Road to the Super Bowl: The San Francisco 49ers were one of the hot picks to make the Super Bowl in the preseason, but their road there was at the same time conventional and odd. With Alex Smith at the helm, the Niners got out to a 6-2 start before the bye week, then lost Smith in week 10 to a concussion. The next week against the Bears, Colin Kaepernick started and the Niners never looked back; after the Niners scored 32 and 31 points against the Bears and Saints, Kaepernick was made the full-time starter and the concussed Smith was benched.
The Niners proceeded to power their way to an 11-4-1 record and the number two seed overall behind Atlanta, then outscored the Packers in the divisional round and outlasted the Falcons in the conference championship.
Storylines and Questions:
- The big one that encompasses both teams playing in the big game - the Harbaugh brothers squaring off. I'm sure they've got some family bet going on - probably even who gets the king seat at the next family dinner.
- Colin Kaepernick. The second-year quarterback has explosive running ability and an ability to throw the ball - can he stay productive one more game? Hindsight shows Harbaugh made the right move sticking with Kaepernick; would you have done the same?
- Randy Moss proclaimed himself the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game. Can he help push the Niners to get his first (and only) ring in his first Super Bowl since the 18-0 Patriots?
- Can the Niners figure out how to keep Vernon Davis involved?
- And can the Niners get David Akers to stop channeling his inner Mason Crosby?
Total Points: 11th
Total Yardage: 11th
Passing Yardage: 23rd
Rushing Yardage: 4th
Colin Kaepernick is the big name/big impact player ever since his insertion into the starting role, but there's a couple other guys that get lost in the wash. Start with Frank Gore, who continued his Pro Bowl form in turning in his second-consecutive 1200-yard, 8 touchdown season as well as his sixth 1000-yard season in eight years. He gets lost in the Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson hype of running backs, but Gore has been nothing short of consistently good when he's been on the field.
Randy Moss has been a serviceable third receiver and fourth option for the Niners - it's kind of hard to believe the six-time Pro-Bowler and four-time All-Pro is in his 14th season, and after taking 2011 off from a meltdown of a 2010 season, Moss hasn't quite been a superstar, but serviceable enough with 28 receptions for 434 yards and a YPC at its highest since 2005 with the Raiders. That number-one role has been assumed by Michael Crabtree, who put up an 85 reception, 1105 yards and nine touchdowns campaign. The fourth-year receiver's development has come along pretty well.
Then you have the enigma that's been Vernon Davis. Davis started the year hot with 23 receptions and four touchdowns in his first six games, but after his six catch, 83 yard and a touchdown performance against the Bears only had six receptions for 61 yards the remainder of the regular season. Then he was rediscovered against Atlanta for five receptions, 106 yards and a touchdown. Can Kaepernick continue finding Davis, or will Davis get lost again against Baltimore?
Total Points: 2nd
Total Yardage: 3rd
Passing Yardage: 4th
Rushing Yardage: 4th
Let me give you a list of names: Navorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and Dashon Goldson. Then take those four and add Donte Whitner and Justin Smith.
The Niners' defense is a good one. And when I say good, I mean really really good. Those first four names are the Niners' four defensive All-Pros. Add in the latter two and you've got the defense's six Pro Bowlers.
The Niners' defense starts with a 3-4 base look with a pair of blitzing linebackers that can get the job done - Ahmad Brooks was second on the team with 6.5 sacks. But the real ability to rush the passer comes with Aldon Smith, who picked up 19.5 sacks on the year. Well, when you have Willis and Bowman roaming the middle, you can allow a Smith to go after the quarterback.
Then as far as their abilities to hawk the ball, the Niners had nine different players with at least one interception and eight that forced at least one fumble.
That doesn't mean the Niners' defense hasn't been vulnerable lately. Over their last five games dating back to the regular season, they've allowed over thirty points in three of their last five and 24 against the Falcons.
What do you think is the key for the Niners against the Ravens? And stay tuned for our Ravens preview coming up later today...