SportsNet - January 2013
It is time for a matchup between two glass eating, road grading, and people mauling units. As the San Francisco 49ers outstanding offensive line prepares to face the Baltimore Ravens powerful defensive line. The 49ers may have the best offensive line in football, but the Ravens have Haloti Ngata, Paul Kruger, and Terrell Suggs. Pro-Bowlers Joe Staley and Mike Iupati anchor the 49ers offensive line, but center Johnathan Goodwin deserves just as much credit. Goodwin will see Ngata at times, but mostly will see defensive tackles Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Terrance Cody. Kemoeatu and Cody have been little more than space occupiers this year, and represent a hindrance to the Ravens rushing defense.
This has been an evolutionary postseason for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. In beating Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning in the postseason, Flacco has vaulted himself into elite quarterback levels. Flacco is a free agent after this season, and all that stands between him and becoming one of the NFL’s most highly paid quarterbacks is a Super Bowl win against one of the leagues best defenses. Coach John Harbaugh made the switch to Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator earlier in the season, following a slow start and a new focus for the Ravens offense into a more pass predominant team, and Flacco has been the biggest beneficiary. Flacco has 853 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions in the playoffs, leading the Ravens offense to the Super Bowl.
Over the past couple of years, it has been the Ray Rice show in Baltimore. Lately the Ravens have been shifting to a more pass heavy scheme, resulting in Rice’s worst season since his rookie year, with lows in receiving and rushing yards for the past four seasons. Still, Rice rushed for 1143 and nine touchdowns while catching 61 passes for 678 yards and one receiving touchdown. Rice is still touching the ball upwards of 20 times a game, but the focus of the offense has shifted. The Ravens are throwing on first down more and using three and four wide receiver sets frequently, limiting Rice’s overall impact.
Against the 49ers fourth ranked rushing defense it is unlikely the Ravens will look to pound Rice 30 times, unless Baltimore gets a two touchdown lead. Either way it will be tough going for Rice, the 49ers have the leagues best linebacker tandem in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Fullback Vonta Leach is Pro-Bowl caliber, and when the Ravens go two running back sets, or 21 personnel, the Ravens run the ball two thirds of the time. When the fullback is on the field, Leach will have to open holes for Rice against a defense that knows the run is coming.
In a matchup of two of the best units on either team, we get the strength of the Ravens offensive line against the talent and versatility of the 49ers defensive line. While the Ravens offensive line had some struggles in the regular season, in the postseason the Ravens have allowed only four sacks in three games and have opened rushing holes for 446 team rushing yards and 3 touchdowns in the playoffs.
We’re coming down the stretch in the college basketball season with just over a month of regular season action left. In the next month, we will separate the strong from the weak, especially when we look at the Mid-Major Player of the Year race.
In last week’s MMPOY breakdown, Creighton’s Doug McDermott held a commanding lead over the rest of the field and appeared to be running away with the award. However, another week has passed. McDermott is still in the first place spot, but the gap is narrowing with strong performances by the rest of the field.
Here’s the Mid-Major Player of the Year rankings for the week of January 30.
1.) Doug McDermott, Creighton (23.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 50 percent three-point field goals)
Once again, Doug McDermott leads the pack with his outstanding season. McDermott’s points have gone down in the last week, highlighted by Creighton’s loss at Drake last Wednesday (the day last week’s rankings came out). McDermott did finish the game with 19 points on 9-13 shooting, but it couldn’t lead the Blue Jays past the Bulldogs. Doug also went 0-6 from three-point range in the loss.