We know about the quarterbacks.
We know about the linebackers.
And everyone has heard about the sibling rivalry with the coaches.
Super Bowl XLVII will be decided by the “big uglies,” the “athletic fat men,” the five often overlooked players on the offensive lines. The 49ers and the Ravens have some of the best linemen in the NFL on both sides of the ball, making Sunday’s game an intriguing and exciting contest. But only one team can hold the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the day, and whichever team can control the line of scrimmage has the advantage to go down in history as Super Bowl XLVII champions.
49er Offensive Line vs. Ravens Defensive Line
While Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and the read option offense garners attention in the run game and Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Randy Moss get publicity for the passing game, San Francisco’s offensive linemen are the real stars when the 49ers have the ball.
Left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati make up what might be the best tandem in the NFL. The only tandem that might have been better would be Anthony Davis and Alex Boone, San Francisco’s right tackle and guard, respectively. Center Jonathan Goodwin is the least-talked about of the starting five, but is still one of the best in the business.
There are no weak links along this chain. The biggest problem may be some inconsistencies on pass protection, but all five starting linemen would start on every other team in the NFL. You can’t say that about many players, let alone an entire group.
The Ravens defense has been a much talked about point for Baltimore, but while most of the attention focuses on middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ impending retirement and the future of unrestricted free agent Ed Reed, the defensive line is where the success starts.
Outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs are stout against the run and even more dangerous rushing the passer, while linemen Arthur Jones, Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Haloti Ngata occupy offensive linemen to allow Lewis to make plays.
In the 2012 regular season, the Ravens defensive line ranked 10th in rushing the passer, but sixth-worst against the run by FootballOutsiders. Granted, outside linebacker/defensive end Suggs is only now looking 100 percent after an Achilles tear last year and a biceps injury this season. Those rankings might not be a true indication of how this Ravens defense is playing right now, but the San Francisco offensive line has been playing stellar all season and should be able to open holes for runners and provide Kaepernick time to find receivers.
When the two teams played in the inaugural Harbaugh Bowl on Thanksgiving Day in 2011, the Ravens beat the visiting 49ers thanks in large part to nine sacks and general harassment of the San Francisco quarterback by the Baltimore defensive front seven. But San Francisco's quarterback was Alex Smith, not Kaepernick, and Adam Smith was the right guard, not Boone.
Ravens Offensive Line vs. 49ers Defensive Line
Many outlets have mentioned how the Baltimore offense clicked since Cam Cameron was fired as offensive coordinator. Before the playoffs, the Ravens moved Michael Oher (of “The Blind Side” fame) from left tackle to right, put rookie Kelechi Osemele at left guard and brought Bryant McKinnie off the bench to start on the blind side. Rounding out the line is veteran Matt Birk at center and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.
The group has allowed four sacks in three playoff games against the Colts, Broncos and Patriots. Denver and New England have formidable defenses, and for very different reasons—the Patriots were second-best in the league stopping short-yardage situations while the Broncos boasted the NFL’s best pass rushing unit. Robert Mathis, who has 91.5 sacks in his career, registered a sack for the Colts in the Wild Card game, but fellow bookend Dwight Freeney, who is the Colts all-time sack leader with 106.5 sacks, did not register a single tackle.
In the Division Round against Denver, the Ravens line surrendered one sack late in the double-overtime thriller, and that came in the overtime period to Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos finished the 2012 regular season as the best defensive line against the pass in the NFL according to FootballOutsiders.
The Patriots were the second-best defensive front in short-yardage run situations in 2012, according to FootballOutsiders. In the AFC Championship game, the Ravens were able to convert five first downs and one touchdown with a run play when the desired yardage was 2-yards or less. That means the Baltimore offensive line was able to handle the Patriot d-linemen and linebackers in short yardage,
a group that was ranked as the second-best in the NFL defending short yardage runs.
The Ravens were able to hold off formidable pass rushers in the first two playoff games and were able to push a solid run-stopping defense in the AFC Championship game.
The San Francisco defensive line ranked squarely in the middle-of-the-pack against the run in 2012, according to FootballOutsiders. The 49ers linebackers do a tremendous job of filling running lanes and taking down running backs. Defensive end Justin Smith missed two games this season with a triceps injury, but San Francisco defensive line coach Jim Tomsula said Smith could have played every game this year. Ray McDonald, the other end, has four sacks in the playoffs. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga clogs the middle and eats up blockers, helping others around him to make tackles.
While San Francisco has a better offensive line, Baltimore's front seven is good and getting better throughout the playoffs. The 49ers defensive line is just OK, with the real stars being the linebacking corps. The Ravens offensive line has hit its stride in the postseason and should help Ray Lewis ride off into the sunset with a championship ring.