Saturday, February 2, 2013

Behind the Meteoric Rise of the Baltimore Ravens

Behind the meteoric rise of the Ravens is, of course--Opportunity.  The opportunity that afforded itself after taking care of business at home versus Andrew Luck and the Colts.  And especially, the opportunity that came about from an all out--no holds barred battle against the Broncos which--while not perfectly in control---still left them in a position for a miracle win nonetheless.  And a miracle they pulled off too!--thanks, in part, to Raheem Moore.
What followed was an intense week of practice and focus.  Every Raven-- and everyone in Baltimore and beyond--knew what was at stake:  A priceless, once in a lifetime opportunity, to send their leader--Ray Lewis--off to the Super Bowl as his last hurrah!  They knew from their disappointing journey to New England the previous year--that opportunities like this are what they train and practice for --not only all off-season, season, and training camp, but for what comes along only once or twice over multiple seasons and sometimes never--if ever, for some franchises.  So you could almost feel it in the air when they got off the bus when arriving at Gilette Stadium.  The feeling was quite palpable in those shots of seriousness on Anquan Boldin's face, Ed Reed, and in the larger than life presence of Ray Lewis playing in possibly his last game--and definetely his last chance at a Super Bowl.  No matter what nay-sayers of emotion playing a factor in the matchup said, we could all still feel the power of emotion in the effort that we knew we were going to witness that day in Gilette Stadium at the AFC Championship.  I was not the only one that felt that one costly mistake by the Patriots would leave a nerve-racked team shaken in front of their home crowd---and then The Fumble!...and the terrific Hit that lead to the ball coming out and laying in front of the defense so naked, in slow-motion.  And the rest of the game became a long, uphill battle to come back against the grain--swimming upstream in the face of a couple of spectacular Anquan Boldin catches which ultimatley sealed New England's fate.

That same emotion is not apparent now, leading up to the Super Bowl.  The Ravens have certainly come together at the right time--like the 2006 Indianapolis Colts--to perform better and better, one week at a time leading up to their opportunity in the AFC Championship--to get to New Orleans.  But now that they're here, there is no indications that they can ride emotion alone to meet the daunting challenge of what the San Francisco 49ers bring to the table.  The 49ers have seemed to have a more focused practice leading up to the Big Game while the Ravens seem loose--like their Head Coach; but, perhaps, a bit distracted by the whole Tulane outdoor practice facility debacle.  The Football ERA Formula has pointed out a similar situation earlier in the playoffs that the 49ers handled fairly well.  The Packers went into Candlestick with a similar late season rise in performance and play leading into the playoffs--particularly on defense (which in turn helped fuel a newly found running game).  But that rise in excellence was not nearly enough to get them to the high level at which the 49ers were hitting around the play of Colin Kaepernick.  The situation seems very similar going into the Super Bowl.  Both sides should be able to move the ball and score a lot of points--unlike what some people think will be a defensive matchup.  The 49ers defense has given up its share of points in the post season while the Ravens Bend but Don't Break style has stepped it up a notch to force passing offenses like Manning and Brady to earn their way down the field---not without the occasional key mistakes and turnovers.  However, the ease of scoring in the Red Zone should belong to the 49ers who seem to have more than one of multiple "options" to score---and that could be the difference in the game---allowing them to pull away, possibly handily, in the 2nd Half.
Under what scenario could Baltimore cause problems for the 49ers.  Perhaps with Ball Control on Offense along with loading up the box with 8 men on Defense to stop the potent 49ers running game--including the vaunted Pistol Attack.  Playing man behind this commitment to stop the run forcing Kaepernick to throw the ball over the top with accuracy and touch--perhaps rattling the young quaterback.  Using their corners to play tight man coverage would force these defenders to turn their backs and run with the receivers, perhaps rendering the defense vulnerable to Kaepernick scrambles and broken plays.  They could mix in zone behind the front seven should that front prove sturdy enough against the inside run of Gore and the dive play while controlling the edges like Atlanta did.  Both sides should be able to find their tight ends early and often in the Passing Game.
Either way, it should be a very entertaining matchup indeed!

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