There are countless matchups and strategies to analyze prior to kickoff of the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 3. That said, we've identified five keys that are bound to influence to the outcome.
1. Ravens must read 49ers’ option game properly
Colin Kaepernick is a talented runner, but he’s also very effective at handing off, too. The Packers overplayed the inside run, and Kaepernick ran 16 times for 181 yards and two scores. The Falcons keyed on Kaepernick, and Frank Gore and LaMichael James combined for 26-124-3 rushing. The Ravens must play good gap-control defense. They’ve contained the run fairly well in the postseason but have not seen an option attack like this one since Week 14, when the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris gave them fits.
2. Joe must go deep often
The Ravens’ bread and butter offensively is the deep ball. They run well and can use Anquan Boldin and their tight ends effectively in the intermediate game. But they also help open things up when they take shots downfield to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, their speedballs on the outside. The 49ers showed some vulnerability defensively when the Falcons stoned their pass rush and Matt Ryan took shots downfield in the NFC title game. They seemed to pick on CB Tarell Brown, who rallied after a tough start. You can bet the Ravens will attempt to do the same.
3. Heavy sets will be big part of 49ers’ package
Jim Harbaugh will use wishbone backfields, unbalanced lines and put offensive linemen as eligible tight ends in order to win the line of scrimmage and out-clobber opponents. They’ll trap, pull linemen and effectively tandem block. They might only gain eight yards on a run play, but they send a message that they’re the more physical team. The Ravens are an extremely tough team defensively and have yet to wear down despite three taxing postseason games. Can they hold up against their most powerful opponent up front to date?
4. Special teams will have a say in the game
Both teams have dangerous returners and good punters, but this game likely will come down to a game-deciding field-goal attempt. If that’s the case, it’s edge Ravens — even with a rookie kicker. Justin Tucker has made game-winning kicks against the Patriots and Chargers during the regular season and against the Broncos this postseason. But 49ers PK David Akers is clearly in a funk. He hit the upright on a FG attempt against the Falcons and nearly was replaced before the game. Can the Niners count on him at all?
5. Riding Ray’s emotion
On Feb. 3, Ray Lewis will step foot on a field for the final time as a player. Expect him to leave everything on the Superdome turf — blood, sweat, tears and everything else he has to offer. Lewis must not burn off his energy too quickly, especially with a 45-minute halftime. His Ravens teammates must be aware of the same and must not try to “win one for Ray” at the cost of being emotionally distracted. The 49ers, naturally, will do their best to eliminate the intangible Lewis factor. But will they test him? It’s a gamble against one of the greatest ever.