Each day this week, Baltimore Sun reporter and blogger Matt Vensel will break down a key matchup from Sunday's
The Ravens offensive line was dented by pass rushers and pinged by critiques from armchair quarterbacks during the regular season, but that all changed four weeks ago when the team inserted
Their performance in the victory over the
The Ravens -- McKinnie, in particular -- will face another tough test in the Super Bowl on Sunday. The 49ers have one of the most physical and effective fronts in the
“Clearly, their joker is going to be Aldon Smith,”
LIVING ON THE EDGE
When the 49ers drafted Smith, who starred in college at Missouri, seventh overall in the 2011
This season, the 49ers moved Smith all over their front, and he terrorized opposing offensive linemen of all shapes and sizes with 19.5 sacks, second to only
“That’s a lot of sacks. I don’t know if you knew that, but that’s pretty close to the record. I mean, shoot, you’re talking about one of the greatest seasons in history,” center
A “game-wrecker” in the Ravens' lexicon, Smith blew up the
"He's young. He has long arms. He's fast. He has good counter moves," McKinnie said, giving his full scouting report in about 2 1/2 seconds, the amount of time it usually takes Smith to get to a quarterback.
Overall, Pro Football Focus credited Smith with 70 total pressures during the regular season, the most among outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme and in the top 10 among all pass rushers.
Smith was credited with seven total pressures in San Francisco’s win over the
THE BIG SWITCHEROO
Several things have propelled the Ravens to the Super Bowl, but the biggest change, literally speaking at least, was the offensive line overhaul that coach
The Ravens inserted McKinnie, who is listed (perhaps generously) at 360 pounds on the team's website, at left tackle and moved
After getting sacked 35 times during the regular season -- only seven starting quarterbacks endured more sacks -- Flacco has been sacked just four times in three playoff games. Flacco has been pressured a total of 23 times in those games, according to Pro Football Focus, which is an average of about four fewer pressures per game than what Flacco faced during the regular season, before the big switch was made.
"They've been playing really well together, so you've got to give the credit to those guys," Flacco said.
Those clean pockets have played a significant role, of course, in Flacco throwing eight touchdown passes this postseason without an interception. If the offensive line can protect Flacco for 60 more minutes Sunday, he might make a run at
None of that will come easy, though, against Smith and a San Francisco defense that Baltimore offensive coordinator
KEEPING FLACCO CLEAN
The 49ers defense is a lot more than Smith -- the Ravens actually have two Smiths to watch out for -- but Aldon Smith accounted for just over half of their 38 sacks during the regular season, which was tied for 11th in the NFL. Defensive end
Still, the X-factor for the 49ers defense is Aldon Smith, who is a 6-foot-4, 258-pound freak of an athlete. He has the speed to beat blockers off the edge, and his bull-rush move is formidable.
In their 3-4 base defense, he stands up as a linebacker. But when they go with their nickel packages, the 49ers will use a four-man front with Smith lining up as a defensive end. They don't need to blitz very often, as 34 of his 35.5 career sacks came when part of a four-or-fewer man pass rush, according to ESPN stats and Info.
"The Ravens offensive line has played very well through the playoffs. I'm not overly concerned," Jaworski said when asked if their offensive tackles could handle Smith in the Super Bowl. "But I always think it's good to have a plan, that if he is getting quick pressure, that you have a tight end or a back in to help [McKinnie]."
According to Jaworski, the Falcons shifted their line protection to Smith’s side, with their left tackle, left guard and center zone-blocking to wall off the left side of the line. “It was a pretty effective way to negate those stunts between Justin Smith and Aldon Smith,” he added. The right guard and right tackle handled the other side, often getting help from a back or a tight end to chip
The Ravens must come up with a similar plan to take care of Smith, said Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who doesn’t believe that McKinnie -- who was beaten for a sack and allowed four other pressures in the
He seemed to think that what the Falcons did -- sliding three men toward Smith -- might be the best approach.
"If you slide your line to Smith and you chip Brooks, you're not losing any eligible receivers in your pass game because the chipper then goes right out into a route," Cosell said. "I think that's critical to have five guys [running] routes. There are many tactical ways to do it, in my opinion, but you don't want to do is create a situation where you're asking Bryant McKinnie to block him one-on-one on deep drops."