Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl XLV : Why Packers Cheese Will Melt Pittsburgh Steel

While the lazy journalist takes the easy way out by huddling in front of the lockers of Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, defense is the real story of Super Bowl XLV. This may be the best defensive match up a Super Bowl has seen since the Steelers took on the Dallas Cowboys in 1978.

While Pittsburgh had the top defense in the NFL that year, Dallas ranked third. Yet it didn't matter that Sunday, as Pittsburgh won in a 35-31 explosion. It was the highest scoring Super Bowl until 1993, and still ranks as the fourth highest.

Statistically, this is the best run defense the Steelers has ever had. Even better than the legendary "Steel Curtain", which says a lot. Pittsburgh led the NFL in scoring and rushing defense this year. The Packers ranked second in scoring defense while raking fifth in pass defense.

While the Packers were mediocre at stopping the run in 2010, they showed a slight improvement in that area during their playoff run. Part of the reason is the successes of their offense, which caused opponents to run the ball just 39 times total over three games. If Pittsburgh is effective on the ground, it will create major issues for Green Bay.

Pittsburgh was very average in pass defense in 2010 despite a fierce pass rush. Their cornerbacks are good at supporting the run, but have been well below average at defending the pass. There is also a question if they have enough defenders for all of the Packers receivers.


Roethlisberger began 2010 watching football from home as he served a four game suspension for conduct off the field. He was rusty upon his return, tossing 15 interceptions against 17 touchdowns. He is very hard to tackle and is tough. He broke his nose against the rival Baltimore Ravens, yet led his team to a come from behind victory.

Rodgers has been an emerging star since being named the starter in 2008. Though he threw for nearly 4,000 yards this year, his presence gives the media an excuse to frequently mention Brett Favre, their friend and hero. Favre was the quarterback Rodgers replaced, and it has obviously shown itself to be the right decision.

Roethlisberger has the experience, having won two Super Bowls already. Rodgers has been hot all season, despite suffering a pair of concussions. Pittsburgh has the better backup quarterback in Charlie Batch, so Green Bay is hoping they won't be forced to play Matt Flynn.

ADVANTAGE : Steelers


Rashard Mendenhall ran for over 1,200 yards this year. He is the cowbell of the team. Pittsburgh wants to get him going fast and often, keeping the vaunted Packers offense on the bench. His effectiveness could hold the key for Pittsburgh.

Green Bay lost their star halfback, Ryan Grant, in the first game of the year. They have been using reserves since, mainly Brandon Jackson. He was replaced by rookie James Starks in the playoffs. Starks has 263 yards and a score on 70 carries so far on the postseason.

While the Packers hope Starks and company can have some impact, every opponent the Steelers have faced in 2010 have hoped for the same thing and generally failed. Any semblance of a ground attack might have to spawn from the effectiveness of the Packers passing attack by forcing Pittsburgh to replace linebackers with defensive backs.

ADVANTAGE : Steelers


Hines Ward is the moral leader of the Pittsburgh receivers. While a fine possession receiver, he has the ability to pancake opponents while blocking. Mike Wallace is their game changer. He scored 10 times this year and averaged an impressive 21 yards per catch. His speed is expected to create huge problems for Green Bay.

While Heath Miller didn't nearly have as good a season as his 2009 Pro Bowl year, he can still stretch the seam. He holds an advantage over Green Bay's Andrew Quarless, a rookie forced into action when starter Jermichael Finley was injured for the year in the fifth week.

Greg Jennings is Rodgers favorite target and a Pro Bowler. Yet Green Bay had three other receivers catch 45 or more passes in 2010. They all bring different talents to the table, which usually creates huge problems for opponents. Most teams do not have enough defensive backs that can stay with the quartet.

After playing the first four years of his career in Pittsburgh, Antwaan Randle El joined the Washington Redskins for four seasons. He returned to Pittsburgh in 2010 and caught a career low 22 balls. He is a former star college quarterback Green Bay must keep an eye on in case of a wide receiver option play. He has just five incompletions in 27 career attempts, with six going for touchdown.



The Steelers suffered a huge blow when Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey was declared out of the Super Bowl due to a high ankle sprain. Doug Legursky will play instead, given the unenviable task if trying to stop Green Bay nose tackle B.J. Raji.

Pittsburgh had already lost tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon for the season, but veterans Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams had performed better than expected so far. Reserve tight end Matt Spaeth, a blocking specialist, might play often to try to help slow down the Packers blitz.

Green Bay is led by Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton. His bookend, Mark Tauscher, was lost early in the season but 2010 first-round choice Brian Bulaga had done a fine job so far. The Packers have a mostly veteran line, and it is considered a strength of their team this season.



On paper, the Steelers defensive line has not put up big statistics. They also lost veteran defensive end Aaron Smith early in the year because of injury. But they know their roles. The Steelers scheme has them occupying blockers so their excellent linebackers can pile up the tackles.

Raji, Cullen Jenkins, and Ryan Pickett have been solid all season for the packers. There is little quality depth behind them, thanks to losing several players to injury or suspension this year. But this trio has 14.5 sacks combined, and Raji is now expected to be very effective with Pouncey gone.



Since Jerry Shipkey became the first Steelers linebacker to go to a Pro Bowl in 1950, this position has been a strength of the team. There have been 20 linebackers to go to the Pro Bowl since. James Harrison went this year, and Lemarr Woodley, James Farrior, and Lawrence Timmons are also excellent players. If the unit has one weakness, it is in pass defense.

Green Bay was hit especially hard at this position by injury. Fortunately for them, Clay Matthews III was not one. He played well enough to almost win Defensive Player of the Year. Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk did solid jobs in the middle, and rookie Frank Zombo has chipped in four sacks.

ADVANTAGE : Pittsburgh


Troy Polamalu is the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He and Ryan Clark are a veteran safety duo seldom fooled and generally where the ball is. Bryan McFadden had an impressive 74 tackles this year and in generally considered the teams best cornerback. Ike Taylor and William Gay are average at best. Most expect Rogers to pick on them and whomever the dime back will be, if Pittsburgh is forced to use that package.

Nick Collins and Charles Woodson, the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, both went to the Pro Bowl this year. Tramon Williams, who is having an excellent playoffs, also played well enough to make it. Nickel back Sam Shield Shields became the first rookie to ever get two interceptions, a sack, and force a fumble in a playoff game in the victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship



Shaun Suisham is a journeyman who joined the team in the eleventh week after Jeff Reed's game went awry. He has missed just two kicks since joining the team. Losing stay punter Daniel Sepulveda to his second ACL injury in three years hurt. Former Packers punter Jeremy Kapinos has been average at best in his place.

Mason Crosby has been excellent since Green Bay drafted him in 2007. He missed six kicks all year while making a career long field goal of 56 yards. Rookie free agent punter Tom Masthay has been quite a find. He averaged nearly 43 yards per attempt and was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week once this year.

Neither team is very good in the return game, though Pittsburgh did have some success at returning kickoffs. A big play in this area could have a tremendous impact on the final outcome of the game.



Mike Tomlin is not only the youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl, he is the youngest coach ever to take a team to two Super Bowls. He teams with Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau to keep the Steelers defense strong, since defense is Tomlin's strong suit.

LeBeau is called "Coach Dad" by his players. He has been in the NFL since 1959 and is the creator of the zone blitz. He once served as defensive backs coach under Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers when Capers was the Steelers defensive coordinator in 1992 to 1994. Both men are very familiar with each other.

Capers has done a masterful job in Green Bay this year despite losing 10 key players to injuries or suspension. His success has helped Mike McCarthy keep the team competitive. It also speaks highly on general manager Ted Thompson, who loaded the team deep with talent.

McCarthy, who deserved the Coach of the Year Award this season, is very good at adjusting his plan of attack as the game progresses. If Pittsburgh gets off to a fast start, it will be interesting to see how the Packers come out in the second half.

ADVANTAGE : Steelers


Pittsburgh needs a good ground game, which is now a more difficult task with Pouncey out. Green Bay has the defenders to stay with the Steelers receivers other than Wallace. The blazing speed of Wallace has presented a problem for opponents all year.

Rodgers has been sharp all year, and he has a very good chance of maintaining that pace. It will be interesting to see how LeBeau plans to stop all of the Packers receivers, but it appears on paper that Pittsburgh does not have enough defensive backs to stop Green Bay from chucking it all over the field.

With Pouncey gone, Raji should collapse the Steelers point of attack often. This will open more lanes for Capers to probe with blitzes. Both defensive coordinators are known for their complex blitz packages, which will crash down on the offensive lines from all angles.

The team whose offensive line performs best should win, but Pittsburgh may end up having to help Legursky too much in their attempt to slow down Raji. He is a rising star in the NFL, and the Super Bowl is the brightest stage for his talents to shine.

Packers 19 Steelers 13

1 comment:

c note said...

Whoever plays the best defense will come out on top. It should be close but I see a 21-17 Pittsburgh win.