They say defense wins championships and that adage will prove true when the defensive stars shine in Super Bowl XLVII.
With San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick and Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco playing their best football of the season, the defense is what's ultimately going to decide this matchup in New Orleans.
Let's take a look at the defensive players on each squad who need to step up in order for their team to raise the Lombardi Trophy in the Superdome.
For a dominant defensive end who had 19.5 sacks during the regular season, Aldon Smith has been pretty quiet this postseason.
He has just three combined tackles in two playoff games to go with a forced fumble and zero sacks.
If the 49ers are going to knock Flacco off of his game and prove he's not an elite quarterback, they need Smith to be the player he was during the first 13 weeks of the regular season.
If San Francisco doesn't get pressure on the Ravens QB, it'll be seeing a lot of Anquan Boldin in the Super Bowl.
In order to shut down a 49ers offense that's averaging 236 rushing YPG during the playoffs, 340-pound Haloti Ngata must be effective.
Whether it's stuffing Frank Gore or LaMichael James in the backfield or getting to Kaepernick and putting pressure on him, Ngata's play up front will be crucial to Baltimore's secondary and how long they have to stick San Francisco's receivers.
Ngata has a total of 11 tackles in three postseason games this year and has yet to record a sack.
Against the 49ers' monstrous offensive line, Ngata needs to have a big day.
Drawing the assignment of covering either Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith, Carlos Rogers will be key in stopping Baltimore's passing attack.
Boldin leads all postseason wideouts in receiving yards and touchdowns while Smith is averaging 22 yards per reception to go with two touchdowns.
Rogers has taken a step back this season since earning a new deal during the offseason and definitely needs to elevate his play to keep Baltimore's wideouts out of the end zone.
If Rogers gets burnt like we've seen at times this season, it'll spell trouble for the 49ers chances of winning Super Bowl XLVII.
In what will be the last game of his iconic career, there's no doubting 13-time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis will be ready for the 49ers in the Superdome.
Since returning from a triceps injury, Lewis has been all over the field, recording 44 total tackles—the next leading tackler in the postseason has 26.
Still, with a powerful and diverse running game like the 49ers boast, linebacker play will be crucial for the Ravens in their pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy.
If Lewis is as effective as he's been the past three games—which should be expected—he could very well retire a two-time Super Bowl champion.
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