Expect big-hitting 'D' in Super Bowl

Expect big-hitting 'D' in Super Bowl
January 27, 2013, 3:45 pm
Share This Post

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- It was as if linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens' defense set out to provide a quarter-by-quarter demonstration of how they do business.

About 11 minutes into the AFC championship game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Lewis drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit that pushed tight end Aaron Hernandez's chin strap up near his nose.

Then, in the second quarter, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe gave New England another free 15 yards by hitting an offensive lineman in the face mask in response to an after-the-play shove.

Fast-forward to early in the third, and Pollard was flagged for his team's third personal foul of the day, thanks to a leaping hit against the helmet of receiver Wes Welker. Two plays later, Welker dropped a third-down pass.

And finally, a couple of minutes into the fourth, Pollard struck again. No penalty was called this time, but his helmet-to-helmet hit on Stevan Ridley resulted in a fumble and left the running back on his back, looking limp and helpless. Ridley left the game with a head injury, while the Ravens recovered the football and were on their way to next Sunday's Super Bowl against the equally aggressive San Francisco 49ers.

In an age of high-powered offenses in the NFL -- this season's games featured 45.5 points, the highest average since 1965 -- and increasingly safety-conscious officials, a pair of hard-hitting, oft-penalized defenses are meeting for the championship. Those second-half shutouts of the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in the conference title games were only the latest reminder from the 49ers and Ravens that defense still matters.

Sometimes it isn't about some sort of newfangled, complicated Xs-and-Os defense, either. It's about players pushing it to the limit -- and, sometimes, perhaps beyond -- in a league that has been taking steps to rein in certain kinds of hits.

"Being physical? That's vital, man. That's what we live by," Baltimore cornerback Cary Williams said. "That's something that Ray Lewis established here back in `96, and we're going to continue to do that. It's been, I guess, in our bloodline. It's in our DNA. We don't bring in guys that's timid. We don't bring in guys that's not going to hit anybody."

What about San Francisco's defense?

"They're just as physical as we are," Williams replied, offering what in his mind is probably the highest compliment he could pay another team's players.

San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith deflected a question about whether his defense is as good as Baltimore's, replying: "I mean, we're just trying to win a ring."

Actually, that's probably better asked about the Ravens: Are they as good as the 49ers?

Opposing offenses scored 15.5 points per game against the 49ers, which ranked third in the 32-team NFL in the regular season. The Ravens gave up 20 per game, 11th-best.

The 49ers allowed only two touchdown passes of 20-plus yards, the lowest total in the league. Baltimore allowed six.

During the regular season, the Ravens were whistled for an NFL-high 19 personal fouls. Their team also was penalized more yards overall than anyone else.

The 49ers, for their part, tied for fourth with 15 personal fouls and ranked fifth in penalty yardage.

"When you go against a team that has that kind of reputation, and you can watch it on film, it definitely gets in your mindset and you know you have to deal with it," Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger said. "I'm not sitting here saying that we're intimidating everybody or anything like that. But you know we're coming to hit you, for sure."

Pollard put things a little more starkly.

This is a guy who has developed a knack for leaving injured opponents in his wake. It was his Week 1 hit on Brady in 2008, for example, that cost the star QB the rest of that season.

"For everybody, for fans, people who don't understand -- they want to say, well, I'm being a dirty player. Well, no, I'm not being a dirty player. I'm just playing defense," said Pollard, a seventh-year veteran out of Purdue. "And I ask you the question: If I came into your house, with your door locked, and I just kicked it down, and came to try to steal stuff, you're going to defend your house, am I correct? So that's the stand I take. We've got grass behind us. We've got the end zone that we have to defend, we've got to protect."

If his is a way of thinking about the game that, as Williams noted, Lewis brought to Baltimore, the 49ers' current group -- featuring players such as safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Patrick Willis -- can trace its lineage back to Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott.

He, for one, enjoys watching these two teams do what they do when opponents have the ball.

"There is a Steel Curtain or Chicago Bears type mentality with both of these defenses. Both of them bring a kind of edge to how they play," Lott said in a telephone interview. "They both swarm to the ball, get a lot of people to the ball. It won't be just one guy hitting you. There will be a number of guys."

Lott spoke admiringly about how well the 49ers and Ravens do what should come more naturally than it seems to in the NFL nowadays: tackle.

Only eight teams allowed an average of 5 yards or fewer after a catch this season, and two are meeting to decide who gets to take home the Lombardi Trophy.

"In a game like this where you have guys who are explosive guys, like (Frank) Gore, like (Ray) Rice, like (Colin) Kaepernick, like (Anquan) Boldin, you have to tackle," Lott said. "And you have to tackle properly. These teams do."

Seven of the 46 previous Super Bowls ended with MVP awards going to defensive players. That includes 2001, when Baltimore's Lewis was honored; it hasn't happened since 2003, with Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson.

But with players such as Lewis and Terrell Suggs on the field, plus Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, Whitner and Pollard, perhaps the MVP of Sunday's game will be someone who prevents points.

"It's just like the old saying," Baltimore's Ellerbe said. "Offense sells tickets; defense wins championships."

©2013 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Texans - Team News
Arian Foster - RB
Texans coach Bill O'Brien referred to Arian Foster (hamstring) on Monday as "day to... Foster himself acknowledged he wasn't 100 percent in Sunday's win over the Bills, managing six yards on eight carries. He'll likely continue to be limited in practice all...
Sep 29 4:20PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Following Sunday's win over the Bills, Arian Foster (hamstring) admitted he "just wasn't... Foster rushed eight times for six yards while playing on just 54.1 percent of the snaps, but did salvage his box score a bit with seven catches for 55 yards. The good news...
Sep 29 8:42AM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson said the ankle injury that briefly sidelined him Sunday is "fine." "I was more scared than anything because I felt a pop, so I went in and got checked," Johnson said. We never like to hear about pops, but Johnson did come back...
Sep 28 5:37PM Read More
Garrett Graham - TE
Garrett Graham caught three passes for 28 yards in Week 4 against the Bills. He was targeted five times. Graham is on pace for just 36 catches and 380 yards this season, but should be more involved going forward now that he's healthy. He was used in...
Sep 28 5:25PM Read More
Alfred Blue - RB
Alfred Blue had nine carries for nine yards in Week 4 against the Bills. With Arian Foster playing through a hamstring injury, Blue was used in a committee and finished with more carries. He added two catches for 16 yards on three targets. Blue...
Sep 28 5:22PM Read More
DeAndre Hopkins - WR
DeAndre Hopkins had five catches for 64 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's Week 4 win over... Hopkins beat Corey Graham for a 35-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. He finished with just six targets despite Andre Johnson missing time with an ankle injury....
Sep 28 5:03PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster totaled 61 yards on 15 touches in Sunday's Week 4 win over Buffalo. Foster was held to six yards on eight carries, but was targeted 10 times by checkdown artist Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was clearly running at half-speed and looked sluggish...
Sep 28 4:07PM Read More
Ryan Fitzpatrick - QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 25-of-37 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions... Fitzpatrick's only notable play was a 35-yard touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins at the end of the first half. He managed the Texans to a win without any help from Arian Foster or...
Sep 28 3:55PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson left Sunday's Week 4 game against the Bills with an ankle injury. Johnson came up lame on a pass in the fourth quarter and was taken to the locker room. He was able to jog off under his own power and later returned to the game. Johnson...
Sep 28 3:01PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
According to NFL Network's Albert Breer, Arian Foster (hamstring) is moving with a slight limp... Per Breer, the Texans will "monitor his hamstring early in the game, determine his workload from there." It's similar to what was reported by beat writer Tania...
Sep 28 11:40AM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster (hamstring) is active for Week 4 against the Bills. Foster will be available for a full workload after sitting out last week. He's Rotoworld's No. 12 running back against the Bills' top-five run defense. Inactive for the...
Sep 28 10:33AM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
According to the Houston Chronicle, Arian Foster will "definitely" play in Sunday's... The chronic hamstring issue Foster has been battling for two months is good to go. "Foster would't be active if he wasn't 100 percent. That means he'll get a full...
Sep 28 10:03AM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports Arian Foster (hamstring) is expected to play Sunday against... That's two positive reports on Foster within the past 12 hours. He's still likely to be a game-time decision, but all signs are pointing toward Foster starting after...
Sep 28 7:45AM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
The Houston Chronicle expects Arian Foster (questionable, hamstring) to play in Week 4 against... Foster is still a game-time decision and will need to go through pre-game warmups before he's cleared. He was reportedly close to playing last week and ended up being held...
Sep 27 6:19PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) is probable for Week 4. Johnson will be fine for Sunday's matchup with the Bills. He's Rotoworld's No. 12 receiver this week.
Sep 26 5:53PM Read More