Sunday can't get here fast enough! There has already been plenty of talk about the coaches (John and Jim Harbaugh) and quarterbacks (Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick) in Super Bowl XLVII. While those four men will play a large role in deciding Sunday's game, several other key players could also determine the outcome. I've come up with three key matchups to follow when the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers face off on Super Sunday. Here they are:
Vernon Davis vs. Ed Reed
Prior to the NFC Championship Game, Vernon Davis had become the forgotten man in the 49ers' offense. In the five games prior to that matchup, the tight end caught just five balls. He broke out of his slump in a big way against the Atlanta Falcons, hauling in five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown, with Kaepernick hitting Davis on a variety of routes. The veteran proved that his combination of explosiveness and precise route-running is unmatched at his position.
The Ravens likely will charge numerous defenders with the responsibility of containing Davis. One such defender will be future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. The 34-year old free safety racked up four interceptions during a solid regular season, but he's been very quiet in the postseason. In fact, Reed hasn't picked off a pass in his past seven games. Reed is an exceptional student of the game; given two weeks to study Davis, I expect Reed to take a few calculated risks in the back end Sunday evening.
Advantage: Davis. Reed has an incredible football mind, but he no longer has the burst to mirror Davis in one-on-one situations.
Bryant McKinnie vs. Aldon Smith
The decision to put McKinnie in the starting lineup has paid huge dividends for the Baltimore offense. With McKinnie at left tackle, the Ravens were able to move Michael Oher over to his natural position of right tackle while sliding Kelechi Osemele inside to guard, where he's also more comfortable. McKinnie's enormous size makes it very difficult for defenders to successfully power through him to get to the quarterback. He can, however, get caught flat-footed at times, as he was by the New England Patriots' Rob Ninkovich during the AFC Championship Game.
Aldon Smith is one of the top young players in the NFL, racking up an amazing 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the 49ers. His accomplishments this season earned him a spot on the All-Pro team. Despite these impressive statistics and accolades, the linebacker has come under some heat for his recent lack of production. He has now gone five straight games without recording a sack. I watched tape of the NFC title game, and I'm not ready to panic about Smith, who generated a lot of pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, forcing him to get the ball out prematurely on several occasions.
Advantage: Smith. McKinnie should be fine to anchor down against Smith's bull rush, but he lacks the foot quickness to consistently control Smith's speed off the edge.
Mike Iupati vs. Haloti Ngata
This is going to be one of the more fun matchups to follow in this Super Bowl. Both players possess rare size, power and aggressiveness. Iupati had an All-Pro season for the 49ers, and many around the NFL consider the offensive lineman to be one of the more dominant players in the league. He can create an incredible amount of movement in the run game, and he has the power base to anchor down in the passing game. He isn't an elite athlete for the position, but he is surprisingly nimble and can adjust to linebackers at the second level.
Ngata battled through injuries all season long and still managed to play at a very high level. The defensive lineman reached the five-sack mark for the third straight year and continued his dominant play against the run. He should greatly benefit from the extra time off leading up to the game. When he's fresh and healthy, he can dominate the line of scrimmage.
Advantage: Ngata. Ngata's quickness will pose some problems for Iupati, and I expect him to notch a few big hits against Kaepernick.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks