Friday, February 4, 2011

Steelers Game Day - Super Bowl XLV vs. Green Bay Packers

At the beginning of the season every NFL team has the dreams and aspirations of making it to the big game, the Super Bowl. I would have to imagine that every team has a checklist, and most is going to look like this:

1) Make the playoffs
2) Win the division
3) Win the conference
4) Win the Super Bowl

This dream scenario can only happen for one team per year. The Steelers have this process down better than any team in the NFL. The Steelers will look for their third Super Bowl in the last six seasons. Most teams would kill to have their team win a Super Bowl in their lifetime, we have the chance to have three of them before some of their kids get to elementary school. Unreal.

Some can say that the Steelers and Packers really had the same sort of season. Both teams have endured an immense amount of injuries through the year leaving both fan bases feeling like they couldn’t win. For the Packers and the Steelers they lost players all over the field, but they were resilient enough to get the job done when it needed to be done.

The Steelers were pretty much out for the count by most people’s account before the season even started. Ben Roethlisberger was out for the first four games and the pundits were predicting a third place finish in the AFC North and a .500 season. What do the Steelers do? Go 12-4 and win the AFC North and then proceed to win the AFC. During the regular season the Steelers suffered an unreal amount of injuries on the offensive line to a point where they were only down to one starter from the beginning of the season in the AFC Championship game. What do they do? Keep going on. When both the kicker and the punter were lost for the year (for different scenarios) they could have just folded on the special teams front, but they kept pushing on. Mike Tomlin kept this team focused and together and now they are playing for their seventh Super Bowl title.

The Packers were also hit hard. They lost two key members of the offense when Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant were lost for the year, early. Then Aaron Rodgers was lost with two concussions during the season. Nick Barnett and Morgan Burnett were also placed on IR as a total of 15 Packers were lost for the year during the course of the season.

Two of the most storied franchises will now play in Dallas, and the people there are pissed. No way that any true Cowboys fan wants to see Pittsburgh in their own stadium for the Super Bowl. Another win for the Steelers will make the Cowboys look more and more like they aren’t “America’s Team”. That is, unless Americas Team is defined as being mediocre and unable to produce. That actually sounds like a little league baseball team I was on one time. I guess they are the same thing.

Lets check the stats:

Pittsburgh 24, New York 19
Passing: Roethlisberger: 10/19, 133 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall: 27 car, 121 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Miller: 2 rec, 38 yards, 0 TD

Green Bay 21, Chicago 14
Passing: Rodgers: 17/30, 244 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Starks: 22 car, 72 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Jennings: 8 rec, 130 yards, 0 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 345.3 yards/game (14th)
Green Bay: 358.1 yards/game (9th)

Pittsburgh: 225.1 yards/game (14th)
Green Bay: 257.8 yards/game (5th)

Pittsburgh: 120.3 yards/game (11th)
Green Bay: 100.4 yards/game (24th)

Pittsburgh: 23.4 points/game (12th)
Green Bay: 24.3 points/game (10th)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 276.8 yards/game (2nd)
Green Bay: 309.1 yards/game (5th)

Pittsburgh: 62.8 yards/game (1st)
Green Bay: 114.9 yards/game (18th)

Pittsburgh: 214.1 yards/game (12th)
Green Bay: 194.2 yards/game (5th)

Pittsburgh: 14.5 points/game (1st)
Green Bay: 15.0 points/game (2nd)

This is what it is all about. One game for all the marbles. It doesn't get any better than this.

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview.

Without further waiting, here are the Steelers enemy for the Super Bowl. The Packers:

If there was a flavor of the month award for the NFL then Aaron Rodgers would easily get that award. After sitting behind Brett Favre and waiting for him to die so he could get on the field, Rodgers finally got his chance to play, and he has done fairly well.

A lot of people are already talking about Rodgers as an elite NFL quarterback despite the fact he didn’t win his first playoff game until this year.

Don’t get me wrong, Rodgers has had a great playoff run. He has combined for 790 yards, six touchdowns and only two interceptions while completing 71% of his passes and having a 8.49 YPA average. Really nice numbers. Those numbers are highlighted by a divisional round game where Rodgers went 31-of-36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Falcons.

Rodgers has been pretty consistent all season throwing for almost 4,000 yards and tossed 28 touchdown passes in only 15 games. I really wish I could find a reason to bash the guy or come up with a witty youtube or photoshop because the guy is just solid. By no means is he elite yet, but he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

As great as AR has been during the playoffs he really showed that he can be vulnerable against good defenses. I think we can take note against the Bears in the AFC Championship game that Rodgers did not have a good showing, especially in the second half when the Bears defense really started to find their legs. Rodgers finished the game going 17-of-30 for 244 yards and two picks. Sure one of the picks really wasn’t his fault as it hit off of Donald Drivers (I think) foot. The other was an egregious pick in the red zone. This proved that, indeed, Aaron Rodgers is not invincible and that he can be stopped.

The Steelers are also going to have to be on the look out for Rodgers to run the football. Like Ben, Rodgers is very mobile and can get outside of the pocket and cause problems. This season he ran for 356 yards and four touchdowns. It is easy to think that when you talk about Rodgers mobility that you can say he is just like Ben, but when you watch Rodgers play that is really not the case. Rodgers has many (ok, a few) designed plays where he is supposed to run the football when he is outside of the pocket. Ben will run when he needs to, but Rodgers is a little more apt to pull the ball down and get yards rather than look down field for that extra second. Not saying that is bad, but just something the Steelers will have to keep an extra eye on that, as I am sure they will.

An interesting subplot that nobody is really discussing is the multiple head injuries that Rodgers has sustained this season. AR has had two diagnosed concussions and could have possibly had another in the NFC Championship game (although not diagnosed). One good hit on a sack or on a run where he doesn’t get down and we could be looking at Matt Flynn. That would not be good for Green Bay.

The Packers run game is about a ferocious as this:

It is not secret that the Packers running game went to hell in a hand basket when Ryan Grant went down with his season ending injury. The Packers finished 24th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, good for 25th in the league.

Brandon Jackson was the hot item early after Grant got hurt and he did alright, running for 703 yards and three touchdowns while only running for 3.7 yards per carry and averaging almost 44 yards per game. Jackson though, has fallen by the wayside as he is more of a shifty pass catcher and only has six carries this post season for 28 yards.

The new fad in the Packers backfield is James Starks. Yawn. He ran for 123 yards against Philadelphia and you would have thought he was the next Jim Brown. Sub 75 yard performances against Atlanta and Chicago might have brought the early calls for Canton to a little big of a halt. You don’t run against the Steelers. If he gets 40 yards on the ground I would be surprised.

Jon Kuhn is a Pittsburgh guy. He went to Shippensburg and he was on the Steelers practice squad, thus earning him a Super Bowl ring a few years ago. He is a short yard back and he does an alright job at it, nothing special though. Green Bay is not a great shot yardage team so I think Big Snack is going to be alright against the running game of the Steelers.

The 4,000 yards that Aaron Rodgers threw for this season had to go somewhere and the Packers receivers have made the most of those opportunities.

The Packers boast four receivers with 500 or more yards led by Greg Jennings. Jennings is by far the Packers biggest threat of the core of pass catchers. The last three seasons he has caught and average of 75 catches for 1223 yards and eight touchdowns. Not too bad. Too bad for Greg that Ike Taylor is going to be in his hip pocket all day.

Jennings has not been outstanding all post season but he has played better football as the “second season” has gone on. After getting shut down for only one catch for eight yards on the wild card game he came back strong for back-to-back eight reception games for a combined 231 yards. Ike will have his work cut out for him if he does shadow Jennings. Jennings is the Packers deep threat as he caught 21 balls of 20+ yards out of his 76 reception so the Steelers pension for not giving up big plays will be massive on Sunday.

Outside of having a dynamic receiver like Jennings, the Packers also have very capable receivers in James Jones and Jordy Nelson. Both of these receivers are more of possession receivers but still very capable of making big plays if the Packers need them do. They both have combined for around 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns so there is no joke about these two. If Jennings is taken out of the equation then they will rely heavy on these receivers to move the catch, something they are very good at. The Packers will look to match up these two on the nickel and dime backs of the Steelers in order to get match up problems and possibly even get linebackers covering them in the slot.

Donald Driver isn’t what he used to be. That is very evident with his stat line where he caught 51 balls for 565 yards and only four touchdowns. This season is the first since 2003 that Don didn’t catch over 70 passes and fell below 1,000 receiving yards. While he is not as great as he once was he is still a very physical receiver that can give the Steelers problems if he can get inside the DB’s and work on the quick slants.

Without Jermichael Finley the Packeers really don’t have much in terms of capable tight ends. Finley was a very good receiving tight end and could make plays much like a receiver, but lucky for the Steelers he is not going to be able to join the club due to being on the IR. Andrew Quarless is the first tight end. Not really sure if that is even a real player. IT says he has 21 receptions for 238 yards and a lone touchdown. Whatever

From left to right: Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga.

Nothing too awe inspiring with that group. The tackles are from both sides of the spectrum. Clifton is in his 11th year and he has been struggling with some knee problems. Bulaga is in his rookie season. T.J. Lang is actually ahead of Bulaga on the depth chart on the Packers website but he is only a second year player. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley should have their way.

Scott Wells is in his seventh year but is not a really strong and should need help to block Casey Hampton which will make the run game even harder to get going.

The Packers have allowed 38 sacks this season. Much better than last year when Aaron Rodgers got lit up like a Christmas tree, but still not good when you consider the Steelers only allowed 43 sacks this season with a line that couldn’t stay healthy for consecutive games.

Take what you will with those stats.

Clay Matthews is one of the best in the business at what he does, which is getting to the quarterback. Matthews worked it for 13.5 sacks during the regular season and another 3.5 during the post season. What is so special about Matthews is that he can really come from anywhere on the field to make a play. He can come off the outside and has the speed to get to the quarterback or he can come with the twist stunt up the middle and get a clean shot on the quarterback. He is big and strong and Ben will have to know where he is at all times.

The Packers defensive line is also very solid when we look at getting after the quarterback. Right defensive end Cullen Jenkins has registered seven sacks and nose tackle BJ Raji has racked up 6.5 sacks. Raji is an absolute tank in the middle.

The Packers secondary is pretty money. They can be put in the same class as the New York Jets in terms of making plays and total overall skill. Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are the two that man the outsides. Woodson is one of the best in the league, but is nowhere near his DPOY level that he was last season. Williams finally got a chance to make an impact this year and he did that by making six picks and defending 20 passes.

Nick Collins finished second on the team with four interceptions and Charlie Peprah has had a solid season with 46 tackles and two interceptions. Scott Shields is a better than average nickel back so it will be important for the Steelers to dictate matchups. Woodson it tough and physical, but is not able to run with receivers down the field so he will most likely be matched up with Hines Ward. Williams will probably get on Wallace so it will be interesting to see if Wallace will move to the slot to try and get matched up with a safety in the middle of the field.

On the surface all you have been hearing about is how good the Packers defense has been. They were ranked fifth in total offense and finished only behind the Steelers in the most important defensive category, points against, only surrendering 15 points per game.

While it seems as if the Packers might be on the same pace as the Steelers, when you break it down a little bit more you can see that the Packers defiantly are vulnerable.

Green Bay finished the season ranked 18th in rush defense. Dig deeper and you find that the Packers can be run on, and it has happened on more than a few occasions this season. Green Bay let opposing ball carriers tote the ball for 4.7 yards an attempt during a regular season. The Packers also gave up 120+ yards runsihg in six games this season including getting gashed for 190 yards against the Lioins in week 14. They also got ran on for 113 yards and 117 yards against the Pats and Falcons, respectively in the second half of the year. While the Green Bay defense is good as a whole you can gain yardage on them in many different ways.

Other game notes:

-The Steelers have to work Rashard Mendenhall early and often. As I talked about earlier the Packers rush defense isn’t that good and getting the running game will open up a lot of options for the Steelers. I don’t think the Steelers will have a lot of success running up the middle of the Packers defense but they could have success running on the edges, which is where most of there production came from against the Jets. A solid running game is going to get Ben going with his strength, the play action. If Rashard can get going that will pull the safties up a touch and with a good fake they will be able to get those safties to bite and give one-on-one coverage with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown possibly on nickel backs or linebackers and that advantage has to go to Pittsburgh. What many some people don’t recognize is that the clock that the Steelers can use keeps Aaron Rodgers off the field. The best defense for the Steelers might be their offense.

-There are some people who think this is going to be an offensive game. High scoring, lots of big plays, and touchdowns galore. That might not be the case. We all know the Packers can put up some points but it might not be as big of a scoring storm as everyone might thing. Over the season, and including the playoffs, the Packers have scored 21 points or less nine times. Sure, they have a dynamic offense that CAN put up big points on occasions, but they are also an offense that is beatable. If you look at last week against the Bears the Packers offense looked very ordinary when the Bears defense got its legs under them in the second half. Should be interesting to see how the Packers will attack the Steelers.

-I am a little surprised that a little more hasn’t been made about the lack of Super Bowl experience from the Green Bay Packers. There are two rings on the current Packers team. There are 59 rings on the Steelers current team. One of those Packers rings is from John Kuhn when he was on the Steelers practice squad in 2006. If you remember back to that 2006 season you remember that the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. That was the first time that our players were in the Super Bowl and it made a huge deal. Granted, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, but it was far from pretty. When it takes an Antwann Randle El trick play pass touchdown to win the game then you really didn’t play a great game. Ben was bad during that game and you could just tell the Steelers had no idea what to experience. I really think that is going to be the case this time. The Packers can go around and downplay the experience factor, but it is a huge deal, at least early in the game. If the Steelers can come out and put up an early touchdown or 10 points then they can really start to grind at the Packers before they even get started. Moreover this season the Packers have never trailed by more than seven points. If they get down by more it will be very interesting to see how they handle things.

-Are the Packers going to run the football? No idea. I can’t really see them being successful. To be successful the Packers are going to have to throw the football which means about 40-45 tosses for Aaron Rodgers. If the Steelers show early they can get pressure on him it could force him to press and make some errand throws like he did late against the Bears. James Starks will probably be the man, but as Bam said on my podcast earlier he wouldn’t be surprised to see Brandon Jackson a little bit more. Jackson is the more athletic of the backs and will be able to catch passes out of the backfield so that might be an option for Green Bay.

-What is Steelers Nation going to be like? We know for a fact they can represent at Super Bowls, which is overly evident in the last two Super Bowls they were in, but will they have 70% of the stadium covered by Terrible Towels? The Packers travel very well and walking through the Milwaukee airport on Friday morning and there was an unreal line of people going through airport security for flights to Dallas. I wouldn’t be shocked if it was more 50/50 in the Jerry Dome, but I would expect there to be more Black and Gold then Green and Yellow.

-I know it might seem as if I say it every week, but special teams might win or lose this ballgame for the Steelers or Packers. It is no secret the Steelers have struggled on many of the aspects in the special teams game. The beginning of the year they were great but have been tailing off. Luckily the Packers special teams is probably worse than the Steelers. The Pack have gave up some huge plays in each playoff game in either the punt or kick coverage so you have to hop that Antonio Brown can find that one seam and break it. Jeremy Kapinos is going to have to be better. His net average is bad, but I guess when you really think about it as long as he doesn’t get one blocked he will be alright. I feel good about Suisham. He doesn’t have to kick on that Heinz Field grass and he has been pretty good this year despite some misses later in the season. I will feel alright if the game comes down to his toe and its around 35 or 40 yards.

Prediction? Steelers 24, Packers 20.

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