The Baltimore Ravens have hurdled several obstacles as a team and as individuals this season.
Perhaps the biggest loss was for receiver Torrey Smith, who played on despite the death of his brother. Linebacker Ray Lewis announced his retirement, has been an integral part in this postseason run, and is now accused of taking performance enhancing drugs to recover from a torn triceps muscle that kept him out of 12 games.
Quarterback Joe Flacco brought on criticism for placing himself amongst the NFL elite quarterbacks, despite no trip to the Super Bowl, let alone a ring. The offense sputtered with considerable talent, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was let go, with Jim Caldwell promoted.
All of those story lines could have submarined a number of teams in the NFL, but the Ravens persevered, and will face the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at the Mercedes Superdome in New Orleans in Super Bowl XLVII.
Below are four more obstacles standing in Baltimore and head coach John Harbaugh’s championship path.
Make Kaepernick One Dimensional
The surprising play of second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been a huge X-Factor for the 49ers and their first trip back to the Super Bowl since 1995.
The Nevada alum broke records with his rushing ability against the Green Bay Packers and how Baltimore contains him on the run could decide Sunday’s game.
Baltimore went 1-2 in games against mobile quarterbacks this season. In Week 2 versus Philadelphia, Michael Vick rushed for 34 yards and one score in a Ravens loss, and Washington’s Robert Griffin III also ran for 34 yards in a victory.
The Ravens did beat Tony Romo and Dallas in Week 6. Romo is known more for his ability to extend plays with his legs, and the Cowboys had a chance to win late, but poor clock management negated Romo’s 261 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Baltimore should also look at how the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks each contained Kaepernick’s passing. Both teams kept his passer rating below 90, and his average pass was under seven yards per completion. San Francisco lost and tied to St. Louis, and split their games with Seattle.
Keep Ray Rice Calm
Baltimore last faced the 49ers in 2011, and Rice rushed 21 times for 59 yards, along with three receptions for 24 yards.
Those poor numbers aside, what should concern Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens, were Rice’s two fumbles against Indianapolis. It could have been a sign of nerves, considering Rice only fumbled once in the regular season.
Baltimore is currently a postseason best plus-five in turnovers, but will have to keep that trend up in order beat the 49ers.
Fend Off 49ers Linebackers
Flacco has been sacked four times in the past three playoff wins, which is a huge improvement for the Ravens offensive line. During the regular season, Flacco was sacked once every 15 drop backs, or a total of 35 times.
The extra time and security has clearly helped Flacco flourish in these playoffs. How the O-line fends off Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis will be a huge factor for the Ravens' success. Smith was second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks, and Willis is tied for third with 18 total tackles in these playoffs.
However, two Ravens, Ray Lewis and and Dannell Ellerbe are ahead of Willis. A boon for Baltimore fans.
The Ravens have played more games this postseason than San Francisco, but 22 penalties for a loss of 186 yards in three games is a huge problem. Especially against a San Francisco squad that is taking advantage of every opportunity, and averaging 36.5 points in these playoffs.
Of their 22 penalties, five have been for unnecessary roughness, with Bernard Pollard responsible for two of those, and a taunting penalty late in the Wild Card round against Indianapolis.
An avoidable penalty, like one for taunting, could swing the game in San Francisco’s favor, something Baltimore should try to avoid.