Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gameday: Super Bowl XLV

It has come to this. The pinnacle of the mountain is in sight. We have hurdled our biggest rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, and a team that many said were "destined" to reach the Super Bowl. And now, only one foe stands in our way.

The Green Bay Packers are a great team. Don't sell them short. They have a great tradition, a great fan base, a great quarterback and a great defensive coordinator.

6:30pm EST
The JerryDome

What To Watch For

1. Rashard Mendenhall

If there is one area where there is a clear advantage for one team over the other, it is in the Steelers running game. Mendenhall ran for 1273 yards in the regular season, averaging close to 80 yards per game. Mendenhall had his best game since November against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown. The Jets had the #3 run defense in the league this year. The Packers run defense ranked 18th in the league. But an even better sign for the Steelers is that the Packers were 28th in Yards Per Rush, allowing 4.7 yards per carry. If Mendenhall is able to put the game on his shoulders and keep the chains moving, the Steelers will be able to control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field.

2. Steelers O-line vs Packers Pass Rush

Dom Capers is a hell of a defensive coordinator. He runs a 3-4 defensive scheme much like Dick LeBeau. The Steelers patchwork O-line has gotten them through two of the most vicious defenses in the league. Now, they have to face one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the game in Clay Matthews. Matthews had 13.5 sacks this season and is the kind of guy who can absolutely take a game over. However, Ben Roethlisberger is the kind of quarterback that isn't going to get rattled by a sack or four. Terrell Suggs has dominated the Steelers line twice this year, and the Steelers won both of those games. The Packers generate a lot of pressure from their front three, including nose tackle BJ Raji. Doug Legursky will start for Maurkice Pouncey and will have to deal with Raji. Even if Ben gets sacked 5 or 6 times in this game, that still won't guarantee that the Packers will win. Ben makes big plays at big moments, simple as that.

3. Aaron Rodgers

As Ben said earlier this week, "He could throw the ball through a car wash and it wouldn't get wet." The dude can flat out ball. He's got a cannon for an arm and can throw the ball all over the field. He is the most mobile quarterback the Steelers have faced all year and is great at using his feet to get him out of sticky situations. In his last game against the Steelers, Rodgers ran for a touchdown on a play where the Steelers had lockdown coverage in the secondary. Rodgers is a playmaker pure and simple. The Steelers are going to have to get pressure early and often, making Rodgers uncomfortable in the pocket. The one thing the Steelers have going for them is that the Packers offense isn't built on the "dink-and-dunk" style that the Patriots and Saints utilize. 

4. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison

Given that the Packers offense is more built to go downfield, particularly with 12-to-20 yard routes, like they terrorized the Falcons with, Woodley and Harrison should have the opportunity to get their shots at Rodgers. Additionally, since the Packers line allowed 38 sacks this season, we know there are holes in the protection that can be exploited. The Packers starting tackles are the banged up Chad Clifton and rookie Bryan Bulaga. If the Packers try to use more than quick throws (3-step drops) you've got to believe Woodley and Harrison are going to be all up in Rodgers' business.

5. Walt Anderson

Over the course of an NFL season, things always seem to come full circle. The biggest story of this NFL season was the fines levied by the league for hits to the head. The game that sparked most of the controversy, and drew the biggest fines, was the Steelers-Browns game. Not only was that Ben Roethlisberger's first game back from suspension, but James Harrison also levied two hits that knocked Josh Cribbs and Mohammed Massaquoi out of the game. The referee in that game did not flag either hit by Harrison. That referee was Walt Anderson, who will be dawning the pinstripes for the most important game this season. Will he be more acutely aware of big hits? We shall see.

Behind Enemy Lines

For our final Behind Enemy Lines segment of the season, our buddies Chris and Dave from the Packers Therapy podcast, drop by to give us the 411 on Cheesehead Nation. You can hit them up on Twitter @PackersTherapy

1. The Packers have made a '05 Steelers-esque run through the playoffs, beating the #3, #1, and #2 seed to reach the Super Bowl. What have you been most impressed with from the Packers in their run to the Super Bowl?
I am most impressed by the depth of this team.  There are certainly stars (Rodgers, Matthews, Woodson to name a few), but the reason the Packers have gone on this 5 game "backs against the wall" win streak has been the play of the non-stars.  From the punter, to the nickel backs, to fourth string defensive end, there seems to a player that steps up their game each and every week.  I have not been a fan of our GM, Ted Thompson, because he refuses to use free agency or trades when the team has an obvious need, but I cannot argue with the depth on this roster, particularly given the amount of injuries sustained by the Packers this year. 

2. Aaron Rodgers has had a fantastic season with four of his wide receivers averaging over 10 yards per reception. On your podcast earlier this week, you mentioned that the Packers like to use 15-to-20 yard routes down the field. Do you think they'll move to a shorter passing game to try to eliminate the Steelers pass rush or take their chances with deeper routes and hope Clifton and Bulaga can hold their own against Harrison and Woodley?

The Packer want to go downfield, no doubt about it.  However, there have been a number of games where the Packers initially began the game dinking and dunking down the field until intermediate and deep routes are open.  In particular, the Packers had a lot of success with their short passing game against the Bears in week 3 (15 receptions by a RB or TE) and only lost due to turnovers, an absurd 18 penalties, and a punt return.  So I do expect more catches by Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and James Starks.  However, more likely, the Packers will use a lot of slants and short timing routes to the wide receivers and let them get yards after the catch.  I am sure McCarthy will pay attention to the Steeler's losses to the Saints and Patriots.  The Packers can match that production.  I do not have faith that Bulaga will hold his own against either Harrison or Woodley, so if the Packers lose, I am sure this will be one of the story lines.  If Rodgers gets too much pressure all day, look for a few interceptions later in the game when Rodgers starts to take chances. 

3. Matchups:
3a. What Steeler worries you the most?

On defense, whoever lines up across from Bulaga.  On offense, I would say Mendenhall.  Although most of us from Wisconsin understand that nothing good rarely comes out of the University of Illinois, I am most afraid that the Packer defense can't stop Mendenhall from having a successful day.  One of the toughest games for the Packers this year was the regular season game against Atlanta.  Michael Turner ran for 110 yards and allowed them to stay out of 3rd and long situations, which nullified the Packers pass rush.  If Mendenhall does the same, then the Packers are in trouble.

3b. What matchup do you think favors the Steelers the most?

As mentioned before, the Steelers have a definite edge on their DL versus our OL.  It isn't just the rookie Bulaga, but Daryn Colledge and Scott Wells are average and Chad Clifton is a good pass blocker and poor run blocker.  No doubt the Packers are going to throw and throw quickly.

3c. Which matchup favors the Packers the most?

Likewise, I like the Packers DL against the Steelers OL.  I do not know the Steelers well, but I hear that you are missing a few guys before Pouncey got hurt.  And it's not just Matthews.  B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins are playing lights out right now and can generate a pass rush with only three or four guys.  The key will be to get Roethlisberger on the ground when they have the opportunity to do so. 

4. In the lead-up to this game, a lot of the talk has been centered on Ben Roethlisberger vs Aaron Rodgers. Both teams have outstanding defenses with big-time playmakers in Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Troy Polamalu, and James Harrison. However, in the last game between these teams TE Jermichael Finley had 9 catches for 74 yards and 1 TD and James Jones caught the go-ahead TD for Green Bay (before the Roethlisberger-to-Wallace miracle throw). Are there any "under the radar" players you think will have a big impact on this game?

The great part of the Packer season is that there are a number of "under the radar" players that have been having a meaningful impact on this team.  Some guys like Sam Shields and James Starks are already getting a lot of press, so I won't mention them.  I think two true "under the radar" guys will be RB Brandon Jackson on offense and LB Desmond Bishop on defense.  I believe Jackson will be used extensively on offense to pass protect and catch a lot of balls out of the backfield.  He is excellent at both.  Bishop will need to have a big game to stop Mendenhall and I think he will be blitzing a lot.

5. Any other final thoughts?

Unlike my podcast partner Chris who will be watching the game in total terror, I am picking the Packers to win comfortably.  They are this year's New Orleans Saints.  They are playing with incredible motivation (win it for Woodson and the old guys), they have finally figured out areas where injuries have hurt them (like the run game) and their passing game in a dome is unstoppable.  I believe the Steelers have a great defense, but the Packers can spread you out and Aaron Rodgers will get rid of the ball quickly.  Think of the Atlanta playoff game.  That was not an aberration, but the final result of an offense coming together all year.  Only the Bears, cold and bad field conditions slowed the Packers down, not a factor this week.   So, although I have a lot of respect for the Steelers organization, I think Green Bay will be once again recognized as Titletown USA.

If you haven't listened to it yet, check out Chris and Dave's podcast from earlier this week where they had myself and Cory (Three Rivers Burgh Blog) on to talk about the game. The segment we're in is in this post.

A few things before we close out our last preview of the year.

First, if you haven't seen the Twerrible Towel yet, check it out. Every time someone uses the phrase "Steeler Nation" on Twitter, they twirl the towel. It's pretty awesome.

If you click no other link in this post, spend 2 seconds to click here and vote for the Steelers. Coca-Cola is running a Coke Cheers campaign. For every vote that is logged on that site, they will donate $1 to the Boys and Girls Club of America. Whichever team gets more votes (Pittsburgh or Green Bay), Coke will donate an extra $25,000 to the local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. Do something good, help Pittsburgh win.

Second, these dudes made a 24/7-style video about getting ready for Super Bowl XLV. I recommend it if you have 10 minutes to spare, it's good for some laughs.

Finally, we've all seen how Pittsburgh has reacted to recent championships that have been won by both the Steelers and the Penguins. Oakland gets trashed. The South Side is a mess. I'm not going to say don't go out and celebrate or don't be excited about what happens tomorrow night.

What I am going to say is this: stay safe.

There's going to be a lot of people out and about tomorrow night, and probably a lot of intoxicated drivers. There have been stories in the news about how police will be out in full force. So whether you're roaming the streets of Oakland or just driving home from a party, be safe.

Now that that's over with, GET PUMPED FOR THE GAME.


No comments: