Commentary
8:06 am
Sun February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Cheat Sheet: Key Phrases To Keep You In The Game

Originally published on Sun February 3, 2013 8:22 am

Sure, you can go to a Super Bowl party and be That Guy. The one who gleefully lectures the crowd on the merits of running the inverted veer out of the pistol in order to freeze the weak-side backer.

Or you could be That Other Guy, who nervously stabs tuna rolls into a football made of wasabi, and hopes no one asks which Harbaugh is which. Maybe you're the one who confines his opinions to which anthropomorphized, animatronic spokes-animal most speaks to the consumerist desires of the market for economy cars that are surprisingly spacious yet affordable.

As the late sports journalist Howard Cosell often blurted, "But no!" Do not consign yourself to a wasteland of mumbled platitudes about red-zone efficiency. Absorb this "Cheaters' Guide" to the Super Bowl, and fake your way at least well into the third quarter, when everyone else at your party is well into their Bud Lights.

Pistol offense. The pistol is actually a formation — a way of positioning offensive players — not an offense. For starters, the quarterback in the pistol lines up about 4 yards behind center. A normal shotgun formation has the quarterback lining up 7 yards behind center, and has a running back next to him or slightly in front. In the pistol, the running back lines up behind the quarterback.

Now you're thinking, "So what?" Amazingly, this formation and the wide varieties of plays that can be run out of it have been revolutionizing football. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers ran the pistol while a collegiate at Nevada. Nevada head coach Chris Ault invented the formation, Kaepernick perfected it, and now the 49ers have brought it to the NFL. No team has solved it yet, but the Ravens may, which brings us to ...

Defensive strategy, simplified. Generally, the Ravens like to drop their safeties deep because Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are fast and instinctive. But against the 49ers, watch for the safeties playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

This means that when you watch the game, you'll see more Baltimore defensive players on your TV than you usually do. This defense is known as Cover 4, or "quarters." And by all means, feel free to toss those terms around. But just know this: When you see numbers 20 (Reed) and 31 (Pollard) on your TV before the ball is snapped, the Ravens are playing out of their comfort zone in order to stop the dangerous Kaepernick.

Joe Flacco is not "elite," but he's good. In the NFL, the debate over which quarterback is "elite" is like discussions over which child is gifted. And of course, all quarterbacks are precious, each and every one. The fact is that the Ravens' Flacco is good, has a strong arm and throws more deep balls than any other quarterback in the NFL. But statistically, he's in the top 10 negative quarterback categories (yards lost in sacks, fumbles, percentage of passes intercepted) more often than he is in positive ones (he's tied for 10th in yards per pass completion).

But Flacco had led his team to four game-winning drives and has established himself as a capable playoff QB. Is Flacco elite? Let's look at seven of the NFL's 32 starting quarterbacks for comparison. Flacco is clearly not as good as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. And you'd be hard pressed to make the case that he's a more dangerous quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Robert Griffin III or even Matt Ryan.

I don't see how you could be "elite" if you're outside the top 20 percent, but who cares if Flacco is magna cum laude or plain old cum laude? Come Sunday night, he could be summa cum football ring.

Remembering your Harbaugh brothers. Jim coaches the 49ers and John coaches the Ravens. Easy mnemonic device: "Jim" rhymes with "Ted Ginn," and Ted Ginn Jr. is on the 49ers. But then you'd have to remember that Ted Ginn Jr. is on the 49ers. Also, Jim doesn't really rhyme with Ted Ginn.

So, let's try this: The letters in "John" contain H-O-N, and "Hon" is what a waitress in a diner would call you, and the Barry Levinson film Diner was set in Baltimore. Too hard?

How about this one: "John" rhymes with "capital of Oman." Oman's capital city is Muscat. Muscat is a variety of grape. Grapes are purple. The Ravens' uniforms are purple! Of course, Muscat grapes range in color from white to almost black, but that's OK — the Ravens' road jerseys are white, and they have an alternative jersey that's black. Just like the grapes! All right, maybe that won't work.

On second thought, you can call them John "freaks out after a bad call" Harbaugh and Jim "wears an outfit other than khakis and a black fleece" Harbaugh. That's what their mother does.

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