Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/26/13
The San Francisco 49ers have been among the top defenses in the league over the past few seasons, thanks in large part to the play of middle linebacker and team leader, Patrick Willis. The Baltimore Ravens have become known for team defense thanks to the play of Ray Lewis for most of the past two decades.Let’s take a deeper look at the pieces that make each of these defenses click.San Francisco 49ers:Let’s think about the San Francisco defense in purely a numbers sense. Five of the defensive starters for the NFC Pro Bowl team had to be replaced when the 49ers made the Super Bowl. In total, six 49ers' defensive players were selected to the team. With the “Smith Brothers” creating a pass rush, Joe Flacco will have to be on high alert. Bryant McKinnie did not play for most of the regular season, and has now been thrust into the starting left tackle position. He manned the position for nine seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, but his attitude has been questionable throughout his career. One of the key battles of the game will be McKinnie against Aldon Smith.Not only do the 49ers have two Pro Bowl middle linebackers in Willis and NaVorro Bowman, but they have two All-Pro linebackers in the duo. The pair combined for 269 tackles in 2012, 20 more than the next highest linebacking combo (Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict of Cincinnati). Bowman and Willis are two of the most physical defensive players in the game, and Ray Rice should expect to see a lot of No. 53 and No. 52 on Super Bowl Sunday.At the back end of the defense, San Francisco features a pair of Pro Bowl safeties in Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson. As a team, the 49ers intercepted only 14 passes on the season, but they also had 77 passes defended.Baltimore Ravens:Statistically, the Ravens had a down year on the defensive side of the ball, but this has been a group ravaged by injuries throughout the season. Baltimore started the season without reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, who tore his Achilles tendon during the offseason. Lardarius Webb, the team’s best cornerback, went down with a torn ACL in Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys and was lost for the season. It has also been well documented that a certain middle linebacker sustained a bicep injury, but was able to return for the playoffs. Despite all of these roadblocks along the way, this defensive unit found a way to slow down the top two quarterbacks of the past decade, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, in back-to-back weeks.Haloti Ngata, who also battled injuries early in the season, anchors a solid front line that helped hold opponents to 118.8 rushing yards per game, No. 11 in the NFL. With Lewis and Suggs off the field for a majority of the season, Paul Kruger became a steady leader for the Baltimore linebackers. Kruger led the team in sacks during the regular season with nine, including a stretch of five consecutive games with at least one sack. With Kruger, Suggs and Lewis all on the field, and Lewis in a seemingly rejuvenated form thanks to sitting out the second half of the season, this trio could make things difficult for Colin Kaepernick.  The only problem may be keeping up with the speedy signal caller.Even without Webb, the ball-hawking Baltimore defensive secondary is still a menacing group to face. Ed Reed remains the leader of the pack, leading the team in interceptions with four. Fellow safety Bernard Pollard, who is known for vicious hits, led the team in tackles with 98. The team allowed the second fewest passing touchdowns (15) in NFL, proving that hitting is not the only thing this group does well.  
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