Final thoughts: Emotion, containing Kaepernick, turnovers key

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After a week in New Orleans on radio row, broadcasting for four hours a day, I surveyed many NFL players, coaches and front office people about the Super Bowl winner.

It was clear as I wrapped up the questioning it is a matter of emotion vs. numbers.

Decisions made with the heart lead people to the Ravens and those who look at the numbers gravitate to the 49ers. Many want to see Ray Lewis go out a winner but many more don't think there's enough football left in his legs to stop multi-dimensional Niners QB Colin Kaepernick.

But you can't escape the hot hand -- or emotion sometimes in the biggest game. I remember when no one thought the Giants could bet the Patriots (in Super Bowl XLII) or the Patriots could beat the Rams (in Super Bowl XXXVI). And if you're old enough you remember, the Jets didn't have a chance against the Baltimore Colts (in Super Bowl III).

Here are a few questions and concepts to ponder as you decide which jersey you will wear when kickoff comes around.

Notable Super Bowl numbers
Stat BAL offense SF defense
Yards per game 352 294
Passing yards 234 200
Rushing yards 118 94
Yards per carry 4.3 3.7
3rd-down conv. 37 pct. 33 pct.
Points per game 25 17
Sacks 38 38
Stat SF offense BAL defense
Total yards 362 351
Passing yards 206 228
Rushing yards 156 123
Yards per carry 5.1 4.0
3rd-down conv. 35 pct. 35.8 pct.
Points per game 25 21.5
Sacks 41 37

Can the Ravens contain the run game?

The Ravens' run defense has tightened up since the return of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, as well as the improving health of Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed.

Baltimore hasn't surrendered a rushing touchdown in 126 attempts and they have yielded only four runs of more than 10 yards over the same span.

The 49ers have averaged 206 yards rushing in the playoffs. The last time these two teams met was 2011, and Frank Gore averaged 2.8 yards a carry, but didn't have Kaepernick as his quarterback. Kaepernick is averaging 11.2 yards rushing in the postseason.

Which QB can handle the extra workload?

In the past 10 Super Bowls, an average of 82 pass plays have been called between the two teams. So far in the playoffs, Joe Flacco is averaging 32 pass attempts and Kaepernick 27 or 59 attempts between them. I expect both men will have to throw more than usual or more than their coaches want to throw Sunday.

Who wins the turnover battle?

Turnovers always play a big role. Ask the Steelers, when they lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV after Rashard Mendenhall fumbled on the potential winning drive.

In these playoffs, the Ravens have lost three fumbles but Flacco has not been intercepted. The Ravens' defense has recovered three fumbles and come up with five INTs, so Baltimore is a plus-5 in playoff turnovers.

San Francisco lost a fumble and Kaepernick has been intercepted once. The 49ers' defense recovered two fumbles and intercepted two passes, so San Francisco is a plus-2 in playoff turnovers.

One of these 12 will be the X factor

Almost every year there is an X factor in the Super Bowl. A player or two who doesn't start but plays an extraordinary role in the victory. A backup running back who explodes for 100 yards rushing, a third receiver who has a big day receiving, a defender who has a few sacks or picks off a pass in a critical moment.

For the Ravens, my X factor candidates are Bernard Pierce, Jacoby Jones, Ed Dickson, Vonta Leach, Chykie Brown and Arthur Jones.

For the 49ers they are Ted Ginn, LaMichael James, Delanie Walker, Ricky Jean-Francois, Chris Collier or Perish Cox.

Which offensive concept works best?

The challenge for both clubs is stopping what makes the opponent unique.

The 49ers run the pistol offense, which presents multiple problems for the Ravens' D. They ride the run game to Gore and Kaepernick on the keeper (Green Bay game) or use Kaepernick as more of a passer (Atlanta game). I expect a few trick plays off the pistol, like a flea flicker.

The Ravens spent the whole year perfecting the no-huddle spread attack and it will challenge a 49ers defense that has struggled recently in getting to the QB (two sacks in 83 pass plays) while yielding up 327 passing yards and two to three TD passes a game in the playoffs.

After going through these facts and figures, it's still very difficult to predict a winner. Despite the confidence exuded by those behind the 49ers, I wouldn't be surprised if it came down to the last possession.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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