Is Joe Flacco an 'elite' quarterback?
While Joe Flacco isn't much of a threat to escape the pocket and pick up yards with his legs, Colin Kaepernick represents the new breed of dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
This is the final part in a series that spotlights seven 49ers-Ravens matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday in New Orleans. You can find all the key matchups in one place here.
49ers QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Ravens QB Joe Flacco
Tale of the tape
Kaepernick (7): 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, second season, Nevada
Flacco (5): 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, fifth season, Delaware
Their play will be analyzed, scrutinized and long-remembered.
They will never set foot on the Superdome artificial turf at the same time, but one of them will be the winning quarterback in Super Bowl XLVII and one will be on the losing side.
The football lives of Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco will never be quite the same after Sunday's finale to the NFL season.
Kaepernick will be making just his 10th NFL start after taking over for Alex Smith, whose concussion on Nov. 11 provided him with the opportunity to take over as the permanent starter.
He has quickly become the biggest star on a team filled with nine Pro Bowl players. Kaepernick’s larger-than-life image appeared in New Orleans on the side of the Entergy Imax Theatre, as well as the driveway at the 49ers hotel.
[PHOTO GALLERY: The history of Super Bowls in New Orleans]
While Kaepernick's personality is understated, his game is not. He is the 49ers' most dynamic quarterback since Hall of Famer Steve Young. And he represents a new breed of NFL quarterback with his ability to execute the read-option, as well as deliver as a passer from the pocket.
To wit, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round while also rolling up 263 yards and two touchdowns in the air. He attempted just two runs the next week, but completed 76 percent of his passes and had a 127.7 passer rating while rallying the 49ers back from a 17-point deficit for a 28-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
[MAIOCCO MAILBAG: Kap impersonator helping Ravens prepare]
"Our team has great faith in him," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "The thing you see in his eyes is the competitive fire, the poise beyond his years."
Flacco, more of a traditional drop-back passer, has also demonstrated tremendous poise.
He is the first quarterback in NFL history to make the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. Moreover, his teams won postseason games in each of those seasons. Flacco’s six career road wins in the playoffs is the most in history.
And Flacco has saved his best for this postseason. In leading the Ravens to victories over Indianapolis, Denver and New England, Flacco has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 114.7.
Vic Fangio, 49ers' defensive coordinator, spent four seasons on the Ravens' coaching staff before leaving John Harbaugh to become defensive coordinator on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford. Flacco caught his eye from the very beginning.
"I was very impressed with him,' Fangio said. "He has a big arm, throws the ball very easily and naturally. He's calm. He's knowledgeable. The game is not too big for him.
"In fact, I told John Harbaugh early on in the process, the first offseason we were there with him during OTAs, I told him he has his horse that he can ride the next 10-to-15 years as his quarterback in Baltimore. I thought that then and I still think that."
Flacco passed for career-highs of 3,817 yards on 317 completions. He also had 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but he didn’t always look the part of an elite QB as he struggled – as did the Ravens – to finish the season and clinch the AFC North at 10-6.
In the first four games in the no-huddle offense, Flacco led the Ravens to three victories and averaged 317 yards passing. But he wasn’t the same quarterback on the road. He threw for 187 at Kansas City, 147 at Houston, 153 at Cleveland and 164 at Pittsburgh even though the Ravens still won three of those games. When the Ravens went on a three-game losing streak after that, the sub-par play caught up with Flacco as he also had six turnovers in that stretch.
Since Jim Caldwell took over the play-calling in Week 15, there’s a renewed emphasis on the running game with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and Flacco has more latitude to audible at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens were rushing about 10 times more per game than they did the previous 14 weeks. The short passing game has opened up, TE Dennis Pitta is a threat again underneath, WRs Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are simultaneously involved.
“Jim has been great. He and I have pretty similar personalities and it’s just good going to that room and kind of bounce ideas off of each other and communicate the way we have,” Flacco said. “I think that’s what leads to playing well on Sundays, is having that communication between you and him and having that communication trickle down through the offense.”