WHEN THE RAVENS RUN THE BALL: Ray Rice is the name everyone recognizes because hes Baltimores lead back and has great ability to pop a big play. But keep an eye out for Bernard Pierce. Hes Baltimores change-of-pace runner and that change is a bigger, stronger version of Rice with the ability to break a long run as he did in the playoff win over Indianapolis when he had a 43-yard run. Pierce is averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the playoffs better than either Rice or the 49ers Frank Gore. The 49ers were among the leagues elite defenses in the regular season, and one reason is they stop the run. They were fourth best in the NFL in that category, allowing 94.2 yards per game. The 49ers enjoy forcing their opponents into a pass-oriented approach so they can unleash Aldon Smith and Justin Smith on the quarterback. But when teams are able to work play-action, as the Ravens like to do, it stalls the Niners pass rush. Thats the reason it is important for the Ravens to remain balanced, and to do that, they must run effectively. ADVANTAGE: Baltimore.
WHEN THE RAVENS PASS THE BALL: Quarterback Joe Flacco proclaimed himself an elite quarterback earlier this season, but his 22 touchdown passes in the regular season didnt exactly prove the point. His NFL-playoffs-leading eight touchdowns without an interception have made the point in much bolder fashion. Flacco is completing only 54.8 percent of his passes in the playoffs, but he has attacked defenses over the top with deep completions to Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith. Flacco has 15 completions of 20-plus yards and five completions of 40 yards or more during the Ravens playoff run. Even possession receiver Anquan Boldins yards per catch average has grown to an impressive 17.3 yards, which is deep-threat average. The 49ers are the best defense Baltimore has faced, and they simply do not allow bombs over their heads with 30 seconds to play in the game, as Denver did. They are a great not good tackling defense, and they do a good job of rushing the passer, as well. ADVANTAGE: San Francisco.
WHEN THE 49ERS RUN THE BALL: The San Francisco Pistol offense is the latest, hottest thing in the NFL. It is a mixture of the spread option and veer and pro-set. It asks the quarterback in this case Colin Kaepernick to not only be an option in the running game, but also actually be the first option of the running game. Lets see how long that lasts in the NFL. Kaepernick, who runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, is the perfect catalyst for the attack. The 49ers have also had great success running the look because Kaepernick can hand to Frank Gore, and hes only the franchises all-time leading rusher. The creative blocking schemes the team uses are executed by an offensive line that boasts three former first-round draft picks and has been together for a while. If the Pistol can be stopped, the Ravens are a good bet to be the team to do it. They have had two weeks to figure it out. The Ravens looked at what the St. Louis Rams did in two games against San Francisco. The Rams were 1-0-1 against San Francisco this season and quite successful in playing assignment football on defense. If the Ravens can keep their gap and assignment discipline, they might force the 49ers to become one-dimensional. Thats what Baltimore wants to do. ADVANTAGE: San Francisco.