Key strengths of 49ers and Ravens are areas the Detroit Lions are looking to improve

Posted Feb 3, 2013

San Francisco's physical offensive line and Baltimore's terrific safety play are staples for their respective teams and areas the Detroit Lions want to improve

New Orleans - There couldn't be two more similar teams playing in Sunday's Super Bowl than the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.

John and Jim Harbaugh have molded their teams to fit a specific physical brand of football with the emphasis of being strong up front, running the ball and being defensive-minded.

Obviously, both teams have talent at almost every position to be playing in the Super Bowl, but there are two areas in particular that have helped each team form an identity.

They just so happen to be two areas the Detroit Lions are hoping to improve upon next year.

49ers - Physical offensive line

When the Detroit Lions traveled to San Francisco in Week 2 they lost a close game, 27-19, but were thoroughly beaten up front.

The 49ers' offensive line won the matchup against a good Lions' defensive front. That's been a consistent theme throughout the season for the 49ers. It helped quarterback Colin Kaepernick's adjustment from being a backup to a starter and is a big reason running back Frank Gore made the Pro Bowl.

The 49ers made it a point to draft offensive lineman over the last six seasons. While it's hard for fans to get excited when a team takes a tackle or guard in the first round, those picks are now paying off.  

Tackles Anthony Davis and Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati are all first-round draft picks by the team.

"They're so big and they move really well," Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said this week of San Francisco's offensive line. "They play well together. With all that size, you see them do a lot of great things."

The Lions have made investments along their offensive line with first-round picks Gosder Cherilus (2008) and Riley Reiff (2012), but are still looking to improve.

The website Pro Football Focus ranked the Lions' offensive line as the seventh-best unit in the NFL, but that's more for what they do as a pass protection unit than a physical group like the 49ers, who are ranked No.1 by the website.

"All of the offensive weapons have been extremely good," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said this week. "I'd like to talk a little bit about our offensive line, if that's OK. That's been a phenomenal group for us, and I'd call them offensive weapons as well."

Harbaugh's right, the 49ers have built the best offensive line in football and it is a weapon.

Baltimore - Terrific safety play

Ed ReedRavens safety Ed Reed has been the gold standard at the position for over a decade. He and Bernard Pollard form a terrific duo in the back end of the Ravens secondary.

Go back and look at all the great defenses in the league over the last 40 years and every one will have good safety play. It's even more vital in today's high-scoring NFL that's predicated on passing.

A good safety has great instincts, can both tackle and cover and is smart. He's the guy that gets everyone else in the right spot. He's the quarterback of the defense.

It's said all the time that a team can't win anymore without a good quarterback. Well, a team can't win with without good safety play, either.

"It would be hard for me to find two groups that are better than these two groups of guys playing together," Ravens head coach Jon Harbaugh said.

"To me the first and foremost thing is they're very talented on both sides. Both of their players are very physical players. They combine that with a great awareness of the back end. They play well together.

"How many teams do you see both safeties up or both safeties back, and they're supposed to be working together? You really see that with these two groups."

The Lions have themselves a talented young safety in Louis Delmas - when healthy - but are still looking for that guy to pair with him to make a dynamic duo.

Amari Spievey has his moments, but has been inconsistent at times.

The Lions can get exponentially better on defense if they find two players who can stay healthy and compliment each other like Reed and Pollard do.