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Grading SB XLVII units: Niners LBs are best; QB (Flacco) hot for Ravens


Grading the 2013 Super Bowl Units: Ravens vs. 49ers

A Joe Flacco is playing out of his mind. He has eight touchdown passes and no picks in the postseason. He seems so much more comfortable in the up-tempo offense. Is this his time? Can he show he is elite? Or close to it? Tyrod Taylor is a mobile backup, but if Flacco is forced out of the game the Ravens have no chance.
B For a kid with only nine starts, Colin Kaepernick has had two good playoff games, winning two different ways. He ran it for 181 yards against Green Bay and then threw it well against the Falcons. The only question will be the moment. Is it too big this early? Alex Smith, the starter for the first nine games, is a capable backup.
Running backs
B+ Ray Rice is such a big part of what the Ravens do in both the running and passing games. He is dangerous as a screen back. Bernard Pierce, the rookie from Temple, also has played well. He would be a starter on some teams. Fullback Vontae Leach is a bruising lead blocker.
B In veteran Frank Gore, the 49ers have a tough, inside runner who is perfect for their zone runs. Speedy LaMichael James offers a more explosive option. Both can be good in the screen game. Fullback Bruce Miller is usually leading them through the hole, and he does a nice job.
Wide receivers
B+ Torrey Smith is the speed threat, while Anquan Boldin is the reliable underneath receiver. Smith can stretch a field and help open things up for Boldin. He has emerged as a special player. Boldin doesn't win with his speed, but he does a nice job of using his hands and his body to get catches. Jacoby Jones is another speed player as the No. 3 receiver.
C Michael Crabtree has come on big-time with Kaepernick in the lineup. Like Boldin, he isn't a burner. But he is good after the catch and he is a tough, physical receiver. Randy Moss doesn't run like he once did, but he can still scare secondaries now and then. He did some good things against the Falcons. Ted Ginn Jr. has good speed, but he doesn't do a lot in the offense as the third receiver. Losing Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams to season-ending injuries hurt this unit.
Tight ends
B- Dennis Pitta has emerged as a big-time threat in the passing game the past seven weeks. The Ravens line him up all over and he can create mismatch problems. Ed Dickson missed time because of injuries, but he's back healthy now and he can also catch the football. Billy Bajema is the blocking tight end.
B Vernon Davis is an amazing talent, and he showed it off against the Falcons. Why he isn't used more is a mystery. He has the tools to be a 95-catch guy. He is big and can run. Delanie Walker is the move tight end. He has had some trouble with drops this season, but gets open. He's also a nice lead blocker on some trap blocks. Garrett Celek is the third tight end.
Offensive line
B- Since they reshuffled the line before the playoffs, this group has played at a high level. They put Bryant McKinnie in at left tackle, moved left tackle Michael Oher to the right side, and moved right tackle Kelechi Osemele to left guard. All three have played well in the playoffs. Right guard Marshal Yanda is one of the league's best at his position. Veteran center Matt Birk is smart, but can have trouble with power on his nose.
A The 49ers have one of the NFL's best lines. The left side of tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati gets all the attention -- and the Pro Bowl berths -- but the right side isn't far behind. Right tackle Anthony Davis has improved greatly and first-year starter Alex Boone has solidified the troubled right-guard spot. Center Jonathan Goodwin is smart and had a great start to his 2012 season.
A Justin Tucker has proven to be a find as a rookie. He made the big kick to beat the Broncos in the playoffs and made 30 of 33 field-goal attempts during the regular season.
D This is a major concern. David Akers has gone bad. He missed a big field goal against the Falcons and made 29 of 42 during the regular season. It seems to be in his head.
Defensive line
C+ This unit was a big disappointment much of the season. But it has come on in the playoffs. Injuries were a big part of the struggles as Haloti Ngata struggled to get healthy -- and it hurt his play. He has played much better in the playoffs. Nose tackles Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody have spent most of the season getting blocked. Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee do a nice job splitting time at one end spot. Jones is a better run player, while McPhee is the better pass rusher.
B When Justin Smith suffered a torn biceps muscle in the 49ers' victory over the Patriots in December, this unit suffered a big hit. Smith hasn't been the same force he was before the injury, but he made some nice plays in the run game against the Falcons. Ray McDonald, the other end, is truly underrated. He is a top-level talent, who gets lost in all the talent on this defense. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is a force in the run game, but he doesn't play a lot since the 49ers use their nickel a bunch. Ricky Jean-Francois is a nice backup.
B- The thinking is this position is all about Ray Lewis. But it's not. He has been just OK in the playoffs, so don't go thinking he's the same guy he used to be. Dannell Ellerbe, who plays next to him, is a better player. He is fast and explosive. Terrell Suggs missed half the season coming back from a torn Achilles tendon. He wasn't close to his old ways upon returning, but is getting there and had improved during the playoffs. Veteran Paul Kruger has emerged as a real force in the second half of the season. He can rush the passer and he's also solid in the run game. He isn't so good in coverage. Rookie Courtney Upshaw also sees time on the outside. He has improved as the season has moved along.
A+ This is the strongest unit of any in this game. The 49ers have a great 1-2 punch inside with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. They are among the four best at their positions in the game. Aldon Smith had 19 1/2 sacks at one outside spot, making him a pass-rush force. Ahmad Brooks, the other linebacker, might be the most underrated player in the league. He can play the run and the pass.
C+ They had injuries plague this unit for much of the season, but the young corners have stepped up and played well in the playoffs. Corey Graham and Cary Williams have done a nice job. Nickel corners Chykie Brown and Jimmy Smith are solid. Safety Ed Reed doesn't play like he once did, and he isn't a good tackler, but he is still smart and can outthink a quarterback. Bernard Pollard, the strong safety, is good in the box and will be key to slowing down Kaepernick and the read option.
B- Corner Carlos Rogers is the best cover player, and he will slide inside much of the time. That will leave Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver outside in man coverage. They've had troubles there at times, especially in the playoffs. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner play a lot of two-deep coverage. Both are good tacklers, but they can get too aggressive in coverage. Look for the Ravens to attack them in the passing game.
B+ Veteran Sam Koch is a reliable punter. He averaged 48.1 yards per punt with a 41.3 net average. That net average was good for ninth in the league.
A+ Andy Lee is arguably the NFL's best punter. He has a huge leg and gets great hang time. His net average was 43.3, second-best in the league.
Return game
A Jacoby Jones was named to the Pro Bowl as a return man and can rip open a game as a kickoff returner and punt returner. He had three TD returns this season.
C Ted Ginn Jr. didn't do as much as a return man in 2012 as he did in 2011. But he is still capable of ripping off a big one. James is also being used as a return man now because of his great speed.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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