With the narratives accompanying the Baltimore Ravens 2012 playoff run, you’d think Ray Lewis is playing at the level he played at when the Ravens won Super Bowl 35 and he was named Super Bowl MVP. But is he?
There’s no denying that the Ravens have been riding out something special with the sad truth that their leader, and the greatest player to ever don the purple and black, won’t be back with them next season. Teams have been known to play above their heads when they’re playing with a greater purpose, and as important as winning a Super Bowl is to any player to ever step onto an NFL field, the team that found themselves floundering just a month ago as they had dropped four of the final five games of the season, is 60 minutes from being crowned champions.
But as badly as this Ravens defense wants to win for their leaders Lewis and the his Hall of Fame bound buddy Ed Reed, it’s the San Francisco 49ers defense who should be receiving national attention heading into the big game.
After a regular season in which they gave up the third least yards in the NFL, the 49ers boast top-five defenses both against the run and the pass. And although they really haven’t had the same success developing a pass rush in the postseason, or towards the end of the regular season as they got thrashed by teams like the Seahawks and Patriots, not to mention getting shredded by both Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs, the Niners have gotten great pressure in big situations, and have come up with timely turnovers to get their red hot offense back on the field.
And that’s where the questions begin to come in.
While comparing the two defenses, you have to take into consideration who they’re going to be going up against. While Joe Flacco is having as good of a postseason as any quarterback has had in recent memory, the Niners have been great at stabilizing the run, and have made more traditional stand in the pocket quarterbacks feel pressured with great pass rushers in Aldon Smith and Justin Smith.
On the flip-side the Ravens defense had a hard time this year against mobile quarterbacks, surrendering huge games to both Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III in losses to the Eagles and Redskins. And while you can make the case that the 49ers receivers aren’t as strong as either the Patriots or the Broncos – the last two teams Baltimore had to defeat to get into the Super Bowl – San Francisco has an incredible offensive line to open up holes for not only Colin Kaepernick, but for Frank Gore, who rushed for a career-high 1,214 yards this season.
The Ravens always boast a very competitive defense, and as good as they looked against the Patriots in the AFC Championship, it’s been Flacco and the offense that have carried them to this Super Bowl. And while you could say the same for the 49ers and their offense really prevailing in January, they’ve had a top-five defense the last two seasons, and are younger, faster, and stingier than the 11 men being led by Lewis and Reed.
It’ll be interesting to see if momentum is on Baltimore’s side come Sunday, but if things continue to play out the way they did in the 2012 season, it should be the 49ers defense that steals Lewis and the Ravens thunder.
They play the games for a reason.
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