A Look at the Super Bowl XLVII Trenches
Super Bowl XLVII - In The Trenches
Super Bowl XLVII features two teams that have very hot offensive lines, but they have been assembled very differently. The Baltimore Ravens not only made a change with their offensive coordinator late in the season, but recently John Harbaugh and his staff made massive changes to their offensive line, while the San Francisco 49ers have been very good all season long and have started the same guys week in and week out for Jim Harbaugh.
This slideshow article is a look at the big fellas on both offensive lines that will be called on to lead the way for their squads running game and passing game on Sunday. Football games are won and lost in the trenches, and while both lines are playing great football they will each be tested in this game.
Ma'ake Kemoeatu has been a remarkable story as the Ravens nose tackle this season, and he is getting better and better vs the run. Right beside him on the defensive line is Haloti Ngata, and the 6'4" 330 pounder is awesome. Right behind those two is a great linebacker group (article on Ravens linebackers is HERE) where guys like Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe make it difficult to run the football while Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs have to be accounted for in pass protection. This group is likely the healthiest it had been all season and they have been really good in the playoffs.
This 49ers defense is also no joke, in fact this group had a whopping four players named to the Pro Bowl from their front seven. The 49ers can create havoc in the trenches, and they are at their best when defensive end Justin Smith does his thing. Their other defensive end is Ray McDonald and he is underrated for his ability to force the opposing quarback to make a decision with the football quicker than he wanted to. Both ends can be good in the trenches and create pressure for the Niners defense. This allows guys like NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, and Aldon Smith to be able to roam and make plays. This front seven, like the Ravens, can be dominant and are surely being counted on by their team in this game.
The only safeties likely to see action in the trenches are Ed Reed and/or Bernard Pollard as the Ravens will blitz with them way more often than the 49ers will send their safeties.
Let's take a look at the offensive lineman that will have be awesome on Super Bowl Sunday...
6'8" 360 pound veteran Bryant McKinnie was a fixture for years at left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and recently the Baltimore Ravens (2011 free-agent addition by Baltimore) but this season he had been coming off the bench. One of the many changes that the Ravens made to their offensive line as the playoffs began was inserting McKinnie back into a starter role at left tackle. In his three playoff games McKinnie has been very good, then good, then poor so we will watch him closely on Sunday as he has seemed to decline to me.
49ers stud Joe Staley (6'5" 315 pounds) is an awesome left tackle who is a better pass blocker than I think his reputation may suggest, but no doubt he is an excellent run blocker with experience at both tackle spots and has excelled lately on the left side of the line. Staley is a former first rounder who has had a forearm issue recently that seems to be improving.
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In the second round (no.60 overall) of the 2012 NFL draft the Ravens drafted Kelechi Osemele out of Iowa State and he is one of their lineman that has had the big changes in the playoffs. The 6'5" 335 pounder started all season at right tackle, but in the playoffs he has become their left guard and he has been fairly good in that role. His pass protection has been good, but his run blocking will likely need to go to the next level on Sunday.
In 2010 the Niners used the no.17 overall pick to pluck 6'5" 335 pound Mike Iupati from the University of Idaho and he has been a steady starter ever since. It does seem like his pass protection has slightly declined lately, but that may be nit picking as he still has great potential in that area plus he is a wonderful run blocker. Iupati is one of the better guards in the NFL.
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Matt Birk has been getting after it in NFL trenches for a whopping 14 seasons, and he starts every game like a champ. The 36 year old is a 6'4" 310 pounder who joined the Ravens as a free-agent in 2009, and while his best days are behind him this guy continues to be a warrior for the Ravens. He still does a very good job of keeping attackers off of Joe Flacco, and clearly that will have to be the case on Super Bowl Sunday. The veteran does a good job as a run blocker when called on (Ravens run to the sides more than up the middle).
In 2011 the 49ers added 6'3" 320 pound center Jonathan Goodwin, and the 34 year old provides a veteran presence on this line. For the most part this season Goodwin was very good as a run blocker (often great) but he did struggle a bit in that area to close the regular season. Overall it seemed like he was good, not great, in the Niners run to the NFC title. It is likely that when the Ravens blitz they will come from the edges so for the most part I would think that Goodwin's role on Sunday will be mainly to block for Frank Gore.
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The 49ers have some fantastic offensive lineman, but I think that 6'3" 315 pound right guard Marshal Yanda is the best lineman suiting up on Super Bowl Sunday. I also think he is currently the best right guard in the National Football League as this guy allowed zero sacks, and he is excellent as a run blocker and pass protector. There are a handful of right guards that are better run blockers, and a handful that are better pass blockers, but Yanda is the only one who would be top five in both categories. The 28 year old is awesome now, and is under contract through 2015 so the Ravens will benefit from his skills for a while.
Alex Boone is a great story as he is a guy who struggled with alcohol issues that led to him going undrafted, and despite being an offensive tackle all of his life he made the switch this season to right guard and the results have been that he is the final piece of the puzzle that makes the 49ers offensive line a true Super Bowl caliber unit. Boone is a solid pass blocker, and an excellent run blocker who is under contract through 2015. This is one guy you don't want to see in space if you are a defender as he is looking to attack you with his mass and physicality.
The irony is evident as Michael Oher is no longer the blind side protector for Joe Flacco. The 6'4" 315 pound 26 year old has played a lot of right tackle in his career, including a tiny bit this season, but he had spent the vast majority of this season as the Ravens left tackle before being moved to right tackle just a few weeks ago. As a right tackle it seems like his run blocking needs work, while his pass protection has been better and better. Oher should be able to benefit from playing beside the best right guard in the NFL (Yanda).
In the same 2010 draft where the 49ers added Mike Iupati they also added Anthony Davis to their line with the no.11 overall pick. He became an instant starter, but he struggled at times in his first two seasons. This year was by far his best season, and really by any standard he had a great campaign. The 6'5" 325 pounder is just 23 years old and his present is great, plus his future could be massive. He is one of the rare players on this 49ers line that can be beat, but overall I would still say he is a good pass blocker. In December and January Davis has been a wonderful run blocker for the Niners.
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