Super Bowl XLVII: 10 Things To Look For
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: February 01, 2013
Can you believe it's been just twelve days since Baltimore and San Francisco clinched their respective AFC and NFC championships? Though it feels like we've had a month worth of headlines and stories since January 20th, the Super Bowl is finally upon us. The 49ers and Ravens will lace up and face off in just two days, and we've got a handy list of ten items you should keep an eye on throughout the game. Feel free to appropriate any facts or figures we throw out to impress your friends at whichever awesome Super Bowl party you're planning to attend.
10) Ray Lewis during the National Anthem.
If CBS' coverage of the AFC Championship is any indication, you won't be able to miss him, but expect Lewis to be fantastically emotional during Alicia Keys' rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. We might never know whether the weight of his very last professional football game will be weighing on him or if he just loves America that much, but the man will be beside himself.
He'll also probably be on the field for every single defensive snap, as he has yet to miss one this postseason. Expect the 49ers offensive line to pose Lewis' most difficult opponent to date; don't be shocked if Lewis doesn't lead his team in tackles for the first time since returning from his torn triceps.
9) Jim Harbaugh GIF's in the making.
Speaking of fiery passion, who's more passionate than the 49ers head coach? Noooobody! We're never left wondering how the younger Harbaugh brother might feel about events unfolding before him, and his GIFability has become the stuff of legend. All GIF's courtesy of SBNation.com:
8) Jacoby Jones on return duty.
The AFC Pro Bowl return representative has had some dynamic returns this season. Niners kicker David Akers will aim to keep Jones in the end zone with each kickoff, but Jones could do some damage on punt returns. As he told Melissa Jacobs in a recent interview, “I treat it like I’m playing freeze tag, catch me if you can.”
7) Vernon Davis' continued offensive reintegration.
The 49ers tight end was the star of last year's instant classic Divisional Round game between San Francisco and New Orleans, catching two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Davis also caught two touchdowns in last season's losing effort in the NFC Championship and started the 2013 season strong before becoming something of a forgotten man on San Francisco's offense. In the five games prior to this year's NFC Championship in Atlanta, Davis had just five receptions and no touchdowns. Against Atlanta, a team that had clearly not anticipated having to cover him, Davis had five catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. When given the opportunity, Davis is an extremely reliable target and has a knack for accruing yards after the catch. The 49ers should continue to take advantage over such a sturdy offensive weapon.
6) Ed Reed's first Super Bowl appearance.
He's widely considered the best active player at his position, but the Ravens safety has never played in a Super Bowl. Cornerback Corey Graham seems to have seized interception duty from the eleven year veteran, nabbing two against Peyton Manning alone, but the interceptions leader among active players will be looking to earn another postseason pick. Expect him to rotate on coverage throughout the game and to play like he's hoping to earn a big pay day next season. As a free agent, if the Ravens can't pay him, he'll find a team that will.
5) Elite rushing performances.
This Super Bowl features a pair of established elite backs and a pair of rookies who have stormed into the postseason. Baltimore's Ray Rice struggled in a Wild Card matchup against Indianapolis, losing two fumbles, but has maintained possession of the ball in his two subsequent outings, scoring a touchdown in each. His backup Bernard Pierce has contributed admirably, averaging 7.9 yards a carry on thirteen rushing attempts against the Colts and giving the Ravens an alternative ball carrier when Rice needs a breather.
The 49ers will counter with Frank Gore, who has carried the ball 44 times and accounted for three touchdowns in San Francisco's two postseason games. Rookie LaMichael James has shown flashes of the speed and athleticism that made him a star in Oregon in the playoffs, averaging nearly seven yards a carry and scoring the first touchdown of his career against Atlanta.
In a league that has become dependent on the almighty pass, it will be refreshing to see four running backs command the spotlight in New Orleans.
4) Aldon Smith back on sack track against Flacc(o).
Throughout most of the 2012 season, Smith was on track to break Michael Strahan's single season sacks record; with 19.5 through 13 games, he needed to average just one sack a game in San Francisco's final three outings to tie Strahan at 22.5. But he hasn't recorded a single sack since December 9th against Miami, when he notched two. He had success getting behind the line of scrimmage against Atlanta, nabbing a crucial fumble recovery in the Niners' winning effort. Baltimore's offensive line has given up four sacks in the postseason, so there are weaknesses to exploit. Plan on Smith finding his way to the quarterback in the biggest game of his career.
3) Joe Flacco's deep ball.
Baltimore has thrived on Flacco's ability to throw deep this postseason; his touchdown passes of 59, 32 and 70 yards against the Broncos sealed the Ravens upset victory over the number one seed in Denver. He is averaging 9.2 yards an attempt this postseason after averaging 7.2 in the regular season. The 49ers have given up five touchdown passes in two games, allowing an average of 8.1 yards a completion and 46- and 20-yard touchdowns to Atlanta's Julio Jones. Flacco has a pair of physical receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but Smith's speed enables him to get behind just about any player who defends him. Just ask Champ Bailey.
2) Colin Kaepernick's legs. Or... his arm.
Atlanta failed to seal the deal against San Francisco, but it successfully contained any designed Kaepernick runs, allowing the second year phenomenon just 21 yards after he posted a career high 181 against Green Bay the previous week. But Atlanta was so preoccupied with keeping Kaepernick in the pocket, it looked as though the Falcons failed to anticipate how effective he could be from the pocket. The former Chicago Cubs draftee picked apart Atlanta's secondary, completing 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards. After destroying the Packers with his legs and defeating the Falcons with his arm, the Ravens should be dedicated to a balanced defensive approach, but if Kaepernick's first nine NFL starts have taught us anything, he'll be extremely difficult to nullify.
1) Jack and Jackie Harbaugh reaction shots.
With maybe a little Joani Crean thrown in. Jim and John Harbaugh facing off in the Super Bowl, will be the first brothers to ever compete for the NFL title. The Harbaughs have been media fixtures since Championship Sunday and have been the picture of parental love and guidance. Expect CBS to show their reactions after big plays, scoring plays, challenge flags and tantrums. It'll feel like we're watching the game right along with them.
For good measure, we have one final item to keep your eye on this Sunday:
A Destiny's Child cameo!
Beyoncé was coy during Thursday's media session about whether her former bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams would join her onstage during the halftime show, but nothing says "Super Bowl Entertainment!!!" like "Bootylicious".
I promise, ladies: we are ready for that jelly.