Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, and San Francisco 49ers...

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick have different playing styles. Credit: Getty


The matchup couldn't be a more stark contrast in quarterback styles:

For the Ravens, it's the classic drop-back passer in Joe Flacco, whose brilliance inside the pocket has been the biggest single reason for Baltimore's run to the Super Bowl.

For the 49ers, it's the cutting- edge, multifaceted quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose mastery of the pistol offense and unique combination of passing and running skills is the latest trend in the NFL.

Who wins on pro football's biggest stage? In all likelihood, it's up to these two men, whose vastly different skill sets and approach to the game figure to be the determining factor.

Both have been remarkable, easily the most indispensable players for their teams. Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Ravens' three playoff wins and can join 49ers legends Steve Young and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks in Super Bowl history to throw at least nine touchdown passes and no picks in a single postseason.

And Kaepernick, the first quarterback besides Montana and Young to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl, has electrified San Francisco's offense with his arm and his feet. With only seven regular-season starts -- the third fewest for a starting Super Bowl quarterback -- Kaepernick has three touchdown passes and one interception, and put together the greatest postseason running performance by a quarterback with 181 rushing yards in the 49ers' divisional-round win over Green Bay.

It's an extraordinary contrast, maybe the most divergent and unique pair of Super Bowl quarterbacks we've ever seen.

Even if Kaepernick himself isn't quite as taken with his talents as much of the football world has been since he replaced Alex Smith as the starter midway through the season.

"Any offense is an offense to try and put points on the board," he said. "You can call it a gimmick, you can call it a 'trick-'em' offense, you can call it whatever you want. If putting points on the board is what you want to do, then it's effective."

No argument there. The 49ers are a much more vibrant offense with Kaepernick, if for no other reason than his threat to run the ball, which presents unique challenges to the defense.

The use of the pistol alignment, in which the running back lines up closer to the quarterback than conventional offenses, puts added pressure on defenders because they're not quite sure who's handling the ball after the snap.

On some plays, Kaepernick simply drops back and throws. Or hands off to tailbacks Frank Gore or LaMichael James. Or takes off and runs, something he has done with regularity.

"You have to be very disciplined against this offense and really stick to your assignments," Ravens linebacker / defensive end Paul Kruger said. "Otherwise, there can be some pretty big gaps that either the running back or the quarterback can run through."

The Ravens will try to contain Kaepernick within the pocket so he can't get to the outside and either run or gain more time to throw. Easier said than done, as the Packers and Falcons -- the 49ers' first two playoff victims -- can attest.

Flacco clearly is the more polished pocket passer and now is coming into his own as an elite quarterback in his fifth season. He came within one dropped pass in the end zone of getting to the Super Bowl last year but left no doubt about his readiness this time. He's seeing the field like never before and hasn't made the kind of mistakes that hurt him earlier in his career -- and even earlier this season, when the Ravens staggered into the playoffs by losing four of their last five games. "I think I've been playing well, but so have the guys around me," Flacco said. "It's a group effort.."

Flacco doesn't have the running skills to match Kaepernick, but the Ravens quarterback believes the pocket is where you win championships, anyway. In fact, Flacco is convinced that Kaepernick and others who use a similar style eventually will morph into pocket passers.

"Everyone has their own style of football and what they're good at," Flacco said. "These guys are obviously very good athletes that can throw the ball and mix in some of that [running] with their game. But the bottom line is there's a reason why you have to be able to go back and kind of be a purely pocket passer and limit that other part of your game.

"Eventually, you're going to get beat up in this league, and you have to make sure you stay durable and you're there for your team every week," he said. "At some point, you're going to see all these guys make the transition to be a pocket passer and use the run as a secondary option. We'll see how long it takes for them to do that."

Don't expect it to happen with Kaepernick just yet. Especially now that he has gotten the 49ers to within a victory of their sixth Super Bowl title by using his unique combination of passing and running.

New-age quarterback or old- school passer? It's the biggest question of Super Bowl XLVII.