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.
NFC Conference Championship Matchups: 49ers Kaepernick And Crabtree Passing Attack vs. Asante Samuel Falcons Secondary
The San Francisco 49ers 23rd ranked passing attack enters their second straight NFC Championship behind outstanding sophomore quarterback Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco is traveling to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons and their 23rd ranked passing defense.
Kaepernick has a rocket for an arm, and aside from the early interception to Sam Shields, played a good game against an aggressive Packers pass defense last week. A big part of that was Michael Crabtree. The Kaepernick-Crabtree combination has been one of the NFL’s most effective combinations since Kaepernick took over as the 49ers signal caller.
NFC Conference Championship Matchups: Kaepernick And Gore-Lead 49ers Rushing Attack vs. Decoud, Witherspoon And Falcons Run Defense
Colin Kaepernick exploded into the spotlight with an NFL record for quarterback rushing yards, running for 181 against a Green Bay Packers team that was ill prepared for the San Francisco 49ers read option attack. Overshadowed by Kaepernick’s amazing game, was Frank Gore. Gore rushed 23 times for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Packers, balancing out the 49ers option attack and partially allowing for Kaepernick’s performance.
The Packers made a number of mistakes defending the 49er attack, the largest of which was no one accounting for Kaepernick on many plays, or a spy under qualified to chase down an athlete of Kaepernick’s quality. Green Bay was caught in man coverage on option runs, with no one accounting for the quarterback, and Kaepernick ran wild. The Falcons play a combination of man and zone, with zone heavy on the back end. Kaepernick will have less open opportunities to run with the Falcons playing zone, looking at the line of scrimmage. The Packers safety play was atrocious as well; Kaepernick used his reads and fakes to misplace the safeties, turning big runs into long touchdowns.