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Ravens’ offense: A revamped offensive line is creating running lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and protecting Flacco, who’s been sacked just four times in three playoff games. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie’s return to form allowed Michael Oher to move back to the more comfortable right tackle spot and Kelechi Osemele to play left guard. Few guards pull as well as Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda.
In the postseason, Pierce is gaining 6.3 yards per carry, and the Ravens are averaging 148.7 rushing yards. Torrey Smith’s game-breaking speed – he has 18 TD catches the past two seasons and a career average of 17.1 yards per catch – has opened up the middle for Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta, who’s caught 10 balls for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs.
49ers’ offense: It’s not just the “pistol” formation Baltimore has to worry about. The 49ers boast the NFL’s most diverse running game, using traps and counters to average 6.6 yards per carry with seven TDs in two playoff games. The Ravens haven’t seen a running quarterback or a zone-read scheme in the postseason, having faced pocket-passers Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Kaepernick is deadly when faking handoffs out of the pistol and throwing long. He’s the most accurate deep passer in the league by a wide margin.
Michael Crabtree is becoming a legitimate No. 1 receiver, catching 23 balls for 348 yards and four scores over the last three games. San Francisco has averaged 30.2 points over its last six games.
49ers’ defense: This unit ranked second in points allowed (17.1) and third in total yards allowed and features the league’s surest tacklers. Don’t look for Rice to shed a bunch of arm tackles. San Francisco allows an NFL-low 1.2 yards after contact per rush. CB Tarell Brown has missed just one tackle compared to 68 made tackles.
The 49ers also don’t give up the long ball. They’ve allowed three TD passes on throws that traveled at least 21 yards in the air, tied for second-fewest. But it’s been five games since OLB Aldon Smith got a sack – he racked up his 19.5 sacks over the first 13 games. While Smith did have seven QB hits/hurries in the NFC Championship, this is not the same pass rush with Justin Smith playing through a torn triceps.
Ravens’ defense: With a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, Baltimore is the first team to win three games in a single postseason while allowing 375 yards in each game. The Ravens excel in the red zone, allowing TDs on just 43 percent of possessions (2nd, NFL). Terrell Suggs’ improved health has made a difference: the Ravens are allowing 4.9 yards per play in the playoffs compared to 5.2 in the regular season.
But the secondary is vulnerable. Safety Ed Reed is a shell of his former self. Cornerback Corey Graham has allowed 210 receiving yards in the playoffs, 60 more than any other player, though he does have two INTs and two passes defended. Outspoken Bernard Pollard leads all safeties with eight penalties this season.
“We were even for the first week and a half but the last few days the San Francisco money started to take over,” Jay Kornegay, sportsbook director at the LVH Superbook in Las Vegas, told Covers. “We were at -3.5 for about 10 days but went to -4 late (Friday) morning. I expect it to close at -4.5 at most places with a few at -4.”