We are mere hours away from Super Bowl XLVII and this article is a look at a key match-up that the Baltimore Ravens will have to win in order to be able to pull off the upset over the favored San Francisco 49ers.
One and a half months ago Justin Smith messed up his triceps, and his left arm is at about 50% health currently. The issue has forced him to miss time, and even though he is back he has to wear large equipment which when coupled with the fact that the arm is still injured and will require surgery has him playing a level below where he wants to be/should be. This guy is a major contributor for Jim Harbaugh and the Niners defense as he wreaks havoc on the defensive line and makes plays, plus he is fantastic at setting up plays for his teammates. He understands pass rushing and how to create lanes/angles for his linebacker teammates to get at the quarterback, plus he is very effective vs the run too.
Aldon Smith in particular benefits from Justin Smith’s strong play. In their first 13 games together this season both Smith’s were healthy and Aldon had dropped the opposing quarterback a whopping 19.5 times, but in the five games since Justin’s injury we have seen Aldon still be able to be somewhat effective but he has zero sacks over that span. This Ravens foe has always had a strong defense and good running game, but this edition of the Ravens is also featuring a hot passing game so Smith and Smith will need to work together to pressure and sack Joe Flacco (honestly, the Niners may need multiple sacks from this duo as the Ravens and Flacco are very hot).
San Fran is 9-3-1 when Justin Smith has 4+ tackles, and are 8-1-1 in the last 10 games that Justin and Aldon played together. The Ravens offensive line is re-vamped and the Smith’s will have veteran Bryant McKinnie, rookie Kelechi Osemele, and likely center Matt Birk to deal with on Super Bowl Sunday. The Ravens o-line is hot in the playoffs (major under-the-radar reason why the Ravens are AFC champs…article on both teams in the trenches is HERE), but I would submit that they have yet to face a challenge like Justin Smith (and by extension Aldon Smith). If McKinnie and Kelechi cannot lock down Flacco’s blindside protection then I go from liking the 49ers to win, to loving them to win.