NEW ORLEANS -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith has occasionally found himself so far downfield he thinks quarterback Joe Flacco couldn't possibly reach him -- only to have the ball sail over his head.
"I've learned to keep on running," Smith said Wednesday."Never underestimate him."
One of the 49ers biggest challenges Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII at the Superdome will be to ground one of the NFL's most dangerous vertical games.
Flacco's ability to throw deep presents a different challenge than Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who completed 30 of 42 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers in the NFC championship game.
Ryan hit Julio Jones for a 46-yard touchdown against a blown coverage to open the scoring, but for the most part it was a steady procession of short and intermediate passes that carved up the 49ers secondary.
"Matt Ryan is a guy that's going to march up and down the field with multiple play and multiple-play drives," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "Baltimore runs the ball, goes play-action, and they want to throw it deep. They want to get those chunk yards."
Cornerback Carlos Rogers will be particularly cognizant of Smith, who averages 17.1 yards per catch on 99 career receptions.
"With Torrey out there you've got to be aware of him going deep and take that away from him.," Rogers said.
Also dangerous are Anquan Boldin, primarily a medium range threat who occasionally goes long, and Jacoby Jones, who is nearly as fast as Smith.
In dispatching Indianapolis rookie Andrew Luck, Denver's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady, Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes without an interception.
It's a challenge for a 49ers defense that lives off turnovers. A Chris Culliver interception in the second half against Atlanta helped break Ryan's momentum as the Falcons went scoreless sin the second half.
"There's always a feeling when our defense is on the field that they can will a turnover, that they can make it happen," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I know every drive isn't going to end in a turnover, but it's been something that has fueled us this season and in the past."
Although primarily a dropback passer, Flacco is good enough on his feet to give himself additional time to pass and break down the coverage in the process.
"When he's being pressured in the pocket, the play can sometimes be extended," Whitner said. "If you're not continuing to stay in your deep zones, that's when you'll get beat. We understand that, it's something we haven't really seen, and we just have to keep those guys in front of us and not allow them to get behind us."
Flacco's deep passing has improved since coach John Harbaugh fired Cam Cameron and installed Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator. He has completed 53.6 percent of passes 21 or more yards down field (including the postseason), as opposed to 34.2 percent under Cameron.
Flacco has thrown the ball 101 times 21 or more yards downfield -- the most in the league -- yet has not thrown an interception on any of those passes.
"His arm strength is just crazy," 49ers safety Dashon Goldson said.
While the 49ers rallied against the Falcons, Whitner feels errors against Flacco could have dire consequences.
"A mistake against Baltimore can end the football game for us," Whitner said. "Last week, we really didn't feel like it would end the game because they weren't going for the home run ball that much. Against Baltimore, if you give that up, it can be the difference between winning and losing."