Je ne peux vous suivre

Un an plus tard, presque jour pour jour, ça se réactive. Alors que nous approchons de ce sommet de l’éducation qui semble voué à être une perte non seulement de temps, mais de l’argent qui servira à acheter le café et les beignes chez Tim Hortons, l’ASSÉ a annoncé qu’elle ne serait pas du sommet suite aux déclarations du Ministre de l’Éducation supérieure Pierre Duchesne à l’effet qu’il ne serait pas question de gratuité scolaire.

L’actualité des derniers jours représente un moment pénible pour moi. La hausse brutale des frais de scolarité que le gouvernement Charest a tenté d’enfoncer dans la gorge des étudiants était inacceptable. C’est pourquoi, à titre personnel, je me suis battu, j’ai milité, j’ai manifesté, j’ai participé à l’organisation d’activités dénonçant cette hausse totalement indigeste. Sur ce front, je ne regrette rien, à part mon inaction devant un événement qui me semblait être une injustice d’un arbitraire sidérant (j’avais d’ailleurs écrit sur le sujet). Je croyais à la cause il y a un an, j’y crois aujourd’hui. Et si le PQ nouvellement élu n’avait pas tenu sa promesse d’annuler la hausse du gouvernement Charest, mon carré rouge serait ressorti en moins de temps qu’il n’en aurait fallu à Pauline Marois pour prononcer le mot “minoritaire”.

Cependant, nous sommes aujourd’hui dans une situation différente. Ce n’est pas de cette même hausse brutale dont il est question. Il sera en effet débattu des mérites de l’indexation annuelle des frais, puisque le thème de la gratuité, comme nous l’avons déjà entendu, ne sera pas abordé autour de la table de discussion. Selon l’ASSÉ, il le sera donc dans la rue.

N’en déplaise à l’ASSÉ et à tous les médias qui voudraient bien pouvoir vendre des journaux ou des pubs télé avec la controverse autour de cette histoire, ce qui s’en vient – tant la question autour de l’indexation que les démarches à venir de l’ASSÉ – ne générera rien de comparable aux événements de l’an dernier. De toute évidence, quelques facultés universitaires entreront en grève (reste à voir combien de temps); nous aurons droit à quelques manifestations et peut-être même (couvrez vos oreilles, ceux qui vargeaient à bras raccourcis sur les étudiants) un peu de “casse”. Sans aucun doute, il s’en trouvera parmi les intellos qui geignaient devant leur écran l’an dernier pour déchirer leur chemise en entendant les déclarations-choc liées à la “révolution sociale” des membres de l’ASSÉ. Mais en ce qui concerne les possibilités que cette nouvelle contestation se transforme en phénomène social comme celui du printemps dernier, je ne les vois tout simplement pas.

L’ASSÉ fait du bruit, mais ceux qui craignent qu’elle puisse s’imposer comme l’a fait la CLASSE devraient prendre leurs calmants.  La population étudiante, dont plusieurs membres récupèrent encore de la grève de 2012, sera immensément plus difficile à mobiliser. Les étudiants ne voudront pas, pour la plupart, entrer à nouveau en grève, surtout pas en l’absence d’une absurdité comme la hausse du gouvernement Charest. De plus, l’ASSÉ est une plus petite coalition d’associations, ce qui la rend plus facile à marginaliser. On devine que le PQ se réjouit silencieusement de son absence au sommet. Aussi, il leur manque cruellement un porte-parole charismatique et naturel de la trempe de Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, dont le leadership est indéniable, indépendamment de l’urticaire qu’il a causé à ceux qui ont utilisé sa photo comme jeu de darts pendant la grève.

Cela dit, on peut faire bien des reproches à l’ASSÉ, mais ils ont parfaitement raison de rappeler que, pendant la campagne électorale, Pauline Marois et co. faisaient la promotion de leur sommet de l’éducation en clamant que “toutes les options serait sur la table”. Le gouvernement, en ce sens, ment comme il respire. Cependant, la gratuité scolaire est-elle véritablement une option? Devrait-il vraiment en être question au sommet?

La réponse à la deuxième de ces questions est plus évidente. Je le dis sans hésitation: bien sûr qu’il devrait en être question. Pour moi, la gratuité scolaire serait l’idéal. J’en vois déjà me ressortir l’argumentaire Liza Frulla voulant que “quand c’est gratuit, on l’apprécie moins”. En d’autres mots, si c’était gratuit, une multitude d’étudiants se mettrait tout à coup à changer de programme d’étude ad vitam aeternam parce que, de toute façon, leurs études ne leur coûteraient rien. Ce phénomène existe, et existerait dans le cadre d’un système universitaire gratuit, mais je ne prendrai cet argument au sérieux que lorsque quelqu’un me sortira une étude sérieuse avec chiffres à l’appui prouvant qu’un lien existe entre gratuité scolaire et étudiants qui s’éternisent sur les bancs d’école. En attendant, je continuerai de le considérer comme un argument déficient et paresseux s’insérant dans un cadre d’analyse intellectuelle simpliste; ce que les juristes anglophones qualifieraient de “circumstancial evidence”.

À défaut de pouvoir prouver cela, toute conversation au sujet de la gratuité devrait se concentrer sur la question suivante: peut-on se la permettre? Les opinions varient là-dessus, Jacques Parizeau étant la personnalité politique à s’être le plus récemment prononcé sur le sujet. Selon lui, à l’instar de Québec Solidaire et d’Option Nationale, c’est possible à condition de faire quelques petits changements à la distribution de la richesse au Québec. Les plus récents calculs chiffrent la gratuité à 1,1 milliard. Parizeau proposait un changement rapide qui apporterait 650 millions instantanément. J’écouterais toute proposition de sa part quant au dégagement des sommes manquantes avec grand intérêt.

Pour ma part, sans être économiste, je tends à croire que, dans la structure économique actuelle du Québec, ce ne serait pas viable. L’ASSÉ propose de taxer davantage les banques (entre autres) et d’éliminer les paradis fiscaux. I wish! Prévisiblement, ces recommandations de l’ASSÉ ont eu tôt fait d’inspirer un élan de partisanerie de la part du ministre Duchesne, qui a répondu que pour éliminer les paradis fiscaux, il faudrait faire la souveraineté. Voilà qui est risible. Question pour vous, monsieur le ministre : si le PQ mène le Québec à la souveraineté, ce nouveau pays délaisserait-il le capitalisme? Parce qu’à moins que ce soit le cas, il faudra continuer à se faire à l’idée que le gouvernement du Québec contrôlera ses finances dans la mesure où les banques et le privé le permettront. Et tant que notre système économique sera tel qu’il est actuellement, ces intérêts tiendront toujours le gouvernement par le portefeuille, ce qui fait que les paradis fiscaux demeureront et que la gratuité est impossible si les moyens d’y parvenir sont ceux préconisés par l’ASSÉ. J’en suis persuadé, les changements sociaux qui nous permettraient de réaliser la gratuité sont plus profonds que certains ne le laissent entendre, quoique qu’à son honneur, l’ASSÉ ne s’en cache pas.

Cependant, comme il ne sera pas question de gratuité au sommet de l’éducation, il vaut la peine d’examiner l’indexation. Franchement, je n’ai rien contre. À vrai dire, dans la mesure où la hausse est annulée, l’indexation me semble la chose la plus raisonnable à faire, puisqu’elle correspond à l’augmentation annuelle du coût de la vie. Dans les faits, cela veut aussi dire qu’un gel total, préconisé par la FEUQ et son excellente représentante Martine Desjardins, implique en fait une diminution progressive des frais. L”idée peut sembler alléchante, mais l’une des raisons pour lesquelles nous nous sommes retrouvés dans ce foutoir avec le gouvernement Charest l’an dernier était que les frais n’avaient jamais été ajustés pour tenir compte de l’inflation. L’idée des Libéraux de tout rattraper cela en cinq ans était invendable, mais il ne me semble pas injuste que les frais soient ajustés en fonction du coût de la vie. De plus, ce que le mouvement étudiant a accompli le printemps dernier est significatif. Ce que nous avons obtenu n’est pas rien, bien au contraire. Je me souviendrai toujours du moment où mon père m’avait dit: “En tout cas, vous pouvez être fiers, parce que ma génération se serait écroulée depuis longtemps”. Je le crois sur parole; c’était sa génération qui nous encourageait à nous écrouler nous aussi.

Parmi ceux avec qui j’ai milité l’an dernier, certains seront sans doute déçus que cela soit ma position. Je ne me considère pas moins de gauche pour autant. Cependant, j’aime croire que je suis un électron libre. Dans cet ordre d’idées, mes opinions ne sauraient être plus fortement influencées ou dictées par une mentalité de meute que par les politiques et  le spin cyniques de notre putride gouvernement précédent. Si la gratuité est possible, je la souhaite autant que n’importe qui d’autre, mais je ne suis pas convaincu que ce soit le cas dans notre système économique libéral actuel. La gratuité, si elle se réalise, sera une décision politique. Bien qu’on puisse admirer le coeur que met l’ASSÉ à l’ouvrage lorsque vient le temps de la revendiquer, ses membres sont, me semble-t-il, voués à se buter au même constat que faisait Ryan Lizza du New Yorker en analysant la montée vertigineuse de Barack Obama en politique américaine: “superheroes don’t become [Premier], politicians do.”

Même si le PQ était d’accord avec l’idée de la gratuité scolaire, ce dont il ne donne aucun signe en ce moment, il serait aussi forcé de porter attention au fait que la gratuité recueille moins de 20 pour cent d’appuis dans les sondages, chiffre dont Pauline Marois et co. seront on ne peut plus conscients étant donné leur statut de gouvernement minoritaire.

C’est pour cette raison que l’attitude de “gratuité ou merde” que j’observe en ce moment me semble mal avisée. C’est pourquoi je crois que l’ASSÉ ferait fausse route en tentant de replonger ses membres dans une autre grève illimitée pour exiger la gratuité scolaire d’un gouvernement qui n’a pas l’intention de la leur accorder et qui ne ressent même pas le besoin de la considérer. Alors qu’en septembre dernier, les étudiants ont pu se rabattre sur le PQ pour faire annuler la hausse du gouvernement Charest (que François Legault aurait en toute vraisemblance maintenue), cette fois, les seuls partis qui leur sont sympathiques n’ont à toute fin pratique aucune chance d’être élus. Gang, si vous causiez la défaite électorale du PQ, par qui les remplaceriez-vous? La CAQ? Et ne me sortez pas la maxime selon laquelle “nos ambitions sont trop grandes pour vos urnes”. Possible, mais ce sont les gens qui sont élus dans les urnes qui décideront du sort de la gratuité scolaire.

C’est pourquoi le message que je serais forcé d’envoyer à l’ASSÉ, à titre personnel, serait le suivant: je ne peux vous suivre. Je répète: la gratuité sera une décision politique. Or, l’ASSÉ fait face à une population étudiante qui sera nettement plus difficile à mobiliser que l’an dernier et à un gouvernement qui ne peut se permettre de lui donner ce qu’elle veut même s’il en avait le désir. Le timing pourrait difficilement être pire.

Reconnaître cet état des choses ne représente ni la complaisance ni une forme d’abdication. Cela représente une volonté d’évaluer lucidement le contexte politique, de prendre le temps de peser l’importance de ce que nous, les étudiants, avons accompli le printemps dernier et de visualiser le contexte qui permettrait d’aller plus loin encore. Mais avant tout, cela représente une volonté de ne pas faire plus de mal que de bien à la cause que l’on défend.

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I was wrong: first impressions

Ray Lewis walks into the Miami sunset with his second Super Bowl ring. He deserves it. In my preview, I called him the most inspirational defensive player of the last 20 years. I don’t believe in this Ray Lewis factor hoopla, but I have to say his announcement that he was retiring at the end of the season ranks up there with the “This team is going to the playoffs” announcement from Jim Fassel and any other daredevil prediction in terms of its impact. The Ravens were a different team after that. Still deeply flawed, but playing with a different kind of inspiration.

They crawled their way there, painfully, slowly, but surely. Hardly anyone even remembers the boring, brutal game against the overrated and mediocre Bengals the Ravens won unconvincingly. Then there was the Broncos game, which the Ravens should never have won, but did thanks to the generosity of John Fox and his staff, Rahim Moore’s howler and a bad INT from Peyton Manning. At that time, we recognized the storyline. Every remaining team needed to be scared, and we knew it. The Ravens blew out the Pats and hardly anyone was surprised at that point.

At the risk of looking like I’m desperately trying to look right when I was wrong, because I did pick the 49ers to win… somewhat convincingly, almost everything I said could have gone wrong for the Niners did go wrong. There was still little to no pass rush (at least not when it mattered) as Aldon Smith, completely anonymous once again, is looking increasingly like a pure product of Justin Smith by the minute. Their back eight got exploited by Flacco’s crew. Ed Dickson and Pitta diced the Niners early, which opened the door for Anquan Boldin to kill them on short to intermediate routes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Niners fans!

I’ve said many times that if the opposing quarterback gets time to throw against the Niners, there is success to be had throwing against them. Even with that being said, San Francisco’s secondary had itself a miserable game. Two individuals stood out for the crassness of their performance: Donte Whitner and Chris Culliver. Many people, myself included, were filled with joy at the sight of Culliver’s bed-wetting after those remarkably stupid and ignorant comments he made about gay football players. If I were Culliver, I’d stay away from Twitter for a while. The Twittersphere was going crazy with snarky gay jokes directed at him, some of which were rather clever. My former Concordia teammate Hrag Kechichan beat me to “Chris Culliver struggles with man-to-man coverage.”

However, two things happened that I didn’t expect. Mea culpa time: I probably gave Colin Kaepernick too much credit. In the first half, he looked very much like a second-year player, going slowly through reads and making a few bad throws, including that dreadful interception to Ed Reed, which worked great as an answer to the riddle “What do you get when you combine an overthrow with miscommunication?”. I couldn’t help but think to myself that “somebody has to remind that kid he runs a 4.4 40.” RUUUNNNNN!!! You saw the difference in the second half too. When his first few reads weren’t there, Kap was gone. And the Niners’ O looked like itself again.

Mind you, the second thing that went wrong for the Niners was a much bigger surprise for me. The gameplan by Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman was surprisingly bad in that it failed to maximize Kaepernick’s talents and use him to make the Ravens vulnerable on defence, which they potentially were. Virtually every time San Fran ran the read option, it got interesting results. So why run it so seldom? I would have been calling that baby again and again along with every variant of it I had in the playbook. It was clear Baltimore was not going to allow Kaepernick to run with the football, so let Frank Gore pile up the yards.

Instead, during the first half, we saw the Niners ask Kaepernick to beat the Ravens with precision passes outside the numbers. This is not what Kaepernick does best; he barely does it well, and the strategy should have seemed especially ill-advised given that Tom Brady failed to do exactly that two weeks ago against those same Ravens. Kap can throw OK, but he’s no Tom Brady.

Yet, there he is in the first half dancing in the pocket getting sacked. Kaepernick getting sacked? Are you kidding me? That should happen about as often as Phil Simms stringing together a full sentence without butchering the English language.

The playcalling during the final red zone stand was indeed dubious; again, why is 4.4 QB not running with the football? And I especially hate that sprint play they killed a few of their drives with, including the final one. Never mind the player, the game or the moment, I hate the sprint play. Hate, detest, resent, loathe the sprint play. And in the red zone of all places! Here’s the problem with the sprint: you cut your field in half, and you have to waste a skill player to seal the edge you’re rolling to, otherwise the quarterback can be forced by the playside end or linebacker to set his feet to throw, prompting the backside rusher you’ve left unblocked to send your quarterback on a one-way trip to the ICU. On the killer third down play (after the killer delay-of-game penalty), the player wasted to seal the edge is Frank Gore, leading to Kap having the choice of two receivers amid a three-man zone coverage. Of course, if Kap audibled to it himself, then the blame is on him. But either way, it’s not a good play, especially not in the red zone, and especially not when there’s so little time left that Kap can’t risk trying to run it in himself.

The infamous power outage provided the Niners with a chance to get their act together, and they made a game of it for our viewing pleasure, but they really didn’t deserve to win. The Ravens outclassed the Niners in virtually every aspect of the game, and John Harbaugh, to his credit, really outcoached his brother Jim in terms of how well his team was prepared mentally for this game. (Between you and me, you think John had it up to here from hearing about how great a coach his little brother is? He must’ve been like “hey, I got my team to the Super Bowl too!” What was never said, but was implied on countless occasions during the week, was that Jim gave the 49ers an advantage in coaching over the Ravens and his brother. The media, in their endless praise of Jim, never let John forget it, and you can bet your last dollar he took that to heart.”)

Additional miscellaneous points:

  1. Did the entire world’s male population suddenly discover Beyoncé is hot? Personally, I have to say I’ve known for a while (so has Jay-Z, I might add), and so it wasn’t that thrilling to watch her make a VERY, VERY FINE POINT about the fact that she was NOT LIPSYNCHING. Did I mention she was NOT LIPSYNCHING? Am I insisting too much?
  2. By the way, I watched her lipsynching “travesty” with President Obama, and I must say I expected worse. Fox News had to vent their frustration at someone, I guess. Newsflash: the popstars, they all do it. It’s been a godsend for the whole lot of these talentlss barbies and hunks. Justin Timberlake, everybody’s favourite dancer, wouldn’t have a career without it. Besides, as far as lipsynching-gone-wrong goes, it wasn’t so long ago that Ashlee Simpson set the bar very high… or low, depending on how you look at it.
  3. Since the Super Bowl is about glitz and glamour as much as it is about the game, let me get into the thick of it. Am I the only one who wasn’t fond of the National Anthem by Alicia Keys? When will Super Bowl organizers understand that National Anthems sound best when they’re kept simple, a concept all these R&B singers seem allergic to? I don’t have a problem with Alicia Keys; I even find she’s released a few good songs, but I didn’t like her overly lengthened and excessively elaborate take on the National Anthem. I thought having the Newtown kids singing America the Beautiful was a cute gesture, so what possessed the organizers to bring in Jennifer Hudson (who really needs to understand the difference between a vibrato and a straight-up wobble) and take the performance into Karaoke territory? Needless to say, for my money, the pregame musical numbers struck out on both fronts. Maybe they’ll get it right in my lifetime.

Who wins the Super Bowl?

We have arrived. The next time the human race will eat more pizza, buffalo wings and other healthy treats will be next year’s Super Bowl. And at some point after some 12 hours of boring pre-game stories (as the great Lewis Black said, there isn’t enough liquor in the universe), rehashing of the game’s most important storylines (which will force some serious narrative dexterity out of the poor people forced to keep the bevy of couch potatoes who will watch them from beginning to end), we should get to see the 49ers play the Ravens tonight. 

People have been asking me whether I’m surprised to see these two teams here. As far as San Francisco is concerned, not at all. The Niners are the NFL team with the smallest quantity of flaws in their game. In other words, they are, on coaching and playing talent, the NFL’s best team. An incredibly shrew and gutsy quarterback switch during the regular season proved to be the last upgrade the team needed, and they have needed it, as Colin Kaepernick now makes them a potent offence. 

Do the 49ers beat a Falcons team that came out of the locker room in overdrive mode with Alex Smith playing QB? I have serious doubts. How close a game would it have been with the Packers? The Niners’ flaw with Alex Smith starting at QB was that they were one of those defensive-minded squads who won with their running game and their defence while the quarterback’s job was to make sure he didn’t lose it. The drawback of this kind of mentality is that if you’re down 17, it’s probably over because your quarterback can’t actually win the game for you and your gameplan is always predicated on him not having to. With Kaepernick at the controls, this cannot be said about the 49ers anymore. 

Kaepernick may very well have the ugliest throwing motion I’ve even seen on a quarterback (which would be something, since the list also includes Vince Young), but he’s fairly accurate and has tremendous zip on his passes. And, of course, his running ability sets him apart, but that much he showed at Nevada. What’s been surprising to me and to a lot of people is how well he’s thrown the ball this season. If the Ravens allow him to play like he did against the Packers, I’m sorry, people, but this Super Bowl won’t be a contest. Kap has made what was already the NFL’s best team into an even better one. 

Seeing the Ravens crawl their way to the Super Bowl is a bit more of a surprise, but not much, because this kind of a Cinderella story team has gotten to the Super Bowl pretty much every year since the Patriots played the Eagles in 2005 (and before you bring up the Saints vs the Colts three years ago, the Colts, with that consistently pitiful defence, were always a Cinderella story to me). As we noted earlier, the Ravens have overcome a lot to get here. They have had to fight through a significant rash of injuries, especially on defence. What makes their story interesting, though, is that as a team which makes the playoffs with admirable regularity, they’ve failed to get to the Super Bowl while fielding better teams than their current edition. This goes to show that getting to the Super Bowl is like the success of a first-round quarterback; it’s practically all circumstance. If John Fox and co. don’t retreat into criminally conservative territory, if Rahim Moore doesn’t get worse body positioning and mistime his jump worse than the kid who failed to make the high school team, Ray Lewis is at home right now, wondering whether or not to go Brett Favre on us. And who knows what would have happened had Wes Welker not dropped the football as if it was Plutonium 345906 on two key Patriots drives two weeks ago? If the Pats score on those drives, the game’s a nail-biter. But the Ravens did get these breaks and so we are indeed here trying to rate their chances against a very, very strong San Fran team. 

On paper, there is no doubt the 49ers are heavily favoured. Overall, they have the better team and, as reported by Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, they are 11-1-1 under Jim Harbaugh when they have more than eight days of preparation. That doesn’t bode well for a diminished Ravens defence, especially given Harbaugh’s and offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s creativity with the running game. Their offensive line has been dominant and even if the Ravens somehow manage to stop the Niners’ ground game, there are still lots of questions for Baltimore to answer if they’re going to win the game, questions such as… 

Question 1: How exactly will they cover Vernon Davis?

The Ravens don’t have a linebacker who can do it on his own, and Davis is bound to overpower just about any safety. Bernard Pollard? Big enough, perhaps, but not the finest cover guy at safety and certainly not fast enough to hang with Mr. 4.37 40. (Besides, odds are Pollard represents a greater threat to Colin Kaepernick’s knees than to Davis’ downfield ability.) Bracket cover Davis, you say? Fine. But that means Harbaugh and Roman can probably scheme their way into creating a 1-vs-1 situation with Randy Moss. Sure, he’s 37 or whatever, but he’s shown he’s still a downfield threat. And that’s not taking into account the space you’ll leave Michael Crabtree for all the underneath shtick the Niners will throw at you. And that’s also not taking into account the fact that the Niners line up Davis everywhere: tight end, fullback, H-Back, slotback. Good luck keying in on him. If John Harbaugh finds a way to blanket Vernon Davis without seriously endangering the guys who have to cover the Niners’ other weapons, we’ll know why he’s coaching the Ravens and I’m not. 

Question 2: How do they avoid getting carved by the option game? 

My guess is that the mentality (especially after another glance at the Packers game) will be “anything not to let Kaepernick run around with the ball”. That means using the replace-exchange scheme to force Kap to hand the ball off pretty much every time. Sounds great, except… you still have to defend Frank Gore and have sacrificed one man who’s off playing Kap. Haloti Ngata, Mount Cody and Ma’eke Kemoeatu have to play the game of their lives to clog the line of scrimmage and allow Ray Lewis and co. to minimize his yardage. Ngata is a stud, but he hasn’t been playing at 100% for a while now and Cody and Kemoeatu are bigger than they are good. Ngata most likely will force double teams, but one of the other two must as well. No mean task given their lack of agility. If they cannot and Ravens’ LBs have to take on blocks. Gore just might rush for 150 yards. And that’s before any kind of passing is involved. 

Question 3: Even if they do a job on all those passing options, how do they stop Kaepernick from running the ball then? 

If you look at the game vs the Pats, you can easily see that if it wasn’t for Tom Brady’s minimal mobility forcing the Pats to complete precision passes on 3rd and 2, there was tons of daylight for the quarterback to run. You may conclude the Ravens stuck to their men in coverage because they weren’t afraid of Brady running the ball. Yet, the question becomes, how long will they stick to their men when Kapernick starts running all over the field when his receivers are covered? And how many will he hit after the DB or the linebacker has come out of coverage to stop him after they’re sick of allowing him 30-yard runs?

By no means, however, is this game a done deal. There are no done deals at the Super Bowl, and Cinderella stories often triumph against overwhelming odds. See Giants against the Pats, twice. (Yes, Pats fans, it gives me pleasure to rub it in.) 

The Ravens do have assets that can cause the 49ers headaches. And there are questions the 49ers must answer if they don’t want to share the same fate as the Broncos or the Patriots. 

Question 1: Will the Niners feel like covering an intermediate zone this time? 

They didn’t do it the entire game against Atlanta after Julio Jones deep fried them a couple of times. Anything between 10 and 20 yards was open all day and the Falcons exploited it for big yardage. Why was that? Because of the Roddy White-Julio Jones duo? Probably. But while the Ravens’ starting receiver duo might not be quite as potent as that of the Falcons, not covering intermediate zones isn’t an option when the opposing tight ends are Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, two guys who can dissect the Niners’ defence if San Fran once again allows itself to be stretched vertically. Moreover, Anquan Boldin can be murder in this area of the field as well. That and the fact that trying to tackle Boldin is about as much fan as trying to tackle a Jeep. 

The problem is that in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, the Ravens have the manpower to threaten the 49ers in deep zones, which may very well in turn open up the aforementioned intermediate zones. And as vaunted as the Niners’ front seven is, you can throw against them if you get time. I can’t see why Joe Flacco wouldn’t have similar success to that of Matt Ryan against the Niners defence. The only this can be prevented is the answer to question 2…

Question 2: Where will the pass rush come from? 

Since Justin Smith’s injury, Aldon Smith has not been the same player. While he was a dynamo all season, his pass rush has fallen and so has, in turn, the Niners’ sack production. The 3-4 defence relies on stunts to create favourable matchups, and Justin Smith took on a lot of blockers to leave Aldon in 1-vs-1 battles. Since Justin’s injury, Aldon has faced more attention and his production has suffered as a result. 

The Pro Bowl break gives the Super Bowl finalists time to recuperate, and the Niners better pray Justin Smith is back to normal, or something close to it. If he does, it will be tougher to key on Aldon and the pass rush should improve as a result. For a guy who has taken tons of flak for being overweight, Bryant McKinnie has blocked out the sun as well as opposing pass rushers in recent weeks. If all he has to worry about is Aldon, McKinnie should do fine. And if he does, Joe Flacco figures to have a lot of time to throw, which doesn’t bode well for the 49ers’ somewhat overrated secondary. 

Question 3: How do the intangibles not favour the Ravens? 

Let me get this straight. In the past ten years, the Ravens have had about seven teams better than this one. Yet this is the team that gets to the big game? They win a game they never should have escaped against the Broncos, catch fire against the Pats and blow them out. The most inspirational defensive player of the past the 20 years and the heart and soul of the Ravens since they became the Ravens is retiring and since he made a most miraculous comeback from an injury that usually takes six months to recover from (yes, Bill Simmons, I’m suspicious too), he gets a chance to cap off his Hall of Fame career with a ring? That doesn’t scare you? And you’re facing Joe Flacco, the guy who outplayed two of the three best quarterbacks in the game in successive weeks, and that doesn’t scare you?

Let’s face it, while the Ravens are overmatched on paper, they wouldn’t be the first team in this position to pull off an upset in the Super Bowl. But I come back to the 49ers overall strength and the brilliance of Jim Harbaugh and his staff’s ability to create potent game plans to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses and even use some of their strengths against them (see how they neutralized Ndamokung Suh when they played the Lions). I don’t think the Ravens have the manpower on defence to stop Colin Kaepernick and co. The Niners are praying to whatever god they believe in they don’t have to rely on David Akers to win them the game, but I really don’t think it will come down to that. The Ravens’ front seven will play well, but not well enough, so Frank Gore will run for his share of yards, opening up massive spaces for the play-action passing game. And while they won’t shut down the Ravens, they’ll score enough to win the game comfortably. 

Final score: 49ers: 34 – Ravens: 20 

So there, you have it. San Fran will pick up its first trophy since 1994 and Jim Harbaugh will take over Bill Belichick’s status as the top coach in the game. And Ray Lewis sadly won’t get a second ring before he retires. That is, if he retires. 

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