RAVENS LT BRYANT McKINNIE vs. 49ers OLB ALDON SMITH
MATCHUP: San Francisco's defense is predicated on putting pressure on the quarterback, and nobody did that better this year than Aldon Smith. Smith uses his speed, and Baltimore's hefty and lethargic left tackle Bryant McKinnie (above) isn't known for his ability to stop the quick pass rusher.
McKINNIE: Despite starting every game during his first year with the Ravens last year, an overweight McKinnie lost his job in training camp. McKinnie was inserted into the lineup early in a Week 17 game when Jah Reid injured a toe, and the mammoth 360-pounder has acquitted himself nicely against the likes of Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil. McKinnie has allowed two sacks in 347 snaps this year.
SMITH: The 49ers moved Smith all over the place, and it paid off with an NFC-leading 19.5 sacks — 10th-most in NFL history and four shy of Michael Strahan's single-season record. Smith was dominant at times during the regular season, racking up 5.5 sacks and forcing a pair of fumbles in an impressive 32-7 win over Chicago. Only one Baltimore defender had more than 5.5 sacks during the regular season.
RAVENS DEFENSE vs. 49ers QB COLIN KAEPERNICK
MATCHUP: Not many teams contained Colin Kaepernick — whether he is running out of the pistol or throwing downfield — since he was inserted into the starting lineup following a Week 10 tie over St. Louis. The Ravens' defense isn't what it used to be but did well in an early-season game against Washington and Robert Griffin III, and that was without stars Dannell Ellerbee, Ray Lewis (above right) and Terrell Suggs (above left).
KAEPERNICK: If anything, he has shown over the nine games he's started that he can beat teams in a number of ways. In back-to-back playoff wins, Kaepernick kept the ball on read-option plays and rushed for an NFL-record 181 yards in a win over Green Bay. The next week, the Falcons took away Kaepernick's run option, so he handed the ball to Frank Gore and LaMichael James, who combined for 124 yards on 26 carries. Kaepernick, who is 7-2 as a starter, is leading the offense to an average of 476 yards in the playoffs.
RAVENS DEFENSE: The Ravens, whose players missed 53 combined games on defense this season, are healthy and will need a virtuoso performance to stop the 49ers and Kaepernick. The Ravens did have two weeks to come up with a game plan. Still, Baltimore has allowed at least 398 yards in three playoff games, becoming the only team in NFL history to win three playoff games allowing an average of 375 yards or more. However, the Ravens have given up only 14.3 points per game over that span.RAVENS QB JOE FLACCO vs. 49ers SECONDARY
MATCHUP: Joe Flacco likes to get yards through the air in chunks and won't be shy going after a 49ers secondary that struggled with long passes during the NFC Championship Game. Flacco, who has yet to throw an interception in three playoff games, has thrown 11 deep touchdown passes this year without having one intercepted. The 49ers' secondary will focus on keeping everything in front of them, which they've done a good job of all season.
FLACCO: He had one of the worst completion percentages during the regular season but made up for it with the long ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Flacco threw 20 yards or deeper on 17.3 percent of his passes, the highest in the NFL this season. According to PFF's accuracy percentage, or completion percentage adjusted for drops, he hit on just 40.2 percent on those passes, which put him 18th among quarterbacks with at least 25 percent of their team's attempts.
49ersSECONDARY: Cornerback Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown (25), along with Pro Bowl safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, have been good preventing long plays. Heading into the NFC title game, the 49ers allowed 157 plays of 10 yards or more, the fewest in the NFL. The unit also allowed a league-low seven touchdowns of 10 yards or more. Against the Falcons, the 49ers gave up 16 plays of 10 yards or more, including three touchdowns. The unit will be tested again by Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.
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