Earlier this week, I took a few minutes to talk Super Bowl 47 with Bruce Raffel over at Baltimore Beatdown. I answered some of his questions, which you can check out over there. In the meantime, I shot a few questions over to Bruce, and here is what he had to say.
Ravens defensive cheat sheet | Ravens special teams cheat sheet
Niners Nation: During the offseason, Joe Flacco made the much discussed comment about thinking he was a top-five QB. With his contract status up in the air, and three wins "over" Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, what do we make of Flacco heading into the Super Bowl?
Baltimore Beatdown: If you had asked me my opinion of Flacco throughout the regular season and specifically during the late-season losing streak, I would have said Joe was an average NFL QB: Great one game and horrible the next equates to average. However, after outplaying Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in successive weeks, the last two on the road, I can definitely see him turning the corner and perhaps being mentioned in the discussion of the best in the league.'however, it will take a Super Bowl win or at least a great game to keep him in that discussion.
NN: Bernard Pierce has gotten a lot of looks during the playoffs. Has this been going on all season, or has Pierce stepped up his game in the playoffs? Tell us a bit about what he brings to the table opposite Ray Rice.
BB: Pierce gave us flashes of his ability throughout the season but not like he has in the playoffs. While he won't be replacing Ray Rice anytime soon, he offers a solid complement with size and strength as well as deceptive speed and agility that allows the team to keep Rice fresh all game long.
NN: Brother storyline aside, John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh have both done great things quickly in their head coaching careers. What kind of coach is John and what kind of strengths and weaknesses does he have?
BB: John is so well-liked by his players, mainly for treating his players as equals, listening to them and willing to adjust for their experience and veteran leadership. He is animated, perhaps not as much as brother Jim, but enough to get his players to buy into his leadership and motivation. His weakness has been clock management, use of timeouts and when to throw the challenge flags.
NN: How has Ray Lewis performed since his return from a triceps injury? How much does his motivational ability help this team?
BB: There is no question about Ray Lewis' ability to get his teammates to be willing to go to war for him, but his recent play has been nothing short of amazing. 44 tackles in the Ravens three post season games comes out to almost 15 per game, outstanding for even the best young players in the league and 18more than the next best playoff totals this year. Despite his ange and injury, he still knows what the offense will be calling better than anyone else in the game and if he hasn't signed a deal with the devil, then he definitely has an "in" with a higher authority the way he has played since returning form his injury.
NN: What are the weaknesses of the Ravens defense?
BB: Baltimore employs a bend-but-don't-break defense, giving up a ton of yards between the 20's but getting real stingy when backed up against their own Red Zone. That said, they have problems defending the opponent's tight ends and especially over the middle on the crossing patterns and the deeper middle as well, mostly due to their linebackers inabilities to drop into pass coverage.
NN: What is the best way to deal with Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin? Beyond those two, are there other specific credible threats in the Ravens passing attack?
BB: The Ravens receivers and QB Joe Flacco have trouble with both the Cover 2 as well as press coverage. Knocking Torrey Smith off his pattern slows him down and Boldin is not the fastest and therefore tends to have problems breaking away from physical coverage. However, tight end Dennis Pitta is quietly becoming a matchup nightmare and has hands of glue, as well as becoming Flacco's go-to receiver in crunch times as well as near the goal line.
NN: What is your prediction for winner and score, and why?
BB: To me, winning on the road in Denver and New England is a tougher task than beating San Francisco on a neutral field. The 49ers defense has been susceptible to big plays and while Kaepernick provides a multiple challenge, I think the Ravens can figure out a way to defend his big plays.The way the Ravens are playing right now, it's hard to see them losing this game and I believe it will be as physical a game on both sides of the ball for both teams as we've seen in a long time. Pure, old-school football fans should be in heaven watching this street-brawl, but while it stay close to the end, the Ravens pull away late in the 4th quarter to finish of this fairy-tale Last Ride for Ray Lewis and fulfill their destiny with a 27-16 victory.
Want to join the Niners Nation discussion? Register for free (no spam!). Make sure and follow us on Twitter @ninersnation and Like us on Facebook to get the full experience in what hopefully leads to Lombardi No. 6 in New Orleans!