Editor's note: This is the sixth part in a series that spotlights seven 49ers-Ravens matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday in New Orleans.
Ravens DT Haloti Ngata vs. 49ers RG Alex Boone
Tale of the tape
Ngata (92): 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, seventh season, Oregon
Boone (75): 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, third season, Ohio State
J. Michael's take:
Ngata struggled through injuries and now is playing his best football. When he’s able to consistently win his battles at the point of attack, the Ravens do well against the run. But he has been moved around a lot by defensive coordinator Dean Pees to manufacture pressure. Ngata finished the regular season with 51 tackles and 5 sacks.
Ngata slumped badly at midseason because of knee and shoulder injuries. He was held out in Weeks 9 and 10 and the Ravens were able to win both games without him. When he returned, Pees began moving him outside and putting DE Arthur Jones inside. Containing the read-option run by 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Frank Gore is the key to victory. The Ravens faced a similar offense from the Washington Redskins with QB Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.
Griffin’s season, and possibly career was altered in the fourth quarter of his game with the Ravens when Ngata hit him during a scrambled. His knee was injured and it required surgery. The Ravens’ defense isn’t as formidable as it once was in terms of yards allowed, but players such as Ngata make runners pay a toll by issuing game-changing hard hits.
“We definitely have to be patient. We have to make sure that if you have a dive, you take the dive. If you have the quarterback, you take the quarterback. We’ve got to be careful and make sure that we communicate and get a stop,” Ngata said. “Our guys up front have to beat their blocks because they do very well with double-teams. Once we get to the running back, we have to bring him down.”
Quarterback Alex Smith was under constant pressure. And running back Frank Gore had nowhere to run.
The Baltimore Ravens put the clamps on the 49ers' offense in a 16-6 victory on Thanksgiving Day in 2011, as the 49ers managed only 170 yards of total offense.
And it all began with Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's thorough domination of Chilo Rachal, the 49ers' overmatched backup right guard, who was forced into the lineup when Adam Snyder was injured in the first quarter.
This time, on the NFL's biggest stage, first-year starter Alex Boone will mostly be entrusted with the assignment of neutralizing a player who can clog run lanes and push the pocket as a pass-rusher.
Boone has played at a high level after making the transition to guard from his role as the 49ers' top backup tackle. Boone has provided the biggest upgrade for the 49ers at any position from a year ago.
Boone, who is among the tallest guards in the NFL, has done a good job of maintaining his leverage. Boone ranked as the league's No. 3 guard behind Philadephia's Evan Mathis and Baltimore's Marshal Yanda, according to Pro Football Focus, which grades the performance of every player in the league on every play.
"(I'm) really excited for Alex Boone as an ascending player, as a tough player, as a leader on our football team," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.
The 49ers need a strong game from Boone when he is matched one-on-one against Ngata. A year ago against the 49ers, Ngata recorded two sacks, three tackles for loss and was a major force in limiting 49ers running back Frank Gore to just 39 yards on 14 rushing attempts.
"They are a stout group, led by Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis and that whole crew," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "This isn't their first rodeo. We understand that. They're a great defense and I think our guys recognize that the more they watch them."