This Baltimore Ravens football team looks like the New York Giants of the 2007 and 2011 seasons. They even look a little bit like the Green Bay Packers of 2010.
What do they all have in common? Momentum. Momentum is an athlete’s best friend and biggest enemy. Yes, there are other similarities, particularly to the Giants, like an excellent yet unproven quarterback in Eli Manning circa 2007 and today’s Joe Flacco. There is a wily veteran defense that knows how to get the quarterback and hit him hard. Just ask Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots running back, how hard this defense hits. He got knocked out of the AFC Championship game by a cornerback!
I’m writing to tell you that history both will and will not repeat itself. What do I mean? History will not repeat itself, in the sense that the Ravens will not win the Super Bowl. What will repeat itself is more recent history. The Ravens will mishandle yet another running quarterback. This season, the vaunted Ravens defense has faced two mobile quarterbacks, Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III, and has lost to them both in weeks two and fourteen, respectively. The immediate argument would be that this Ravens defense has come so far in developing that the week two matchup is irrelevant. I’ll concede to that argument.
But RG3 tore up the Ravens right until they tore up his knee. He was gashing them with Alfred Morris in a zone read system, which Colin Kaepernick will be running out of the pistol with Frank Gore and former Oregon standout Lamichael James. Morris and Griffin ran for 163 yards combined. Griffin has been running the zone read since his time at Baylor, where he won the Heisman. Kaepernick has been running that pistol since his time at Nevada, where his team prevented a Boise State Broncos team (and their head case kicker, Kyle Brotzman) from going to a BCS Championship. Both young men are golden boys in their cities. People worship their legs. Despite Kaepernick’s legs being healthier than Griffin’s, the parallels work nicely – the Ravens do not want Colin Kaepernick running the ball.
Ravens should be omnivores, preying on other creatures. In this case, however, the Ravens will not want to be hunting on the ground. They would prefer the air. After all, they beat two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, by forcing them to throw. This team will need to break the mold of the animal that they are named after that scavenges for everything. If they want to win this game, their defense must be willing to think outside the two-dimensional offense which they defeated three weeks in a row.
The have to stop the zone read. The Ravens don’t even have to stop the 49ers running game, as whole. No one has. They allowed 125 yards rushing to the Broncos and 112 to the Patriots, and won those games. In order to win this game, though, they do need to limit it, and it all starts with the zone read.