As close as Jim Harbaugh and staff like to keep things to the vest, it's no surprise that they sometimes, well, surprise us. You see, they like to keep things in their back pocket until the last possible second, then pull them out when nobody suspects a thing. It's kind of like lulling the opponent to sleep, taking punches for multiple rounds until they think they've got you figured out...then unleashing hell.
While it's true that teams took Vernon Davis out of the equation for much of the season, one could argue that great coaches like Harbaugh and Greg Roman should still be able to find ways to use a guy like Davis even when the opponent is trying to stop them. Of course, the benefit of having everyone think they can take a guy away is that they least expect it when you make him a big part of your plan.
That's what Davis saw happen in the NFC Championship game vs. Atlanta, who decided to key-in on the 49ers read-option and take Colin Kaepernick's running threat away. They saw Green Bay get carved-up and run all over while playing man coverage, so they vowed not to let that happen to them. Well, that didn't work out so well as Kap found the likely-forgotten Davis all over the field for a big day.
As we head into Super Bowl 2013 vs. the Baltimore Ravens, I started thinking of unlikely heroes, surprise performances that we could see as part of a genius master-plan hatched by the 49ers mad-scientist coaching staff. Wouldn't it just be so fitting to see someone rarely mentioned in all of the media coverage, someone who is just a blip on the stat sheet, have a huge day in the big game?
Take Randy Moss for instance. People have started to accept that the old man has lost a step, even while they compliment him for being smart and saying he can "still run". Everyone knows Moss wasn't a big part of the 49ers offense this season. He's the decoy, right?
Well what if we saw Moss come right out of the gate and catch a long pass where Baltimore forgot about him, instead focusing on the more well-documented contributors? What if Moss has a huge day, all over the secondary catching passes, short, intermediate, deep...what if Baltimore has no answer for him?
That would probably be the ultimate long-con. Having a guy like Moss on the team. Everyone figures he must be able to still fly, that he'll be a part of the deep passing game that you have to account for. Then he goes through the season and is hardly a factor on the field. People start to realize he's just a distraction for guys like Davis, Michael Crabtree and Colin Kaepernick...designed to pull coverage players away from these other guys.
Then just about the time the Ravens stop spending time watching film on how Moss can be used, figuring that they have an answer for everything they've seen thus-far...the 49ers pull out things that nobody saw all year and Moss is burning DBs all night long.
Another potential surprise is Justin Smith, yes, Justin Smith. Everyone knows Smith is a stud on the defense, but we've heard for weeks and weeks now that his triceps tear is limiting him, that he's not himself, that Aldon Smith has suffered as a result. They doubt that he'll be able to have a huge impact in this game with an injury that will require surgery immediately after the Super Bowl.
But how's Smith's recovery going these past two weeks? Perhaps he's closer to full strength than anyone thinks. Maybe Baltimore will decide to single-team each of the Smiths due to a perception that Justin just isn't himself...only to "experience the power of this fully operational Death-Star!"
What if that's been part of the rhetoric this whole lead-up to the big game? Maybe the 49ers and Smith have been playing-up this injury in order to gain a competitive advantage. Now, there's no way that Smith has played at lower strength on purpose for some sort of snow-job, but the hype of this injury is mentioned every five minutes. It's got to be in the back of the mind of Baltimore's offensive line.
Lastly, I wonder if a guy like Delanie Walker could have a huge game. Walker has had documented issues with drops and isn't nearly the player that Vernon Davis is, at least in the perception department. You can't defend the entire field on every play, and defenses take chances. If it were me, I'd rather leave Walker with more space than Davis, LaMichael James, Frank Gore, Kaepernick, etc.
If Walker can hang-on to some pases, he might find himself open a lot on Sunday, and it's just the type of game-plan that Roman might come up with if the Ravens scheme to focus on Davis and others.
What kind of surprise performances do you see?
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