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.
Flacco has used his variety of weapons well, with Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, and Torrey Smith all producing well into the playoffs, and Jacoby Jones finally catching some deep balls. The 49ers were the NFL’s fourth best pass defense in the regular season, and the second best defense in points allowed. San Francisco has three talented cornerbacks to match up with Boldin, Smith, and Jones. Carlos Rodgers was a Pro-Bowler last year, and with Tarrell Brown and Chris Culliver also showing skills as lockdown corners, the Ravens wide receivers will have difficult individual match ups. Culliver and Brown are fast, and will be tasked with guarding Smith and Jones on their deep routes, while Boldin and Rodgers will see a lot of each other in the slot.
The 49ers move Rodgers inside in nickel sets, and Baltimore likes to work Boldin out of the slot. 49er linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will defend Pitta, and each has had good success as a pass defender. Willis was one on one with future hall-of-famer Tony Gonzalez against the Falcons, and held him in check. The 49ers like to work a two deep shell with Pro-Bowl safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, keeping everything in front of them and coming up to lay big hits. A game plan that should limit the big plays and influences that Jones and Smith may have on deep throws. Contrarily, this puts a lot of pressure on the 49er linebackers to defend the run and tight ends, and opens up intermediate routes for Pitta and Boldin. Flacco has his work cut out for him, but the 49ers have shown a weakness to the pass in the playoffs, giving up 396 yards to Matt Ryan and the Falcons two outstanding wide receivers, and 257 and two touchdowns to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Flacco will need to replicate that passing success against the 49ers, without becoming unbalanced and letting the 49ers defense rush freely.