NEW ORLEANS -- Anquan Boldin isn't as fast as Torrey Smith, but he got him to slow down just enough.
The Ravens are in the Super Bowl where they’ll play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday not only because of quarterback Joe Flacco or a Ray Lewis-inspired defense, but because of receivers who have made small adjustments to make the big plays possible.
“I've tried to help him use his speed to his advantage. A lot of guys respect his speed, and rightfully so, but when guys do that, if you’re a great route runner you can start working things underneath as well,” said Boldin, who is in his 10th season and made a Super Bowl appearance with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
Flacco has passed for 51-for-93 for 853 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in three playoff games. He’s averaging 16.7 yards per completion compared with a 12.0 regular-season average.
While 11th-hour adjustments have been made to the offense -- Bryant McKinnie installed at left tackle after not having a regular-season start, Michael Oher moving back to his natural position at right tackle and Jim Caldwell being promoted to coordinator in Week 15 -- Boldin and Smith have a lot to do with the Ravens’ postseason success.
Boldin opened the postseason with five catches for 145 yards and one touchdown in a 24-9 win vs. the Indianapolis Colts. In a 28-13 upset at the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, two of his five catches for 60 yards were for TDs.
After a fast start to open the season -- on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage, Smith caught a 52-yard strike -- Smith went into a lull. He only had 1 TD catch in the last seven regular-season games. He awakened in the postseason with nine catches for 198 yards and two TDs.
Somewhat surprising because the Ravens were committed to a no-huddle offense that featured the deep ball to start the season, Boldin led the Ravens with 65 catches and 921 yards in the regular season. He also had four TDs. Smith finished with 49 for 855 and a team-high eight TDs.
“Anquan has helped me out a lot,” Smith said. “He’s been a great mentor both on and off the field. I’m thankful to be paired up with him.”
The change in coordinators helped, too. Cam Cameron was fired after Week 14 as the offense went stale. They weren't spreading out to take advantage of Smith’s speed, Smith was having issues dealing with press coverage and his routes became predictable. Flacco also was assaulted in a collapsing pocket, getting sacked 15 times from Weeks 12-16 as the Ravens went 2-3.
But Flacco, who had six turnovers during a three-game losing skid towards the end of the regular season, is making quicker reads. He is decisive with the ball. The protection has improved, as has the running attack. That has opened up the field for everyone, especially Smith, and Jacoby Jones, too.
“I've told everyone, when it comes to physical attributes as a quarterback, he’s the best that I've been with. The guy can make every throw on the field, no matter if it’s a quick-game pass, intermediate or a deep ball down the field,” Smith said of Flacco. “He has every throw in his arsenal.”
In a road playoff upset at the Denver Broncos, the Ravens fell down early but Flacco showcased the deep ball. He found Smith from 59 yards to tie it at seven. They connected again to knot the score at 21 on a 32-yard pass.
Then it was Boldin's turn in New England. With the Ravens trailing 13-7 at halftime, he had their final two scores on shorter but difficult grabs of three and 11 yards in the end zone as he was blanketed by defenders.
The beauty is, neither Boldin nor Smith needs to make clutch catches to make an impact. In the wild-card win vs. the Colts, Smith sealed Cassius Vaughn with a block to create the lane for Ray Rice’s 47-yard catch-and-run that set up the first TD. He pinned Vaughn again to clear the path for Dennis Pitta to score a 20-yard TD to put the game away.
Boldin's blocks knocked two San Diego Chargers out of the game in Week 12 as the Ravens came back to win in overtime. The second one allowed gave safety Eric Weddle a concussion and allowed Rice to convert a memorable 4th-and-29 late in the fourth quarter en route to tying the score.
“He sets a tone for our entire offense. He’s not only very effective in terms of being tough and rugged and going over the middle and catching the ball in tough situations, but also his blocking as well,” Caldwell said. “He does a tremendous job just of getting physical on the field. He’s a great blocker and a highly skilled guy that gives you everything he’s got in terms of his effort. Also, as physically tough as he is, he’s also tough mentally. You can’t shake him, you can’t discourage him. He’s pretty special.”
The 49ers' defense was ranked fourth against the pass during the regular season. In the postseason, they are second-worst among 12 teams, allowing 322 yards per game. Smith believes the Ravens can get some things done down field.
“We can get big plays against any defense we play. You just have to go out there and do it. They’re professionals just like we are,” Smith said. “They’re a great secondary, and they have play-makers. They have made a lot of plays this year. It is definitely going to be a tough challenge, but it’s one-on-one battles. If we go out there and play our game, we’ll be fine.”