At halftime in the Ravens’ 28-13 win over the New England Patriots a week and a half ago, Ravens coach John Harbaugh told offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to open up the offense. And after another tentative drive to start the third quarter, the Ravens wisely asked quarterback Joe Flacco to let it rip. Working exclusively out of the shotgun with three wide receivers on the field, Flacco led the Ravens on three straight touchdown drives, in the process leading them to Sunday’s Super Bowl. On those three drives, Flacco completed 14 of 18 attempts for 136 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating during that 14-minute hot streak was 137.7.
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith has been a beast in his first two NFL seasons, racking up 35.5 sacks, including 19.5 this season. But Smith hasn't sacked a quarterback in his past five games. Might the torn triceps that 49ers defense end Justin Smith, who usually lines up beside him, have something to do with the lack of production? Smith missed the final two regular-season games and is not at full strength in these playoffs. According to ESPN Stats and Info, all but one of Aldon Smith’s 35.5 career sacks came with Justin Smith on field. And in the 141 dropbacks that Aldon Smith played without Justin Smith, he had only one sack. Justin Smith will play in the Super Bowl either way, but Aldon Smith is probably hoping he is much healthier and effective after the Super Bowl bye week.
1,342 -- defensive snaps the Ravens have played this season.
The Baltimore defense has been on the field for 1,342 plays this season, including the playoffs, which is the most that any defense has played since 2001, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The Ravens defense has played an average of 85.3 snaps in the postseason -- 17.4 more than their regular-season average. No wonder they are allowing 415 yards per game in the playoffs. But statistically speaking, they have actually been more efficient, allowing fewer yards per play in the playoffs (4.9) than they did in the regular season (5.2). Oh, the only other defense to play more than 1,300 snaps? Last year’s New York Giants, who won it all.
5.2 -- yards per carry for the 49ers between the tackles in 2012.
While piling up an average of 164.6 rushing yards per game this season, including playoffs, the 49ers did a lot of their damage between the tackles with Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore, who leads the 49ers with 1,423 yards in 18 games. According to Pro Football Focus, Gore and the 49ers have averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry between the tackles this season. However, they have averaged just 4.4 since Week 15 -- not as good, but still above the league average -- and the Ravens have allowed just 3.7 yards per carry between the tackles over the same span. Strength versus strength, expect some loud collisions on Super Sunday.
7-0 -- Baltimore’s playoff record when Flacco doesn’t throw a pick.
As I wrote in this space last week, Flacco’s passing numbers this postseason are on the verge of being historic. Elite passer or not, Flacco has eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions this postseason, and he can tie Joe Montana’s postseason record if he gets to 11 touchdown passes. Cool stat, but don’t discount the lack of interceptions. According to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Ravens are 7-0 in the postseason when Flacco does not throw a pick. They are 1-4 when he does throw an interception, and the win was the game in Foxborough in 2009 when he attempted just 10 passes. It’s a no-brainer stat, but re-emphasizes the value of ball security.