They believe in running the ball, special teams and controlling the clock."

Jack Harbaugh, 73, coached the secondary at Michigan under Bo Schembechler from 1973-'79 before serving as head coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky for nine years. Presently, he lives in Mequon.

On Thanksgiving night a year ago, the Ravens were 31/2-point underdogs when they stopped the 49ers' eight-game winning streak with a 16-6 victory in Baltimore.

That defensive struggle, which lasted just 2 hours, 44 minutes, saw the 49ers gain merely 170 yards compared to a modest 253 for Baltimore. San Francisco's Frank Gore carried 14 times for just 39 yards and Alex Smith posted a passer rating of only 61.1.

San Francisco (13-4-1), which was seeded second in the NFC playoff field, will line up on Super Sunday with 18 starters from that game, the first in league history matching two brothers coaching against each other.

Seeded fourth in the AFC, Baltimore (13-6) will have 16 starters from the 2011 meeting.

Certainly the biggest change for the 49ers will be at quarterback, where Colin Kaepernick was handed the job over Smith at midseason. The Super Bowl will mark the 10th start of his two-year career.

"I think he's oblivious to the fact that he's on the world's biggest stage in two weeks," Armey said. "They were down, 17-0, today and it didn't seem to bother this kid at all. He never got nervous.

"I don't think the game will be too big for him, but you never know what the next two weeks bring and he starts getting nervous. The worst thing that could happen to him is if he starts thinking he's got to do it all."

Counting playoffs, Kaepernick's passer rating is 99.8. His Ravens' counterpart, Joe Flacco, has a rating of 91.8 that includes 114.7 in three playoff games.

"Flacco has uncanny ability deep," said Armey. "He's not so much of a horizontal passer, but he's pretty darn good in the vertical game. The one place the Ravens can exploit the Niners a little bit is if they can stretch those safeties. They don't have the range to cover Flacco's ability to throw deep."

Another familiar story will be Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis, who at 37 announced two weeks ago that this will be the final season of his Hall of Fame career.

"The one guy that is very overrated, of course, is Ray Lewis," Armey said. "I don't think he's effective at all inside anymore. He's been a great player all these years, but his range is really limited."

John Harbaugh, 50, is exactly 15 months older than brother Jim. John was the Philadelphia Eagles' special teams coach in the 39th Super Bowl.

In five seasons, John has a 62-30 record (.674) since he came off Andy Reid's staff to replace Brian Billick. Sunday marked John's fifth straight playoff appearance and third in the AFC Championship Game.

Jim, 49, has posted an even better record (27-8-1, .764) since taking over for Mike Singletary in 2011. From 2003-'10, the 49ers went 46-82 under Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Singletary.

Now the 49ers are back in the Super Bowl, and if they win would match the Steelers' record six Lombardi Trophies.

The only two former Packers on the current 53-man rosters are fullback Vonta Leach and cornerback Chris Johnson, both of whom play for Baltimore. 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell was the Packers' defensive coordinator from 2000-'03.

San Francisco had nine players selected for the Pro Bowl compared with six for the Ravens. The 49ers ranked 11th on offense, fourth rushing and 23rd passing, and third on defense, fourth against both the run and pass.

The Ravens ranked 16th on offense, 11th rushing and 15th passing, and 17th on defense, 20th against the run and 17th against the pass.

Baltimore ranked third and San Francisco was 15th in the Dallas Morning News' annual ranking of special-teams performance.

"Both these teams will be very well-prepared," said Armey. "I will take the Niners and say right now (Frank) Gore will have a big game. Their offensive line is very good. Both the defenses are very good, but I think definitely the Niners have the edge at linebacker.

"It's not going to be a real high-scoring game. You're looking at maybe 24-17, Niners."

Bob McGinn, the author of "The Ultimate Super Bowl Book," will be covering his 28th Super Bowl this year.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


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