Shadow Moses: Fear and Loathing at Super Bowl 47
Lately, I have been obsessed with a song by British metal band Bring Me The Horizon called “Shadow Moses.” It’s a track off their new album, and while I haven’t been a fan of their earlier stuff, this song is absolutely killer.
At one point in the song, lead singer Oliver Sykes screams “This is Sempiternal!” which is badass on a number of levels: 1) it’s a sick breakdown 2) Sempiternal also happens to be the name of Bring Me The Horizon’s new album and 3) the word Sempiternal means eternal and everlasting, something that endures forever.
It was hearing Ollie Sykes scream “This is Sempiternal” that got me thinking of my Baltimore Ravens and Super Bowl XLVII this Sunday in New Orleans. The Ravens can endure forever by winning this game and nothing can take it away. No matter how much media BS they’ve gone through this week, it all becomes white noise with just one more W.
But before I get into the future, allow me to take a trip back to the past and the AFC Championship Game against New England.
Yes, let’s go back to that game because it was glorious and I can’t watch the highlights of it enough. It was so great to finally get the Patriots and, as The Rock would say, layeth the smacketh down on them. Simply put, it was the most satisfying Ravens moment I've ever had.
And if for a single solitary second I would start to feel bad for them, there were the Patriots to remind me that there was a reason they were #1B on every Ravens fans hate list. Whether it was Wes Welker’s wife running her yap on Facebook, the sight of CBS head Les Moonves in Bob Kraft’s box or the Patriots announcers complaining about how the Ravens celebrated, you know, only making it to the damn Super Bowl, it was good to be reminded how much we really hate the Patriots. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a Bill Simmons podcast more than hearing a somber-sounding Billy admit that we were better than New England.
But with that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the next challenge: the HarBowl against the 49ers, a team that definitely presents a different kind of problem than we’ve faced so far in the playoffs.
For starters, the Ravens will need to figure out how to stop Colin Kaepernick and the pistol offense. The pistol creates all kinds of problems because a) most teams haven’t seen it b) there’s all kinds of things you can do out of it and c) Kaepernick is about as good at running it as anyone, given that he ran it in college at Nevada under Chris Ault, who invented it. Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III are about as perfect to run this offense as you can get because they both have tremendous outside speed and have strong, accurate arms.
The good news for the Ravens is, they’ve seen the pistol before, when they played RG3’s Redskins in DC. In that game, the banged up Ravens defense struggled early against the pistol, getting burned by those zone read plays and RG3’s clever play-fakes. The defense adjusted to it as the game wore on, and the Ravens did hold a 28-20 lead with five minutes left. While the Ravens eventually lost that game, they’ll have two things going for them that they didn’t then: experience with the pistol and, more importantly, the defense is healthier than its been all year. Plus, Kaepernick and RG3 are similar type QBs.
The 49ers will also bring a top-notch defensive team, at least as good as the Denver team the Ravens faced in the Divisional Round. However, the San Francisco defense has given up plenty of points in its two playoff games against Green Bay and Atlanta (55) and gave up plenty of big plays in the secondary against the Falcons. Joe Flacco lit up Denver’s defense for over 330 yards, including two long touchdowns to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, so there should be some opportunities down the field.
Running the ball may be difficult against the 49ers front, although Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are better than any of the backs San Fran has played thus far in the playoffs. I’m sure, as they did against New England, the Ravens will want to try to establish the run, but most likely, this thing is going to be about whether the O-line can pass block the 49ers rush and whether Flacco can hit big plays down the field.
How else can the Ravens win this thing?
--- There’s 52 other guys
This will be Ray Lewis’ final game, and much of the attention (for obvious reasons and reasons we’ll get into later) has been focused on him. And yet, the relentless amount of stories on Ray have chafed some of his teammates. Not that they don’t love #52, he is the leader, but I think the other guys on the roster will be eager to prove themselves on the biggest stage possible and prove that they are more than just Ray.
--- Bryant McKinnie and Kelechi Osemele vs. the Smiths
The Ravens offensive line has been a revelation in the playoffs since McKinnie was reinserted at left tackle, moving Osemele to guard and Michael Oher to right tackle. They’ve kept Flacco clean (only four sacks in postseason) and made the running game enough of a threat to keep defenses honest.
Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are San Fran’s top D-linemen, although the former has been nursing an arm injury all playoffs long. Justin Smith’s absence has coincided with a drop in Aldon Smith’s sack production. Still, Aldon Smith has beast potential and the Ravens will need to keep him off Flacco.
--- Ray Rice & Dennis Pitta vs. Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman
This should be a fun matchup. Willis currently holds the belt as Best Middle Backer in the league, while Bowman is not too shaby himself. They will likely have the task of covering Rice out of the backfield and Pitta over the middle.
Rice is due for a breakout game at some point after a pretty pedestrian playoffs. To me, Rice hasn’t been the same since fumbling twice against Indianapolis in the playoff opener. He seems tentative, content to just get three yards instead of looking for the home run. The Ravens are going to need him as runner and receiver in this game.
Pitta and Anquan Boldin are Flacco’s security blankets. Pitta was very effective in the first HarBowl played last Thanksgiving. If he can play the role he’s played all season as a reliable chainmover in the passing game, the Ravens offense can stay on the field.
--- Make Kaepernick play from behind
One way the Ravens can defend the pistol is make the 49ers abandon it somewhat by playing with a lead. Granted, Atlanta had a 17-0 lead on the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, but if the Ravens can put some distance between themselves and the 49ers on the scoreboard, they can turn Kaepernick into a one-dimensional pocket passer who needs to throw 35 to 40 times, instead of the dual purpose threat he can be.
--- Joe Flacco: Mr. Elite
Flacco has finally dispelled the notion that he's not an "elite" quarterback who can't take a team to the Super Bowl by outplaying Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in succession. If he wins this Super Bowl, he's going to literally be swimming in money. He may need to build himself one of those enormous money vaults a la Scrooge McDuck in "Duck Tales." As Ray Lewis told him before the Denver game, Flacco is the General now. The Ravens are going to need Flacco to shine one more time. It's time for him to ensure that he never has to buy a beer in Baltimore for the rest of his life by winning this game.
--- The media
This week has once again seemingly found the Ravens under attack from the national media, who, as Torrey Smith tweeted “don’t seem to like us so much.”
Much of the attention came from the Sports Illustrated story on Ray Lewis and the deer antler spray, which he supposedly used to heal his torn triceps and is also alleged to contain a banned substance.
Plus, you had reporters there asking Ray about the Atlanta murder case from 13 years ago and plenty of “we’re sick of Ray Lewis” backlash stories (ironic, that if these outlets are so sick of Ray they continue to use his name to sell their publications and get page clicks).
Since it had been 12 years since the Ravens were last in the Super Bowl, I had forgotten how bad the national media could be, especially when you give them 2 weeks with nothing to write about. As a fan, it’s made the leadup to this game, which should be a joyful thing, not a whole lot of fun. Since the murder case is old news and the backlash stories are just trolling, let’s go on the latest thing, the deer antler story.
For starters, I’m sure SI publishing this story on the eve of the Super Bowl was surely a remarkable coincidence (sarcasm intentional).
This whole thing, as Drew from WNST theorized, seems like a business deal gone bad. That the SWATS guys gave Ray some stuff for free and as a quid pro quo, expected Ray to acknowledge them in some capacity. When that didn’t happen, the SWATS guys ran to SI. The SWATS guys’ hurt feelings and flying into New Orleans after Ray denied using their product would indicate that they expected something from him.
Not only that, but Mitch Ross, the man that supposedly gave him the spray, showed up in New Orleans and wasn’t exactly the picture of truthiness. He seemed like a common hustler, there more to pimp his product than implicate Ray Lew. He even apologized to Ray.
Of course, the media has taken the idea that the deer spray contains performance enhancing drugs – a claim which is dubious after the Baltimore Sun got several professionals to say that the spray could not deliver PEDs – and ran with it, painting Ray Lewis as a drug cheat, in addition to being a murderer. And you know what, that’s their prerogative. People are going to think what they’re going to think, and sometimes trying to change people’s minds is about as effective as peeing in the wind to put out a forest fire.
The media may think this is some sort of distraction that will derail the Ravens, but personally, I don’t think they know how much they’re playing into the team and the fan base’s hands.
Among the Baltimore fan base, we wear persecution and inferiority complexes like badges on our sleeves.
And as far as the team goes, what’s one more obstacle to overcome? In this season alone the Ravens have had to deal with:
Terrell Suggs’ injury
The death of Torrey Smith’s brother
The injuries to Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis
A well-documented near-mutiny after a blowout loss to Houston
Fourth-and-29 in San Diego
A three-game losing streak
The firing of Cam Cameron
Being down seven in Denver with less than a minute to play.
The Ravens have overcome all these things, so the question remains, what’s one more thing? So what if we aren’t winning the hearts and minds of America? So what if Sports Illustrated can take a long walk off a short pier when it comes to Ravens fans?
As the great Jake Taylor said, there’s really only one thing left to do….
“Win the whole, F’N thing.”