There has been much talk in the run-up to the Super Bowl about how the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are vastly different teams. From the style of their quarterbacks to their effectiveness at stopping the run and everything in between, it's as though two polar opposites will be facing off on Sunday in New Orleans.
However, the Ravens and 49ers have a lot more in common than you'd think at first glance, something well illustrated by this particularly illuminating infographic by Ben Willers and Tom Wuckovich at thevisua.ly blog:
All of these numbers are interesting, particularly their points-per-game and touchdowns-per-game averages—similarities that seem to point to the Super Bowl being a close and potentially high-scoring affair, and therefore highly compelling.
The commonalities between their rushing yards per game by their running backs as well as their total catches and average first downs per game also speak to the Niners and Ravens being well-matched teams for one another. Though the offensive styles may be disparate, what each of their offenses accomplish on a per-game basis are quite similar.
Of note, however, is that all of the numbers presented in the graphic save interceptions are offensive statistics. On defense is where the two teams especially differ. From the yards allowed per game—307.7 for the Niners to 361.1 for the Ravens—to points allowed—18.2 for the 49ers and 21.1 to the Ravens—this may end up being what decides Sunday's game.
There are other defensive similarities between the Ravens and 49ers, however. Though the Niners have been praised all season for their pass rush, while the Ravens have been met with disappointment for their seeming lack of one, the two teams ended the regular season with nearly identical sack totals, with 38 for San Francisco to 37 for Baltimore.
It's just that 19.5 of San Francisco's sacks came via one man, linebacker Aldon Smith, while the Ravens' were more spread out among their defenders. Though linebacker Paul Kruger led the team with 13, only safety Ed Reed and cornerback Jimmy Smith had no sacks on the year while being starters at their positions for half of the season or longer.
The perception that the Niners are better at getting to opposing quarterbacks seems to be just that—a perception, one that has been fueled by the explosive Smith getting ample attention and praise while the relatively unknown Kruger hasn't yet seen the spotlight.
Really, the only major difference between these two teams are their quarterbacks. The Ravens have Joe Flacco, a fifth-year veteran who has helped his team reach the playoffs every season he's been in Baltimore. The Niners, in contrast, have second-year player Colin Kaepernick under center—and his second-year status is simply a technicality, as he didn't see starting work until the midway point of this season.
Flacco is a pocket passer who averaged 245.8 passing yards per game this year, while Kaepernick is a dual-threat run-and-pass "quarterback of the future" who nevertheless averaged only 128.3 passing yards through his 18 games. Impressively, however, Kaepernick threw only four total interceptions on the year to 13 passing touchdowns, while Flacco had 10 total picks and 30 touchdowns. Obviously, however, Kaepernick's interceptions are so low because he is able to run away from pressure in situations where quarterbacks like Flacco might try to force a risky throw.
Not surprisingly, Kaepernick far outshone Flacco this year when it came to rushing yards. Kaepernick has run with the ball 80 times through his 18 games, for 617 yards and seven scores while Flacco's runs are simple scrambles—40 of them, totaling just 38 yards but also producing three touchdowns.
The overall differences between the Ravens and Niners, therefore, aren't all that great, but rather a matter of degree. One Ravens offensive lineman may have allowed fewer sacks than his Niners counterpart, or one Niners receiver may average more yards per reception than a Ravens wideout, and these are certainly factors that will help determine the outcome of the game—because they'll have to.
The more nuanced differences—quarterbacks aside—are all there are to separate the 49ers and Ravens in this year's Super Bowl. In the bigger picture, these are two strikingly similar teams.