A lot of the hype for Super Bowl XLVII is generated from the middle linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. From Ray Lewis’ final NFL game on the grandest stage of them all to the 49ers’ Pro Bowl duo of Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, these players are certainly the leaders and catalysts for their respective defenses.
While the Harbowl will certainly highlight two great defenses and feature two young quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco, a successful running game may be the difference in this matchup. When looking at the blockers each team utilizes in the backfield, the fullbacks in this matchup are an ignored but crucial aspect of this game.
For the Ravens, Vonta Leach, viewed as one of the best lead blockers in the game, has been a big reason for Ray Rice’s success since joining the team before the 2011-12 NFL season. A Pro Bowler for three-straight seasons, there’s a reason why he is the highest-paid fullback in the league.
From his large frame to his ability to get to the second level and open up holes for Rice, Willis and Bowman will have their hands full stopping the Ravens’ running game. Since Baltimore also likes to employ multiple tight end sets with Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, all of these big blockers may give the Ravens an edge in the trenches while on offense.
The 49ers are no stranger to implementing their own “jumbo” set featuring backup offensive linemen lining up as tight ends and fullbacks in the backfield. Whether it’s Daniel Kilgore, defensive lineman Will Tukuafu or starting fullback Bruce Miller in the backfield, they are all big bodies who have paved the way for a successful 49ers running attack featuring Frank Gore and LaMichael James.
Ray Lewis, Colin Kaepernick and the battling head coach brothers will be the common storylines discussed in the media. However, when it’s all said and done, the teams’ fullback play in the running games may be the x-factor in Super Bowl XLVII.
Austin Chang is a Writer for Sports Out West and a San Francisco Bay Area-based sports journalist. His work can also be found on Yahoo! Sports and Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @_austinchang.
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