The San Francisco 49ers arrived in New Orleans last night, and if their first media availability of the week was any indication, the Ravens shouldn’t expect any bulletin-board material leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII.
Young quarterback Colin Kaepernick talked about how physical the Ravens are on defense. Offensive tackle Joe Staley remembered fondly what it was like to block Ray Lewis for the first time, while middle linebacker Patrick Willis spoke admiringly of Ray Lewis and his passion for the game.
But San Francisco players saved some of their biggest praise for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been at his best in the playoffs with eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in three games.
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“Flacco’s a good quarterback,” Willis said. “He’s really becoming a quarterback of his own. He has a strong arm and there is no question about how far he can throw the ball and the strength of his arm. He can move a little bit. For us, we are going to have to play team football. Our coverages are going to have to be great and guys are going to have to get after him when they’re rushing.”
In one career game against the 49ers, a 16-6 Ravens victory on Nov. 24 of 2011, Flacco completed 15 of 23 passes for 161 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Hard-hitting 49ers safety Dashon Goldson said last night that he’s always felt that Flacco was a good quarterback.
However, while watching film of the Ravens yesterday on the team’s flight in from the West Coast, he noticed something a little different about Flacco: his ability to extend plays.
“I saw him make a play with the running back. It was like a screen play and the running back had a defender on him but he slipped through and he threw it back,” Goldson said. “He extends plays and does a good job of that. He is definitely a good football player.”
The play that Goldson was referring to was Flacco’s 15-yard completion to Ray Rice early in the third quarter of the Ravens’ 28-13 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. Flacco was 21 of 36 for 240 yards and three touchdowns in that contest.
Well aware of Flacco’s ability to make plays down the field, San Francisco defensive tackle Justin Smith said the key will be stopping Rice and the Ravens’ running game, which will allow them to keep their safeties deep and take away the deep ball.
“I think the main thing is stop the run, keep the safeties deep, try not to get them involved in the run game as little as possible, so [Torrey Smith] doesn’t run through our backfield, our D-backs,” Smith said. “That’s pretty much the [main objective], run, run, chuck it over your head. The reason they can do that is because they can run the ball successfully on people. So, that’s going to be one of our keys.”