Arrow-right Camera

Game is all about matchups

Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, left, and former Washington Husky Dashon Goldson at safety are rising stars on San Francisco’s defense. (Associated Press)
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, left, and former Washington Husky Dashon Goldson at safety are rising stars on San Francisco’s defense. (Associated Press)

NEW ORLEANS – The key to winning Super Bowl XLVII?

At an event that churns out more cliches than any other, we refer to one of the oldest:

“Big-time players make big-time plays in big games.”

It will be as true today when the 49ers face the Baltimore Ravens in the Superdome as it was on Jan. 15, 1967, when the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Super Bowl I.

With that in mind, a look at some names that won’t be lining up across from each other, but will help decide the NFL champion by outperforming their counterpart:

Colin Kaepernick vs. Joe Flacco

How will Kaepernick fare on the grand stage? He won his first start on a Monday night and has beaten Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, rallying from a 17-0 deficit in the NFC Championship game. Three of those wins were on the road. Flacco has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three postseason games, during which time he has sent home Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Brady. His skill as a deep passer may be unequaled.

Edge: 49ers

Frank Gore vs. Ray Rice

Gore has 209 yards and three touchdowns in two postseason games, taking advantage of inside-read option runs with Kaepernick a threat outside. His forward progress is a big reason the 49ers lead the NFL with 4 or more yards on 54.8 percent of their regular-season snaps. Rice, like Gore, is a reliable table-setter for the Baltimore offense (82.3 yards rushing per game in the postseason) and rarely has negative yardage plays.

Edge: Ravens

Patrick Willis vs. Ray Lewis

Willis enjoyed another routinely excellent season with 120 tackles, second to NaVorro Bowman’s 149, and his passion without histrionics and ability to defend both run and pass makes him the 49ers’ most versatile defender. All Lewis has done in three postseason games is make 44 tackles and been the inspiration for Baltimore’s run to an AFC championship after returning from a torn triceps.

Edge: Ravens

Michael Crabtree vs. Anquan Boldin

Crabtree blossomed into one of the NFL’s top playmakers in his fourth season, totaling 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. His ability to snag Kaepernick fastballs has earned the trust of the quarterback. Boldin (65 receptions, 921 yards) is most dangerous as a brutish run-and-catch receiver, a good move-the-chains complement to outside burner Torrey Smith.

Edge: 49ers

Ed Reed vs. Dashon Goldson

Reed may be in his final season in a Hall of Fame career with the Ravens. His eight postseason interceptions put him one behind Ronnie Lott, Bill Simpson and Charlie Waters in NFL history. At age 34, he makes up for declining physical skills with instinct and anticipation. Goldson is younger and faster, and like Reed, has a knack for hits that draw the attention of officials and the league office.

Edge: 49ers

Aldon Smith vs. Terrell Suggs

Smith hasn’t had a sack in five games – the last three in regular-season and both postseason games. Factors have included Justin Smith playing at less than 100 percent with a torn triceps, extra attention from opposing blocking schemes and a shoulder injury. Suggs, who has 12 playoff sacks, missed the first six games of the season while recovering from an Achilles tear and later had a biceps injury, limiting him to eight games.

Edge: 49ers

Vernon Davis vs. Dennis Pitta

Davis re-emerged with five receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons but for long stretches has been a forgotten man in the 49ers’ passing game whether the quarterback was Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick. Pitta, with 61 regular-season receptions, has become a go-to receiver for Flacco when locating open areas in the middle of the field.

Edge: Ravens

Jim Harbaugh vs. John Harbaugh

The brothers share the same philosophy, but they go about things in a different way. Jim, an ex-NFL quarterback, is heavily involved with that position and has technical input on offense to assist coordinator Greg Roman. John, a former special teams coach with Philadelphia, is more of a facilitator and concerned with the overall product. John made the bold move of firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in December, and Flacco has flourished in the Ravens offense ever since.

Edge: 49ers