Today's Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will showcase some of the NFL's hardest hitters, but there will also be enough strategy to please the most imaginative football minds.
Therefore, there are several key points to be aware of. Watch for these early and often.
- When the 49ers have the ball, watch closely how quarterback Colin Kaepernick reacts when he gets hit by one of the Ravens' defenders, especially one of their linebackers.
The Ravens, after watching game film of the 49ers regular season games, were surprised at how little Kaepernick took shots from the opposing defense.
The 49ers run a lot of read options from their "pistol" offense, where Kaepernick makes split second decisions on whether to hand off to one of his running backs or keep the ball himself. Done correctly, the offense can freeze the defense, usually the outside defenders and usually linebackers.
Those linebackers must stay both disciplined and aggressive, a tough task. They also have to play as a unit and not lose their heads.
The Ravens say they plan to hit Kaepernick hard and often. If Baltimore can shake Kaepernick's confidence or plant some doubt in his head, it will affect that vital part of their offense.
- See how often Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco goes to his tight end Dennis Pitta successfully early in the game. The 49ers secondary will be keying on the Raven's fleet receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones because Flacco likes the deep throws.
If the Flacco-Pitta connection works early and hurts the 49ers, that could loosen up the speed burners. Pitta has developed into a key part of the offense. He had 61 catches for 669 yards this season and his seven touchdown catches are second only to wide receiver Smith's.
If you'll remember, it was Pitta's touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that enabled the Ravens to beat the 49ers in 2011, the first time the Harbaugh brothers John and Jim met in the NFL as coaches.
And, if you like stats, consider this: Pitta has scored in seven of his past 10 games, and the 49ers have allowed tight ends to score in four of their past six games.
- When the 49ers have the ball, watch how effective running back Frank Gore is. With all the talk about Kaepernick, it is Gore and the running game that will set the tone for the 49ers offense.
If Gore, who is a punishing runner, rips off consistent gains, it means that the powerful offensive line of the 49ers is manhandling the Baltimore front and that spells bad news for the Ravens.
If the Ravens key on Kaepernick, they risk getting hurt by Gore and LaMichael James. Atlanta, for example, held Kaepernick to 21 yards on only two carries in their playoff loss, but Gore and James combined for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
- Keep an eye on 49ers punter Andy Lee, one of the best in the league, to see if he can effectively keep the ball away from Baltimore kick returner Jacoby Jones.
Jones has said he would be surprised if the Ravens kick to him, but under Super Bowl pressure strange things happen. If Jones rips off a couple of long returns, it will result in either points or excellent field position for San Francisco.
- Don't be surprised if San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh decides to go for it on a few fourth downs if the 49ers are in Raven's territory, instead of opting for a field goal.
The 49ers kicker David Akers had a terrible season and Harbaugh might not want to risk another miss. Also, if Harbaugh does go that route, watch the sideline TV shots of Akers to see how it affects his confidence. If he's crying, that's a bad sign for the 49ers.