Colin Kaepernick vs. Ravens linebackers
The San Francisco quarterback has three runs of 50-plus yards this season using the read-option play, while the Ravens finished 20th in rushing defense (122.8 yards a game). Baltimore’s linebackers aren’t the swiftest, either — particularly Ray Lewis, who has lost a step at age 37, and Terrell Suggs, who is coming off an Achilles tendon injury. If the Ravens can’t find a way to contain Kaepernick, this game could get out of hand quickly.
Anquan Boldin vs. 49ers cornerbacks
Boldin has been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs, leading the Ravens with 16 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns in three games. The 49ers have allowed some big games — Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards against them two weeks ago, and Tom Brady threw for 443 in Week 15 — but cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown helped the 49ers finish fourth in the NFL in passing defense (200.2 yards a game).
Baltimore OL vs. SF pass rushers
Aldon Smith has developed into one of the best pass rushers in the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season. Ahmad Brooks contributed 6.5 sacks coming off the other side. But Smith doesn’t have a sack in his last five games and will face a tough test against Ravens veteran tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher. Although Oher is famous as the lead character in “The Blind Side,” he now is playing right tackle. The line has protected Joe Flacco well lately; he has been sacked only four times in three playoff games.
Jacoby Jones vs. 49ers special teams
Voted into the Pro Bowl this year, Jones returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns this season. While the 49ers allowed one punt-return touchdown this season, they were solid on punt coverage overall. But they were second-worst in the NFL in kick-return coverage, allowing 26.9 yards per return. The 49ers can’t afford to let Jones break off a long run that gives the offense free points.
Whose running backs will prevail?
San Francisco’s Frank Gore has been a one-man show in the playoffs, carrying 44 times for 209 yards (4.8 average) and three touchdowns in two games. The Ravens, meanwhile, have developed a nice one-two punch with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Rice has rushed 64 times for 247 yards (3.9 average) and two touchdowns in the playoffs, with Pierce adding 27 carries for 169 yards (6.3 average). The team that establishes the run and sticks with it could have the key to victory.McClatchy news services