Deep thoughts: Long ball could carry Ravens to win
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Fear the dreadlocks, San Francisco.
Torrey Smith just might be the difference in a Super Bowl that will hinge on the 49ers' ability to prevent the Baltimore Ravens from scoring with the long ball.
You might remember Smith from that playoff game in Denver on Jan. 12. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey sure does. Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl star, watched the dreadlocks flapping from the back of Smith's helmet as he chased the speedy wide receiver into the end zone on touchdown catches of 59 and 32 yards.
Oh, and let's not forget that Baltimore forced overtime in that game on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left.
The Ravens have 17 pass completions of at least 40 yards this season, six of them involving Smith. Sometimes, Smith runs deep just to free up wideout Anquan Boldin or tight end Dennis Pitta or running back Ray Rice underneath, leaving Flacco a variety of viable targets.
"It all depends," said Smith, the speedy receiver from Maryland. "It's not like they say, 'Hey Torrey, just run straight down the field' all the time. Some of it is scheme-wise to open other guys up. Against certain coverages, I have certain responsibilities. We do attack vertically. That's a strength of ours, and I'm one of the guys that they definitely use to do that."
Combine all that with a San Francisco defense that gave up 396 yards passing to Atlanta's Matt Ryan in the NFC title game, and it could add up to a very long night for the 49ers.
"Joe Flacco, he's playing excellent football right now," former 49ers star receiver Jerry Rice said. "You've got Torrey Smith and also Anquan Boldin on the outside, and passes over 18 yards. They targeted Torrey Smith 109 times. So they're not afraid to throw the ball deep. The secondary of the San Francisco 49ers, they have had problems with the deep ball, so they can't let these guys run free."
The 49ers know this. Whether they can prevent Smith & Co. from breaking loose is another story. Rice is also a threat — he caught 61 passes for 478 yards during the regular season.
"I think No. 1, you've got one (receiver) that's got track speed that will take the top off your defense, so he's going to draw some attention," San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "Anquan is a very physical guy. He doesn't go deep as much as Torrey, but he's got the ability to. He's just got that connection, strong arm guy, physical guy, so it's going to be a challenge with him, too.
"We're challenged at every position. The tight end in the red zone, he's got a connection, too. Ray Rice out of the backfield, people don't look at that, but when you break down film, he continues to make linebackers look silly and break yards. ... So everybody on our side of the ball has their hands full with those guys."