Ravens vs. 49ers: Paul Kruger Will Become Household Name After Super Bowl

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

Paul Kruger is emerging as the new star defender in Baltimore.
Paul Kruger is emerging as the new star defender in Baltimore.Rob Carr/Getty Images

When the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers take the field for Super Bowl 47, all eyes will be focused on the opposing sibling coaches and Ray Lewis playing the last game of his career.

But Paul Kruger is the real Raven defender to watch on Feb. 3, as he proves to the world that he is now the team's true star linebacker.

Lewis has danced and preached his way through his swan song, soaking up all the attention. By the time the game actually begins, too many feature stories about his storied career will have frequented the pages of newspapers and web sites.

Lost in all of Lewis' histrionics is Kruger's emergence as a major force that is ready to take over the throne in Baltimore.

The 26-year-old out of Utah has waited patiently for his chance to shine in the NFL. That opportunity finally arrived late in his fourth season, when Terrell Suggs' torn Achilles' tendon forced Kruger into action.

Baltimore's depleted linebacker group led the club to shift Kruger from defensive end to outside linebacker. That move has helped spur the Ravens' unexpected playoff run.

In the final eight regular season games, Kruger capitalized on increased playing time to record 7.5 sacks. His nine sacks during the season ended up representing a team high.

His scorching play extended into the postseason, where he posted 2.5 sacks, a pass deflection and forced fumble in Baltimore's first-round victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Although Kruger did not dominate against the Denver Broncos, he pressured Peyton Manning enough to force a devastating interception in overtime. Flushed out of the pocket, a rattled Manning underthrew a pass that was picked off by Corey Graham, setting up a game-winning field goal from Justin Tucker.

Before losing to Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game, Bill Belichick eloquently described Kruger's talents in great detail (via Scott Cacciola of The New York Times).

“He’s got good quickness. He plays strong. He’s long. He’s got good length to be able to be disruptive. He does a good job in pass coverage. Smart player. Pretty instinctive.”

It's often hard to break through Belichick's loquacious quotes, but he's saying that Kruger is a really good football player.

With a gigantic audience peeled to their TVs, Kruger can officially put his name on the map so even casual fans discover him.

A strong performance from Kruger is a pivotal key to stopping Colin Kaepernick in New Orleans. Can he pressure the young quarterback and prevent him from running wild in the pistol offense?

More than a week remains of exploiting the convenient narrative of Jim Harbaugh facing John Harbaugh—at least until everybody runs out of angles to explore. And when they do, all the attention will go to Lewis.

Luckily, all that goes out of the window once the two squads start playing football. Then we all can truly see who the difference makers are on the field.

Kruger had his coming out party throughout the latter portion of the season, but few took notice. By the end of the Super Bowl, millions of onlookers tuning in for the big game will learn his name.

And if all else fails, Kruger can just start dancing and crying until reporters flock to him.