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Jim Harbaugh’s “old school” philosophy is just one reason to like his team’s chances to win on Feb. 3
Super Bowl XLVII is set for Sunday, Feb. 3, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. While the majority of the focus has been on the matchup up between the sons of Jack Harbaugh, this Har-Bowl (or Super Baugh, if you prefer) will be decided on the field by the teams that are led by John and Jim, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
Here are five reasons why Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers will maintain the franchise’s perfect Super Bowl record by bringing home a sixth Lombardi Trophy:
1. Youth Will Be Served
It should not be much of a surprise to note that Baltimore and San Francisco are among the oldest teams in the NFL, as age and experience are typically two elements necessary for success. According to STATS, the Ravens and 49ers were three of the six oldest teams in the league based on the average age of their rosters at the end of the regular season, both coming in around 27 ½ years old.
However, it’s no stretch to say that the Ravens’ roster has a little more gray on it than the 49ers, especially when it comes to key positions. For starters, the Ravens have nine players who have played in 10 or more NFL seasons, headlined by 17-year veteran Ray Lewis. Lewis is joined in this distinction by fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Ed Reed, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and offensive linemen Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie. All six are starters.
The 49ers, on the other hand, have seven players with more than a decade’s worth of experience, but only three — defensive lineman Justin Smith, wide receiver Randy Moss, offensive lineman Jonathan Goodwin — of theirs are starters, although you could include kicker David Akers in this group if you wanted to.
Even though Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco is by no means an “old” quarterback at 28, he’s still got three years on his counterpart, the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick. Since the 2001 season, younger starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl are 9-2 versus their older peers. The only two victories by the older signal caller during this span were courtesy of Peyton Manning (30 at the time) over Rex Grossman (26) in Super Bowl XLI and Aaron Rodgers (31) over Ben Roethlisberger (28) in Super Bowl XLV.
Despite that loss to the Rodgers and the Packers, Roethlisberger is still the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl when he helped his Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL at the ripe old age of 23. In fact, if Kaepernick can do the same for his 49ers against the Ravens he will join a pretty impressive club of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks 25 and under. Besides Roethlisberger, this group includes Tom Brady (24 when he won his first), Joe Montana and Joe Namath (both 25).
For what it’s worth, youth also is on the side of the 49ers when it comes to head coaches, as Jim Harbaugh is a year younger than his older brother, John. Big brother does have a 1-0 edge on his younger sibling in head-to-head matchups, as the Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6 on Thanksgiving Day in 2011. However, everyone knows that this time and this game, is and will be different.
2. Kaepernick’s Legs Just as Important as His Arm
In his first two career playoff games, Colin Kaepernick is averaging 248 yards passing and 101 yards rushing per contest. He set a new rushing standard for quarterbacks when he gained 181 on the ground against Green Bay in the NFC Divisional round. He followed that up with a mere 21 yards rushing in the NFC Championship game against Atlanta, but those numbers tell only part of the story.
As a team, the 49ers picked up 149 yards rushing on 29 carries against the Falcons. Kaepernick had only two of those carries, even though the 49ers used the read option 13 times. On the plays when Kaepernick handed off rather than keeping it himself, the running backs averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and scored three touchdowns.
During the regular season, teams with quarterbacks similar to Kaepernick, dual threats who can make plays with their arm and legs, put up fairly large numbers on the Ravens, while also defeating them in the process. Michael Vick had more than 400 yards of total offense and accounted for two touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 24-23 win in Week 2, while Robert Griffin III had 276 and a score in helping the Redskins pull out a 31-28 overtime victory in Week 14. The Ravens not only have to try and contain Kaepernick, they also can’t afford to focus all of their defensive efforts and game planning solely on stopping him.
It’s also worth pointing out that the last time the 49ers won a Super Bowl, they had a dual-threat quarterback running the offense. Eighteen years ago, Steve Young took home MVP honors in Super Bowl XXIX in when he threw a record six touchdown passes and led all rushers with 49 yards en route to an easy 49-26 victory over San Diego.
3. San Francisco’s "Old School" Approach
Even though this postseason has served as Colin Kaepernick’s coming out party, the 49ers are still winning games the way they always have under Jim Harbaugh – by running the ball and playing stifling defense. San Francisco finished fourth in the NFL in the regular season in rushing with 155.7 yards per game and averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
The ground game’s production has been even more impressive in the playoffs, as they have piled up 472 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns in two games and are averaging 6.6 yards per carry. While the highlight so far may be Kaepernick’s quarterback-record 181 yards rushing versus Green Bay, he’s not the only who has gotten the job done on the ground.
Running back Frank Gore is third in the playoffs with 209 yards rushing and leads all players with three rushing touchdowns, while backups LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon have each chipped in a ground score of their own. Between Gore’s ability to run between the tackles, Kaepernick’s mobility, James’ game-breaking speed and explosiveness, and the strength of the offensive line, the 49ers’ ground game has all the elements needed to cause any defense headaches.
To make matters worse, the Ravens have had more than their share of struggles in stopping the run throughout the season. They finished the regular season 20th against the run, allowing 122.8 yards per game, but fared even worse against some of the league’s top rushing teams.
The Ravens yielded 179 yards rushing to the Redskins, who led the NFL in rushing, along with 214 to the Chiefs (fifth) and 181 to the Texans (eighth) during the regular season. They also gave up 227 yards on the ground to the Cowboys, who were second-to-last in rushing during the regular season, and have allowed an average of 128.3 yards rushing per game in the playoffs.
4. Defense Wins Championships
As well as Baltimore’s defense has played in getting to New Orleans, San Francisco’s defense certainly can’t be overlooked. Similar to the Ravens, who beat Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to win the AFC title, the 49ers had to defeat two Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan) to win their conference championship.
On top of that, the 49ers’ defense was one of the top units in the NFL during the regular season, finishing second in scoring defense, third in total defense and fourth in both rushing and passing defense. Six 49er defensive players were named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster; five of them as starters, and this unit is well represented on this year’s AP All-Pro team as well.
All four starting linebackers were named All-Pros with NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis earning first team honors and Ahmad Brooks getting named to the second team. They are joined by safety Dashon Goldson (first team) and defensive tackle Justin Smith (second) on the AP’s All-Pro teams. Contrast this amount of defensive “star” power, if you will, to the Ravens, who placed just two defensive players on the AFC Pro Bowl squad – defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and safety Ed Reed – with Ngata the only Raven earning All-Pro (second team) distinction.
Based on the number of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros, the argument can be made that the 49ers’ defense is deeper and more talented, and it certainly is younger when you consider the fact that the Ravens’ key playmakers on that side of the ball are long-time veterans like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ngata and Reed.
And while he doesn’t line up on defense, San Francisco punter Andy Lee plays a vital role as it applies to helping the 49ers win the field position battle. Lee tied Thomas Morstead for the league lead in net punting (43.2 ypp), while placing more than half (36 of 67) of his kicks inside the 20. He had just four touchbacks and opponents averaged less than seven yards per return on his punts during the regular season.
Not surprisingly, Lee was named first-team All-Pro for the second season in a row and the third time overall in his career. He has kept up his fine work in the playoffs, including the NFC title game versus Atlanta. Against the Falcons, Lee averaged more than 50 yards per punt on his three kicks, including a long of 62. Besides producing a net average of 48.3 yards per punt, Falcons punt returner Harry Douglas managed a grand a total of six return yards on Lee’s three kicks.
5. Dome-Field Advantage?
Even though San Francisco plays its home games on grass at Candlestick Park, this will not be the 49ers’ first game indoors this season or even their first on the field where Super Bowl XLVII will be played. Besides beating Atlanta in the Georgia Dome in the NFC Championship game, San Francisco defeated New Orleans 31-21 in the Superdome back in Week 12.
San Francisco also faced St. Louis the following week in the Edward Jones Dome, a game the 49ers lost 16-13 in overtime, but perhaps the most important fact regarding this is that quarterback Colin Kaepernick started all three of these indoor games.
On the other side there is Baltimore, who has not played a true indoor game all season. The Ravens did play Houston at Reliant Stadium, which has a retractable roof, back in Week 7. But whether the roof was closed or not mattered little, as the Ravens suffered by far their worst loss of the season, a 43-13 beat down courtesy of the Texans.
Obviously much has changed since that Oct. 21 contest for the Ravens, not to mention the 49ers, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with having some familiarity with the field where you will play the biggest game of the season, no?
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.