These two squads will face off in a week in Super Bowl XLVII. Both teams are very similar philosophically, especially when it comes to their physical nature. Largely because of Ray Lewis, the Ravens have been one of the more notoriously difficult teams to run on this past decade.
He sets the tone up front and has a knack for getting in the head of the oppoVisual Viewnent. Lewis' fierce tackling style and field presence is a tremendous asset for Baltimore. However, beating Lewis - and thus this Ravens D - is mostly mental.
If they can ignore the jawing and intimidating ways on the field, and focus on beating them with an acute cerebral plan, it's the Niners game to lose. They are the younger, faster, stronger version of this Ravens team, in my opinion.
The challenge I see here for the 49ers is, in arm wrestling match, father always beats son and big brother always tops younger brother. But San Francisco is a team that puts blinders on and prides themselves on preparation.
First and foremost, a healthy dose of Frank Gore is advisable.
It will pain 49ers fans worldwide if No. 21 has less than 20 touches in this game. Not only does he deserve to get his carries, but the 49ers also have a winning record when he does. He is the difference-maker for this team.
Unfortunately, he didn't fare too well against the Ravens in 2011, carrying only 14 times for 39 yards (2.8 YPA). And that was without Ray Lewis in the lineup. But this team has evolved quite a bit since that game, and I expect Gore to be running with his hair on fire come February 3rd.
I also think this is a game for the read-option. Even though it's an untraditional 3-4 system, the Ravens do run a 3-4. San Francisco had great success against Green Bay's over-aggressive 3-4 scheme.
The Packers had their outside linebackers playing downhill, but often, they over-pursued the play and it left gaping holes on the edges that were easily filled by a blocking tight ends or pulling guards.
San Francisco would be wise to employ the read-option against Baltimore, challenging the discipline of this veteran defense, as well as its age. These linebackers want you running in between the tackles. They are the type that wants you in a phone booth, so they can box you in and rough you up.
For a game like this, it would be nice to stretch this defense out by getting to the perimeter. The 49ers might like to put an emphasis on getting the ball outside, relying on their strong edge protectors and athletic pulling guards.
While I reiterate that Gore needs to be a featured contributor this game, there is plenty of room for LaMichael James to get involved.
James is the guy to get the ball outside, running counters and stretches, tiring out this defense. The average age of the Ravens LB corps is 30 years, with Ray Lewis (37) and Terrell Suggs (30) as the two eldest starters. They do not want to be running down an agile sprinter like James sideline-to-sideline.
Now that we've covered the running backs, I'd like to talk a bit about the offensive line as we close here.
San Francisco's guys are absolute maulers. They are also battle-tested, going against the Arizona and Seattle defensive lines four games out of the year, amongst other strong inter-division opponents.
One of the team's greatest assets is this lines ability to road-grade their opponent and create freeway-sized lanes for runners. From left to right, the 49ers are strong with their front five. They are also sharp, fundamental and thorough in their assignments.
They need to be able to isolate No. 55 and No. 52 in this one. They must put an emphasis on blocking down on those linebackers, dividing them from the play. Haloti Ngata is also a disruptive force of a man that will need to be neutralized. With Suggs, Lewis and Ngata manning the strong side, the 49ers may want to run right.
This could be a big day for 2010 first-rounders Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. With Davis setting the right edge and Iupati pulling, San Francisco can find some success running at that side.