By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
NEW ORLEANS – Here are five keys for the San Francisco 49ers as they prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII:
>>Colin Kaepernick must continue to be “Cool Colin” in only his 10th NFL start. Kaepernick has shown incredible poise through nine starts, including his first two in the playoffs. But the Super Bowl is an entirely different experience. There’s a reasonable chance that he could become overwhelmed by it all, although nothing he has done to date indicates that will happen. Kaepernick’s dynamic skills as a passer and runner should pose an enormous challenge to a Ravens defense that has struggled during the regular season but has been extremely stingy in the postseason.
>>The 49ers’ healthier defensive line has to be dominant. With an extra week to heal from his triceps injury, defensive end Justin Smith should be closer to top form. Despite doing a solid job against the run so far in the postseason, he has not been quite as effective rushing the passer. And the Niners have to be able to generate a great deal of heat on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been at the very top of his game. Aldon Smith showed improvement as a pass-rusher from his first to his second playoff game, but the 49ers have a mere two sacks in the postseason.
>>The Niners’ running game needs to do its part to help keep Baltimore’s defense off-balance. In dealing with the 49ers’ read-option offense, it’s a matter of picking your poison. If you focus on stopping Frank Gore and San Francisco’s running game, you risk Kaepernick tearing it up as a runner as he did against Green Bay in the divisional round. If you focus on stopping Kaepernick was a running threat, you risk leaving too much room for Gore, who took full advantage of that strategy with 149 yards on the ground against the Falcons in the NFC title game.
>>San Francisco’s secondary must be able to cope with Flacco’s hot passing hand while maintaining enough discipline to not bite too hard on play-fakes. Flacco is going to test the 49ers’ defensive backs in a big way, as he no doubt will look to carry the lion’s share of the Ravens’ offensive load on his passing arm. The pass-catching trio of Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and tight end Dennis Pitta are capable of making life miserable for any pass defense. But Baltimore maximizes the impact of highly dangerous rushing threat in Ray Rice by using plenty of play-action, and aggressive 49er safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are susceptible to biting on those fakes.
>>Niners linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have to keep the Ravens’ running game in check. Although the Ravens’ postseason run has been mainly driven by their passing attack, they are more than capable of taking a game over on the ground. Rice, Vonta Leach, and Bernard Pierce are likely to be even more effective, especially with Leach and Pierce having extra time to recover from injuries. However, they are facing two of the better linebackers in the league in Willis and Bowman, who was especially effective in covering plenty of ground and making plays against the Falcons.
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.
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