If the 49ers can put consistent pressure on Joe Flacco, they will be in a great position to win the Super Bowl. Conversely, if the Ravens can slow down Colin Kaepernick, they will be in a position to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
If both of these things occur, we are in for a defensive battle.
My point is, there are a few key matchups that will go a long way towards determining the winner of the "HarBowl."
Aldon Smith vs. Bryant McKinnie
The 49ers have to generate some pressure on Joe Flacco. While this is a team effort, the 49ers pass rush relies almost exclusively on Aldon Smith.
His 19.5 sacks represent over half of the 49ers' total for the regular season.
While the 49ers will move Smith all over the front of their defense, he predominantly lines up over the left tackle. This will leave the task of stopping him on Bryant McKinnie.
McKinnie, 33, spent most of the Ravens' season on the bench, but he has emerged as the starter during the playoffs after Michael Oher struggled to protect Joe Flacco's blind side (oh, the irony) and was moved to right tackle.
McKinnie has looked great in the starting lineup. He is a massive tackle, but he moves his feet well, which he will have to do to slow down the speedy Smith.
If McKinnie can handle Smith one on one, this will free up the Ravens offense to send out more receivers in routes and exploit a vulnerable 49ers secondary.
Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin vs. 49ers Secondary
The 49ers have an outstanding defense, but it is not without its weaknesses. That begins with the secondary.
If San Francisco allows an opposing quarterback time to throw, this secondary can be exploited, and that starts on the outside.
Corners Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver are a solid group, but there are no standouts here. Rogers, 31, has a lost a step, Brown is a solid No. 2 and Culliver, 24, has shown glimpses, but is still a bit inconsistent.
All of the negative aspects of this group were on vivid display last week, as the Falcons' Julio Jones and Roddy White combined for 18 catches, 282 yards and two touchdowns.
Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith offer a similar challenge. If the 49ers let that pair run around wide open like they did White and Jones last week, San Francisco is in for a long day.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Ravens Defense
Containing Colin Kaepernick is truly a team effort. As it is with any quarterback, slowing him down starts with a good pass rush and tight coverage in the secondary.
However, with Kaepernick's ability to pull the ball and run and the 49ers' incorporation of the read option, the entire defense must stay on its toes.
This means defensive ends have to not only try and get pressure, but contain Kaepernick to keep him from breaking outside for big plays.
The linebackers come into play as well. Ray Lewis and company have to quickly diagnose the read option to make tackles near the line of scrimmage while also not rushing in too quickly and making them vulnerable to play-action passes.
The Ravens have two weeks to prepare for Kaepernick. It is going to be a blast to see if they have devised a way to slow down this dynamic dual-threat quarterback.
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