Super Bowl XLVII Preview And Prediction

Super Bowl XVLII - Ray Ray's last ride

Super Bowl XLVII – Ray Ray’s last ride

Super Bowl XLVII.  Brother vrs. Brother.  Ray Lewis’ last game.  The 49ers’ drive for 6.  There are plenty of sub-plots to this Super Bowl.  One thing you can most definitely expect between these two teams is a smash-mouth football game.  Both of these teams pride themselves on their physicality.  The Ravens defense might be a bit older and not as fast as they once were but they will still get their money’s worth when they lay a hit on their opponents.  The 49ers play a physical brand of football themselves, led by their All-World middle linebacker Patrick Willis.  The two quarterbacks matching up in this game, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, couldn’t be any more different.  Flacco is a traditional pocket passer.  Kaepernick represents the new generation of running QBs’, guys like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick.  Here is how the teams match up:

When the 49ers have the ball

Kaepernick has broken out for the 49ers in 2012

Kaepernick has broken out for the 49ers in 2012

The challenge that the 49ers offense brings is their three-pronged rushing attack with 3 different looks.  Frank Gore, at 217 pounds, is the bruiser of the bunch.  5’9″, 195 lb. rookie LaMichael James comes in as the speed guy.  Then there is Kaepernick, standing at 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 230 lbs.  What makes things trickier is the effectiveness of the read-option.  Kaepernick can either hand the ball off to one of the running backs or keep it himself and the defense will need to be ready for either player.  Key in the defense of the read option is the play of the middle linebackers so Ray Lewis is going to have to be ready to defend that play.  Does he still have the speed to track down either the running back or quarterback out there?  We are going to see early and often tonight.  Kaepernick has a laser arm to go with his legs but the Ravens’ secondary, and Ed Reed in particular, have done a great job of keeping the passing plays in front of them all post-season long.  They held both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady without a completion in the air of more than 25 yards.  The 49ers have an awful lot of weapons to get down the field – Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss.  It is tough to defend all of those guys in the open field.  The 49ers love to use their tight ends down the middle of the field.  It will be up to the old men – Lewis and Reed – to try and keep Vernon Davis and Delaney Walker at bay.  There has been a lot of talk about Lewis in the weeks leading up to the game and be prepared for the spotlight to be on him when the game starts as well because he really will be one of the focal points of the Ravens’ defense.

When the Ravens have the ball

The oft-criticized Flacco will look to silence his critics with a Super Bowl victory

The oft-criticized Flacco will look to silence his critics with a Super Bowl victory

Ray Rice is going to get hit in this game and he is going to get hit hard.  The 49ers may have one of the most physical front sevens in the NFL.  Aldon Smith has been quiet in the post-season and seems poised for a break-out game but the Ravens offensive line has played exceptionally well since they inserted veteran Bryant McKinnie into the starting lineup.  Expect to see a lot of Bernard Pierce, a bigger and more physical back than Rice, in the lineup as the Ravens try to match strength for strength.  Fullback Vonta Leach will also play a big role.  In the passing game we all know that Joe Flacco likes to sling it.  The 49ers have a decent secondary with Carlos Rogers and DaShon Goldson but they are susceptible down the field.  Expect Flacco to target speedster Torrey Smith early and often and tight end Dennis Pitta might be a mis-match for the incredibly overrated strong safety Donte Whitner.  The Ravens love to use Ray Rice in the passing game as well but the 49ers linebackers are very fast.  When Flacco gains confidence he is very good so the key for the 49ers defense will be to pressure him early and make him miss on his throws.  Aldon Smith NEEDS to get involved for the 49ers to have early success against Flacco and the Ravens offense.

Prediction

This is a tough one to predict.  I think that there will be a lot of defense in this game but I still think both teams can hit on big plays.  The most interesting storyline to me is that Lewis will be so important to that Ravens defense but at the same time he could be a liability out there with the speed of the 49ers offense.  You always talk about destiny and what was meant to be and all that and Ray Lewis is going to leave it all on the field and his teammates will do the same for Ray Ray’s last game.  On the flip side the 49ers are the prototypical new-age NFL team.  Fast and physical.  Clearly, at least on paper, the 49ers are the better team.  The final score will come down to what trumps all – emotion or talent.  Today I have to go with the talent.  The Ravens defense will be just a step slow to keep up with the 49ers offense.  The Niners take their 6th Super Bowl in as many tries.

Final Score Prediction: San Fransisco 49ers 28, Baltimore Ravens 24

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Thoughts on Day 2 of the draft and looking ahead to Day 3

Day 2 is in the books and it’s on to Day 3 where teams fill out their rosters while hoping to find a diamond in the rough in the late rounds.  Then one of my favorite parts, something we missed last year, when the guys who aren’t drafted are bombarded with phone calls when they become unrestricted free agents the minute the draft is over.  Here is a look at Day 2 of the draft:

  • The Bills got great value picking up Glenn at #41

    AFC East 2nd Round Picks:  Bills took Georgia OT Cordy Glenn with the 41st pick.  Huge value here, this guy was a first round talent.  He’ll play LT in Buffalo’s quick drop offense and they hope he’s a road grader for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the run game.  The Dolphins took Stanford OT Jonathan Martin with the 42nd pick.  Martin should be a pretty good player but I’m surprised that they took him to play RT, he seems like a more natural LT and obviously he won’t play there in Miami with Jake Long.  The Jets took Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill with the 42nd pick.  This guy has a ton of speed for his size as shown at the combine but the concern is that he could be a one trick pony.  Mark Sanchez isn’t exactly Dan Marino with the arm.  The Patriots took Illinois S Tavon Wilson with the 48th pick.  Not much is known about Wilson since he wasn’t really on anyone’s draft board.  He played for a bad program and a horrible coach so there is no where to go but up for him.  Best pick: Glenn, getting 1st round talent and a starter at LT at 41 is tremendous value.  Worst pick: Wilson, if nothing else because the other 3 teams got good value with their picks and he is sort of an unknown.

  • AFC East 3rd Round Picks:  Here is where the waters get muddied for me.  I will confess to only hearing of one of these guys picked before tonight.  The Bills took N.C. State WR T.J. Graham with the 69th pick.  It was an interesting pick because they traded up two spots to get him and he looked to be 5-7 round range on most people’s boards.  He does look like a poor man’s Lee Evans which is exactly what the Bills need.  The Dolphins took Miami DE Olivier Vernon with the 72nd pick.  Again I don’t know much about this guy but he’s staying home which is good for him.  Miami is going 4-3 so they need those 4-3 bodies in there so I guess this is a start.  The Jets took Arkansas State LB Demario Davis with the 77th pick.  He’s not exactly Melvin Ingram.  He’s only 235 so he seems kind of smallish for the Jets defense.  The Patriots took Arkansas DE Jake Bequette with the 90th pick.  This is the one guy I heard of.  He’s the dreaded “high-motor white guy” defensive end type.  He could make up a great duo with Chandler Jones in the future.  Best pick: Bequette, SEC guy, high motor, plays hard.  Worst pick: Graham I suppose because it seemed like a reach.
  • Upshaw would have preferred to go in Round 1 but he can't complain about his destination

    Other picks I liked on Day 2:  The Ravens nabbing Courtney Upshaw at the top of Round 2.  His knock that he only played at an extremely high level in college because of all of the talent that he had around him.  Well, look at all of the talent that he has around him now.  The 49ers grabbed LaMichael James to round out the transformation of what was an average offense last year.  He’ll be their Darren Sproles.  The Eagles grabbing Vinny Curry at 59 seems like a steal.  I liked Mohammed Sanu getting redemption and actually getting that call from the Bengals but what are the chances he believed that it was really the Bengals when they first called?

  • NFL Network is king:  If it wasn’t clear that NFL Network had the superior coverage on Day 1, Day 2 confirmed it.  While ESPN resorted to something that assembled more of a shock jock talk show than a draft by the end of the night NFL Network showed every single pick announced until the very end.  Mike Mayock is enjoyable and he wasn’t being feed picks like the ESPN guys and for the most part Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk shut their mouths and only chimed in occasionally while the former players on ESPN were loud and obnoxious.  I probably won’t even turn on ESPN at all today.
  • What to look for in Day 3:  Well, I guess today is just checking out who your team picks.  If you went to college or have a college team that you root for you can check out where their guys go.  I like to see where the 2nd generation guys go, so I’m interested in seeing Nick Toon, son of long time Jets receiver Al Toon, get drafted.  Also a couple of name QBs remain, Michigan State’s gritty QB Kirk Cousins and Boise State QB Kellen Moore who barely ever lost but is only about a 6th round pick in the draft.  Enjoy your Saturday.

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The 10 best games of 2011 (as viewed by me) – #4 – BCS Championship Game: Auburn vrs. Oregon, January 10, 2011

We have to go way back on our calendar for my #4 sports game of the year for 2011, the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Tigers.  If it seems like it was a long time ago, it’s because it was.  Auburn’s starting quarterback that night, Cam Newton, has already broken the NFL single season rookie passing record held by Peyton Manning and the Tigers and Ducks have already played their full 2011 seasons since then.  A lot has happened in the sports world since this game was played on January 10 of this year but an exciting game with an ending that featured a brilliant play by a freshman running back puts this one at #4 on my list.

Neither team gave an inch in the early going

After defeating rivals Alabama on November 26th, 2010 by one point Auburn went on to romp South Carolina in the S.E.C. Championship and complete an undefeated regular season with a 13-0 record and earn a spot in the BCS title game.  On the other side the Ducks also had to go through their bitter in-state rivals, Oregon State, to secure a spot in the BCS Championship.  They defeated them handily by a score of 37-20 to complete their own perfect regular season at 12-0.  Oregon was a young team that featured sophomore stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas.  Auburn was led by sensation Cam Newton and a stout defense led by interior defensive lineman Nick Fairley.

The game started off with the two teams exchanging punts, managing only 1 first down between the two of them.  On the Ducks 2nd possession QB Darron Thomas was intercepted on the 5th play of the drive to give Auburn the ball at the Oregon 47.  They didn’t hold the ball for that long as Cam Newton was intercepted two plays later by cornerback Cliff Harris at the Oregon 25.  Harris returned the ball back 22 yards to their own 47.  Thomas took over looking to redeem himself for the earlier pick.  He took the team down the field in 7 plays all the way to the Auburn 20 yard line, mostly on rushes by LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.  With 1st and 10 from the 20 the Ducks were primed to get on the board first but Thomas was again picked off by the Auburn defense at the Auburn 14.  Auburn dodged a bullet but Newton could not make the Ducks pay as he and the Auburn offense could only manage 5 plays before punting the ball back to Oregon with a little over two minutes remaining in the 1st quarter.

James celebrates his TD catch

Oregon finally got the ball rolling on offense as the opening quarter was coming to a close.  They ran 8 offensive plays to close out the quarter and had the ball with a 3rd and 2 at the Auburn 3 as the 1st quarter came to a close.  The third down play broke down and Thomas ran backwards for a loss of 6 yards and Oregon settled for a chip shot field goal to give them a 3-0 lead.  Newton came out prepared to shake off his disappointing start.  With Stanford sophomore Andrew Luck declaring that he would not enter the NFL draft before the game it gave Newton the opportunity to become the #1 pick if he could prove to scouts both here and at the NFL Scouting Combine that he was worth that top pick.  He started on the Tigers’ 1st drive of the 2nd quarter.  He took Auburn down the field on 8 plays and capped off the drive with a 35 yard touchdown strike to running back Kodi Burns for the first touchdown of the game and a 7-3 lead.  That got the ball rolling.  The first play of Oregon’s next drive was an 81 yard pass from Thomas to receiver Jeff Maehl to set the Ducks up at the Auburn 12.  Three plays later Thomas hit James for a touchdown.  The Ducks faked the extra point and kicker Rob Beard ran the ball in for a surprise 2-point conversion to give the Ducks an 11-7 lead.  Newton and the Tigers got the ball back determined to slow down the pace and went on a 16 play drive that ended at the Oregon 1 yard line after an incomplete pass by Newton on 4th and goal from the 1.  Auburn’s defense picked up Newton and the offense by not allowing James to get out of the end zone on 1st down when they tackled him for a safety to make the score 11-9.  Newton took advantage of the free kick in 6 plays, hitting receiver Emory Blake with a 30 yard touchdown pass to give Auburn a 16-11 lead.  Oregon and Auburn exchanged punts to close out the first half with a score of Auburn 16, Oregon 11.

Newton and the Auburn offense opened the second half with the ball and went 8 plays down to the Oregon 11 until they were stopped on 3rd down, leading to a 28 yard Wes Bynum field goal to give them a 19-11 lead.  Oregon’s next drive stalled at the Auburn 40 and they were forced to punt the ball back.  Auburn couldn’t manage anything on the next drive, going 3-and-out.  Oregon took over at their own 27 and Thomas engineered his own 10 play drive deep into Auburn territory.  Like Auburn earlier in the game Oregon was 4th and goal from the Auburn 1 yard line, trailing by 8 points.  Chip Kelly decided to go for it, like Gene Chizik did earlier.  Oregon called a run and Kenjon Barner was stuffed at the 1 yard line, turning the ball over to Auburn on downs.  Auburn took over at the 1 but Newton called his own number and ran for three yards to give the Tigers breathing room.  Auburn started to move the ball up field and had settled at their own 24 yard line with a 2nd and 9 as the third quarter came to a close.  They were one quarter away from winning a National Championship.

Matthews forced a Newton fumble to set up Oregon's tying TD

Newton and company moved the ball out to their own 47 yard line before the drive stalled but they had taken up valuable time and turned the field position over.  Oregon got the ball back at their own 16.  Thomas and company moved the ball down field but their drive stalled at the Auburn 46 and it was their turn to punt.  Punter Jackson Rice could only manage to pin Auburn back to their own 21 yard line.  Oregon had squandered an opportunity to pin Auburn back and it was up to the Tigers to take advantage.  They again slowly moved the ball up the field but their drive stalled at the Oregon 42 and they punted the ball back to the Ducks.  Auburn did a better job of pinning the Ducks, dropping the punt at the Oregon 14 with 6:34 left in the game.  Once again the Ducks could not muster any offense and punted the ball back to Auburn with 5:05 left.  It was Newton’s time to shine and earn that #1 draft status.  Oregon had different plans however and on a 2nd down run by Newton the ball was stripped from him by linebacker Casey Matthews and recovered by the Ducks at the Auburn 40 yard line.  A dumb personal foul penalty sent them back 15 yard but they were still at their own 45 with 4:54 remaining, needing  a touchdown and another two-point conversion to tie the game.  Thomas started to lead Oregon down the field but was quickly face with a 4th and 5 at the Auburn 40.  Darron Thomas came up with a big 29 yard pass to receiver D.J. Davis to give Oregon a 1st and 10 at the Auburn 11.  Three plays later Thomas connected with James on a two yard touchdown pass, getting the Ducks within two points.  Those two points came on the next play when Thomas connected with Maehl to tie the game at 19-19 with 2:33 left.

Dyers' miracle run sealed the game and championship for Auburn

There was 2:33 left and Auburn needed a field goal to win the game.  After Newton had fumbled on the last possession it would mean that a lot of the ball handling would be done by freshman running back Michael Dyer.  After opening with a 15 yard pass from Newton to Emory Blake the Tigers called Dyer’s number on 1st down with an off tackle play.  Dyer was dragged down after gaining 6 or 7 yards.  Dyer hopped up and he and everyone else on the field thought that the play was over but the whistle hadn’t blown.  The coaches were yelling from the sidelines to Dyer to keep running.  So Dyer started running, he ran the ball all the way down to the Oregon 23 yard line.  Much to the shock of everyone in the stands as well as everyone watching at home and the players for both teams the play stood.  The ref had never blown the whistle and Dyer’s knee had never hit the ground.  The Tigers were close to field goal range, if not already there yet.  Dyer decided to make an encore on 3rd down by running it 16 yards down to the Oregon 1 and stopping before scoring a touchdown so they could kick the ball as time expired and not give Oregon a chance to make a miracle play on a kick return or a throwback pass.  Auburn kicker Wes Bynum kicked the game winning field goal as time expired and Auburn won their first National Championship in 53 years.

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