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49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks but none since Dec. 9. / Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have matchups they can exploit against the Baltimore Ravens. Here's what they should focus on in Sunday's Super Bowl:

Spread the field: The 49ers aren't particularly deep at wideout after losing Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams to injured reserve in the regular season. Still, it might be worth targeting a Baltimore defense that suffered a key loss itself when CB Lardarius Webb went down with an ACL tear in October. Niners WRs Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss should have a collective edge against CBs Cary Williams and Corey Graham. But a real advantage might be gained by deploying RB LaMichael James and/or uber-athletic TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker against a team that's struggled in nickel packages and doesn't have good pass-defending linebackers. And getting them on their heels could open up delayed runs for QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Frank Gore.

Ride Gore: Kaepernick's star turn has garnered much of his team's attention in the playoffs and rightfully so. But sure and steady often does the trick, and Gore, who rarely loses yardage or fumbles, is both while providing a means to keep Baltimore's resurgent offense at bay. He's averaging nearly 5 yards per carry in postseason and consistently made the Green Bay Packers and, especially the Atlanta Falcons, pay when they focused on keeping Kaepernick from getting loose outside on read-option plays. That stratagem usually means an inside handoff to Gore from the team's pistol formation, and he consistently gashed teams into the second and third level. Led by all-pro G Mike Iupati, San Francisco's offensive line is at its best blowing defenders off the ball and should make hay against a wavering Ravens run defense.


Attack the edges: Amazingly, the 49ers have gotten one sack from an edge rusher in their past five games, and all 19½ of Aldon Smith's quarterback takedowns came prior to Week 15. If that doesn't change, Ravens QB Joe Flacco will surely dissect San Francisco. At the very least, the Niners need to get Flacco on the move rather than let him consistently set up in the pocket and scan the field. Niners DL Justin Smith is essentially playing with one arm, and Aldon Smith frequently capitalized on stunt rushes set up by his namesake. Yet as well as Baltimore's O-line has played lately, Aldon Smith and OLB Ahmad Brooks should be able to shake loose against Ts Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher, who are hardly airtight pass blockers, especially when isolated. The Ravens have lost three of their past four games when Flacco is sacked at least three times.

Capitalize in the red zone: Obviously, scoring touchdowns is preferable to settling for field goals. But the Ravens are allowing opponents TDs in just 40% of their postseason trips inside the 20-yard line. The New England Patriots, the highest-scoring team in the league in the regular season, went 1-for-4 in the AFC Championship Game, and Tom Brady was picked off on two other forays inside the Baltimore 25-yard line. The 49ers have come away with TDs on 78% of their playoff red-zone drives. That's particularly important given struggling K David Akers is 7-for-12 (58.3%) on field-goal attempts in his last five games. Kaepernick's decision-making may come into extreme focus in these situations given he won't have as much room to roam, and lurking veterans like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will be ready to pounce the first time he makes a faulty read.

Beat the bully: Recent Super Bowls have been dominated by teams reliant on aerial theatrics. But Super Bowl XLVII should be a throwback to a time when the tougher teams ruled. The Ravens and 49ers both have obvious flaws, but they've also physically beaten the opposition in their respective quests for glory. With ILBs Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and Ss Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, no team is scarier over the middle than San Francisco, including the formidable Ravens. But both squads are equally adept at issuing momentum-swinging hits, and whoever lays the most wood Sunday will likely end up etching a Lombardi legacy.

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Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Keys to victory: Niners must run and rush

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