Although I will never understand getting together with tens of people under one roof to watch the Super Bowl, staggering through the hallways and rooms of another’s house as though you were a peasant roaming the streets of 17th century London, I do understand that tens of millions of Americans engage in the revelry, pageantry and tradition of gathering in the name of the Bloodsport’s paragon game.
You get it; I don’t.
The Super Bowl is a hallowed day in the Wolfley Compound, where doors are locked, windows covered and communications severed. This is the very best football our species can offer, played in a pristine environment conducive to making perfect pivots on a 5-route, setting up a deuce-block on the tackle zone or stuffing an ace-block as a 1-technique. It is the game of games, the game to end all games in the most football frenzied fraternity of people this side of the pond.
I get this; you don’t.
But there’s one thing we all want to know: Who will win the game?
Sorry, I hold predictions with little regard and view them with disdain. But I am willing to offer up some things that you and your Super Bowl party brethren might enjoy.
How far outside the box is the Baltimore Ravens defense willing to think? Colin Kaepernick and the read-option has pierced the offensive darkness of the NFL and appears to be gaining in strength. The play is more about math than scheme, bodies than names, deception than prowess and defensive coordinators have not figured out a way to slow it down…yet.
The Ravens defense has always been progressive in the realm of game-plans. Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan and current DC Dean Pees were, and are, never afraid to do something schematically that made other coaches say, “You can’t do that.”
In the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, Pees adopted a cover-0 strategy every time Tom Brady and the Patriots were inside the 5-yard-line, lining all his players up on the line-of-scrimmage, playing press man across the board and either blitzing or bailing on the snap of the ball. The Patriots lost the game largely because the Ravens defense allowed them to score but a single touchdown in four trips into the red zone.
Expect Pees and the Ravens to show the 49ers something out of the ordinary in run down situations from the pistol, including cover-0. Drastic times call for drastic measures and I could easily see Ray Lewis and company try to execute a scheme designed to attack the read-option.
Stopping the read-option and the plays that come off it is a pivotal variable to any equation that has the Ravens winning the Super Bowl.
Can the Ravens offense control the middle of the field (MOF)? This has been the hallmark of the Ravens during their playoff run. Jim Caldwell’s calling card has included attacking the seams and everything in between the numbers and goes all the way back to being Peyton Manning’s QB coach in 2002.
Although the Ravens do like to take shots down the field (especially to the right) with Torrey Smith, they have refocused their attack between the numbers and this is why Anquan Boldin has resurfaced as a force in the Ravens offense. The AFC Championship Game speaks to the success the Ravens have had down the middle. Boldin caught two touchdowns running a post route and a skinny post and tight end Dennis Pitta scored on a simple option route.
And it’s not just about Joe Flacco throwing the ball. When Caldwell was with the Colts, they basically had three running plays: the inside zone, tackle zone and outside zone or stretch play. The inside zone attacks the middle of a defensive front, the tackle-zone appears to be a perimeter play but is really meant to attack the middle of a defense, and even the stretch play isn’t as much a perimeter play as most people think.
The Ravens will try to use Ray Rice often and have become much more balanced since Caldwell took over for Cam Cameron. Rice runs between the tackles extremely well, is built low to the ground and is very powerful. Moreover, Bernard Pierce gives the Ravens a whole new dimension at the running back position. He runs the zone scheme very well, is deceptively strong and faster than most defenders think. The combination of Rice and Pierce attacking the MOF will be an integral part of the Ravens’ game plan, opening up play-action seam routes to Boldin and Smith.
How does Colin Kaepernick respond to the biggest stage of all? Kaepernick has defied all logic in demonstrating the poise and control of a ten-year veteran. His march through December was impressive and what he has done in the postseason has been nothing short of remarkable. But this is the Super Bowl and anybody that says this game is “just another game” is not telling the truth or a sociopath.
Kaepernick has done a great job with the read-option but he will need to throw the ball like he has this season if the 49ers are going to win this game. He doesn’t have to be perfect, he doesn’t even need to play great; Kaepernick needs to protect the ball, make good reads (especially off play-action) and continue to deliver the ball accurately when opportunities present themselves.
The NFC Championship Game is a good example. Kaepernick wasn’t perfect but he was accurate, made big plays down the field to Vernon Davis, Randy Moss and Delanie Walker and took advantage of opportunities. Kaepernick didn’t leave any plays on the field for San Francisco and more than this, didn’t throw an interception.
Cliché though it be, what team protects the ball the best and doesn’t turn it over? This is always important but I see it being even more important in this game because turning the ball over in this game will have a psychological impact on the team that does it.
These teams don’t turn the ball over. There was only one team in the NFL that turned the ball over less than the Ravens and the 49ers (Washington). The Ravens and the 49ers each had 16 giveaways on the season; they just don’t give it up to their opponent.
What’s more, both teams had 25 takeaways on the season, giving them the same plus-minus in the turnover margin (+9).
Turning the ball over when it’s not been part of a team’s winning formula all season long can drain a sideline, doing it on the biggest stage, in the biggest game of the year can be downright crippling and sends negative messages to every player on that team.
Finally, do you believe in sibling rivalry? I do. Although I have never experienced this myself, it seems only natural to me. The psychology behind it seems solid and although life is not about absolutes I think it will play a part in Super Bowl XLVII.
Sibling rivalry is a type of competition or animosity among children of the same family. According to most child psychologists, sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age, of the same gender, or where one child is intellectually gifted.
Enter the Harbaughs. Jim Harbaugh is the younger brother to John Harbaugh — 15 months younger. And although both these men profess their love and respect for each other, make no mistake, they want to beat the other’s butt – in anything they do!
Although winning the Super Bowl is all that matters in the end to both Harbaughs, I think Jim would like to beat his older brother for reasons that have nothing to do with the Lombardi trophy, especially in an ultra-competitive clan like the Harbaugh family.
And this brings up an interesting dynamic: we know they want to win but do they want to look like a genius doing it?
With John, I don’t think so; with Jim, I think it matters. I could be dead wrong on this, and my opinion is biased due to encounters I’ve had with “Jimmy” through the years, but I think it’s important to him that he beats his older brother John — and looks like a genius doing it. I think he wants to “out-coach” his brother John or at least appear to out-coach his brother.
How do you do that? Use the Chi, the extraordinary, not the Chung, the norm.
Expect some trick plays from the 49ers. A fake punt or field goal early in the game, a double-reverse pass, a throw back to Colin Kaepernick, something out of the ordinary. These kind of plays have a way of sticking out in our collective consciousness and sometimes define Super Bowls. Just ask Ken Whisenhunt.
Sunday is going to be a blast. This game will be bloody. So while you’re quieting everyone down at your compound so you can hear the next commercial, enjoy the game, have fun and think of psychology and how it might impact the game to end all games.
I’ll be on a ridge somewhere, miles away from paved roads, and the only sound I’ll hear are the echoes through the canyon as I shout at the flatscreen matrix, “Get out of cover-2! You can’t keep playing cover-2 in run down! Get out of it! Get…out! Nooooooo!”