Thursday, July 24th, 2014

HarBowl Story is Nice, but Players Will Determine Outcome on Thursday

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Lost in the John vs. Jim hype of the HarBowl is the game between the actual teams on Thanksgiving, which promises to be one for the ages. Back in the Summer, many fans circled their calendars lured by the first time ever NFL faceoff between two brothers standing on opposite sidelines as head coaches. Now with the way both teams have been playing, it’s about more than just hype.

The 49ers and their 9-1 record have far exceeded anyone’s expectations – even possibly Jim Harbaugh’s. The fact that his team has had so much success through the first ten games makes this brotherly battle even more interesting.

Not only do the coaches look like spitting images of each other, but so do their teams. The 49ers have a dominant inside linebacker wearing #52 of their own, Patrick Willis. The offense is led by a top tier running back and their first-round quarterback [Alex Smith] has been criticized throughout his whole career, just like Joe Flacco.

When looking at their comparative stats, the Ravens and 49ers mirror each other with their on-field play as well.

Through the first 10 games, both teams have scored an identical 256 points. The quarterback play has been comparable where Smith’s touchdowns (13) top Flacco’s (12).  However, a glaring stat is Smith’s four interceptions, which are half that of his counterpart. Frank Gore isn’t as big of a threat receiving the ball as Ray Rice but on the ground, the 49ers have just one fewer touchdown than the Ravens.

Which Ravens defense shows up on Turkey Day heavily depends on Ray Lewis’s injury status. Lewis missed Sunday’s game versus the Bengals, and in a memo sent to the media, he clearly didn’t know when he was going to be able to return. One thing for sure, if there is any chance Lewis can tough out the pain, he’ll be on the field. The Ravens defense surrendered 483 yards against the Bengals with Lewis playing the role of cheerleader instead of linebacker. Ray’s value in pass defense should not be understated. Without his menacing presence in the center of intermediate zones, opposing receivers will attack the middle of the field more freely. The threat of violent collisions isn’t as great when 52 is on the sideline.

Likewise, the 49ers have some holes that can be exploited by the Ravens offense. Surprisingly, the 49ers haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Ray Rice is arguably the best back the 49ers have seen this season so their shutout could be in serious jeopardy. The one area the Ravens must exploit to win this Thanksgiving matchup is the 49ers secondary. The 49ers have allowed double the passing touchdowns (14) the Ravens have this season and Flacco should be able to utilize his offense’s new (and not so secret) downfield weapon, Torrey Smith.

Regardless of the hype created around HarBowl, this game will be a lot more fun to watch than originally anticipated. While many casual fans will be focusing on how similar the guys on the sidelines with headsets look, most of us will be drawn to how competitive this game really should be.

Make sure you get all that turkey out of your teeth before the game starts – it’ll be tough later on because there’s a good chance you won’t have any fingernails left by the final whistle.

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