But in what will likely be one of the more rugged Super Bowls on record, you better believe I’m excited to see what impact these two warriors have on the game.
There has already been no shortage of talk this week about Ray Lewis as he attempts to end his Hall-of-Fame career on the ultimate high note. Surely, Patrick Willis will garner attention for being next in line to carry Lewis' torch once Ray hangs up the cleats Sunday evening. The star-studded linebacking corps hardly ends there: The NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, figures to have a major impact on the game (he will have to for Baltimore to win). There are some folks who think Willis’ sidekick, NaVorro Bowman, is just as talented, but nowhere near as recognized.
Aldon Smith is one of the brightest young defenders in football. Dannell Ellerbee could soon be on a similar path to stardom, as he is the heir apparent to Lewis.
I haven’t even mentioned Paul Kruger or Ahmad Brooks, both vastly underrated, yet big-time contributors in the postseason.
A number of the best linebackers on the planet will be on the field at the same time Sunday — which brings me back to Miller and Leach, the hard hat and lunch pail duo that will stand in between these men and doing what they do best: tracking down ballcarriers with unbridaled intensity and relentlessness.
Contrary to popular belief, there is certainly still a place for fullbacks — in this game, with these two teams, anyway.
For the Niners and Ravens, two clubs that love to impose their will on opponents, having physical, fearless, fundamentally-sound fullbacks is paramount — and for my money, these two are currently the best in the business.
Leach remains the gold standard for this all-guts, no-glory position. The 6-0, 260-pound bulldozer is a three-time All Pro who has doled out a lot of pain while creating daylight for Ray Rice, Arian Foster and others in recent years.
He spends most of his time seeking and destroying, but Leach even chipped in with a TD in the wild-card round victory over the Colts, and added a couple receptions and grinding runs against New England.
Meanwhile, Miller, who is heading to the Super Bowl in only his second NFL season, was a major force in San Francisco’s NFC title victory over the Falcons. On both of the Niners’ second-half TDs, he helped spring Frank Gore by winning one-on-one battles with Falcons MLB Akeem Dent and SLB Stephen Nicholas. The NFC’s most heavily utilized fullback, according to Pro Football Focus, Miller has become one of Jim Harbaugh’s many chess pieces in his multiple and difficult-to-defend rushing attack.
There will be plenty of eyes fixated on this sensational group of linebackers Sunday — and with good reason. Just do yourselves a favor and make sure you also key in on the men they meet in the hole.
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