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Super Bowl XLV Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers

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It’s only fitting that a Super Bowl pitting two cold weather traditional NFL powerhouses will be played in an area experiencing below freezing temperatures and even snow.  If you aren’t aware of this already you must be living under a rock, but Super Bowl 45 in Dallas will see the Pittsburgh Steelers, owners of six Super Bowl titles facing off against three-time Super Bowl Champs the Green Bay Packers. While I don’t normally see any value in examining position vs. position because let’s face it Aaron Rodgers won’t be direction competing with Ben Roethlisberger, I think in this case it provides the most complete analysis possible. Without further ado let’s take an analytical look, compare the Steelers and Packers, and predict the Super Bowl XLV Champion.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers is the hottest quarterback on the planet right now and has proven himself on every stage he has been on to this point, but the Super Bowl is a completely different animal. In terms of pure quarterback arm strength, I would give the nod to Rodgers. Roethlisberger however has great arm strength and knowledge of what he can and can’t do; I just feel Rodgers can fit the football into windows with a little better zip than Big Ben. In terms of accuracy, again I give the nod to Rodgers. He rarely throws a bad ball and has a great rapport with his receivers. He anticipates the breaks as well as anyone and puts the ball where it needs to be. Ben isn’t an inaccurate passer, but he is forced to improvise far more than Rodgers which affects his accuracy. Both QBs are mobile. Rodgers is a much better downfield runner than Roethlisberger, but Ben is the best in the game at moving around behind the line of scrimmage. In terms of pocket presence Roethlisberger is the best in the league. He may hang onto the ball a tad too long at times, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the rush coming. He makes small, almost unnoticeable moves with his feet that allow him to escape near-certain sacks. Roethlisberger’s poise under pressure is unrivaled as well. He is 10-2 in the playoffs and there hasn’t been a time where he has caved under playoff pressure. Even in his two playoff losses he has put up an average of 28 offensive points. Rodgers has shown that he is in control of the huddle and can make throws under pressure, he just doesn’t compare to Roethlisberger in that regard or proven it on the big stage… yet. One thing that I’ve noticed this week is that Aaron Rodgers has gone away from the look and feel that has gotten him here. He got a haircut, had a shave, and looks, well, primped; as if he realizes this is his big chance to market himself. Who knows if that will affect how he performs, but I’m generally wary of anyone who makes a drastic change before a pressure situation. If I am starting a team and have a choice of either QB, I’d take Rodgers, but if I were heading into the 4th quarter of a tight Super Bowl, there’s no one in the league I’d rather have than Roethlisberger. Advantage: Pittsburgh… for one game

Running Back: Rashard Mendenhall vs. James Starks/Brandon Jackson/John Kuhn

This one is quite a bit easier to find this advantage; it’s Mendenhall, and it’s not close. Even in the off-chance that you think Starks, Jackson, and Kuhn are capable NFL running backs (which they are not), you can’t possibly put those three ahead of Mendenhall. Even if you took the best qualities of all three and combined them, that player wouldn’t be better than Mendenhall. That’s less of a testament to Rashard, who by the way is a very good NFL running back, but it just shows how ineffective any of the three Green Bay options are. Since surprising the Eagles, James Starks has averaged less than 3 yards per carry in the two games the Packers have played. I’m not sure why Green Bay isn’t giving the ball to Brandon Jackson more; not that he’s much better, but at least he offers a different look. Advantage: Pittsburgh…by a lot

Receiving Options: Wallace, Ward, Sanders, Brown, Miller vs. Jennings, Driver, Nelson, Jones, Quarless

Mike Wallace is a game-breaker. He has more top-end speed than anyone in the league not named Chris Johnson or DeSean Jackson. However, he still has a tendency to fight the ball a little bit and his route-running, while improved isn’t quite elite. He has also completely disappeared in the postseason. He has 4 catches for 26 yards in two games, so if you’ve seen him, please let him know there is a game in Dallas on Sunday. Comparing him to Green Bay #1 Greg Jennings it’s apparent that Jennings is the better option. Jennings has pure, strong hands and tremendous body control. He’s silky smooth in and out of cuts, doesn’t waste any energy in his routes and has full command of the passing-tree. He may not possess the sprinter speed of Wallace, but he has speed and looks even faster because of how good his routes are. Jennings also is strong enough to beat press-coverage while Wallace gets held up at the line and is a contributing factor to his abysmal postseason performances. Both are adequate blockers, but neither will be confused for Hines Ward anytime soon in that category. Along with the #1s, examining the rest of the receiving corps gives a clear advantage to the Packers. Hines Ward and Donald Driver are pretty much a push. Both are extremely reliable veterans that will do anything they can to win games. Neither will make mistakes, and both will lay their bodies on the line to win. Digging a bit deeper, Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and James Jones would probably be starters on most teams in the league. They combined for over 1200 yards and 7 TDs in the regular season and have added nearly 350 and 3 TDs in the postseason. They are good route-runners with excellent hands and can be counted on to make plays when it matters. Pittsburgh counters with Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown who are young, but with the disappearing acts of Wallace and Ward have been forced to step up. They make mistakes, but they also make big plays. Roethlisberger relies on tight end Heath Miller as is safety net and Miller has responded gamely. He will draw attention in the middle of the field and could open up the edges for the speed burners to get loose. Green Bay doesn’t have much of a tight end option to speak of after the talented Jermichael Finley was lost for the year. Andrew Quarless is more of a blocker, but can also catch the occasional dump off. Advantage: Green Bay

Offensive Line: Scott, Kemoeatu, Legursky, Foster, Adams vs. Clifton, Colledge, Wells, Sitton, Bulaga

As if the Steelers didn’t have enough offensive line issues this year, it looks like they will be without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey for the Super Bowl. Pouncey injured his right ankle against the Jets and had to give way to Doug Legursky. Haven’t heard of him? Don’t worry; he’s not the only man on the line you haven’t heard of. The Steelers’ starting line as they entered training camp was: LT Max Starks, LG Chris Kemoeatu, C Justin Hartwig, RG Trai Essex and RT Willie Colon. While the rookie Pouncey established himself as one of the best centers in the league, the remaining changes were made due to injury. As the Steelers line up for their first offensive play on Sunday, it’s very likely that Chris Kemoeatu will be the only man left from the original five. Most teams would hang their heads and make excuses. The Steelers on the other hand went out and won games. The patchwork line gave up more than their fair share of sacks, but also did a nice job opening up holes for the running game. The Packers are vulnerable to the run and establishing the run and controlling the clock will be keys to a Steelers victory. Pouncey not being 100% will definitely be felt though as lined up at NT for the Packers is the excellent BJ Raji. On the other side, offensive line is the one part of the Packers team that has been relatively injury free. They did lose RT Mark Tauscher for the season but Bryan Bulaga earned his first start week 5, and has started every game since. He has done a great job and was named to the all-rookie team. The Packers line is better at pass protection than run blocking, but to be fair, they don’t have running backs to hit any open holes anyway.  They are a solid, yet unspectacular unit that does what they need to do and keep Aaron Rodgers upright. As long as that’s the case, the Packers will have a chance to win any game. Advantage: Green Bay

Defensive Line:  Hood, Hampton, & Keisel vs. Pickett, Raji, & Jenkins

Both teams run the 3-4 defense but there are differences in their styles. Without getting too technical, with BJ Raji having the ability to get into the backfield quickly, he can move around a bit. Sometimes he lines up directly over the center, sometimes he’s over the guard, and other times his in the A-Gap. This gives Green Bay the freedom to throw different looks and blitzers at opposing offenses. The Steelers on the other hand run the same defense they have for as long as I can remember. The D-Line does their job and holds the line of scrimmage, while the linebackers are free to make the plays. They are fantastic at their job and nearly impossible to run against. The Steelers were forced to turn to Ziggy Hood instead of Pro Bowler Aaron Smith at defensive end. It appears Smith will be out for the Super Bowl, so the pressure will be on Hood to do his job. Hood has stepped up in a big way since Smith went down and there’s no doubting his talent levels. Hampton is great at clogging the middle and taking up two blockers. He doesn’t have the overall ability of BJ Raji, but he is fantastic at using his hands and is a powerful tackler.  Besides that, he doesn’t need to provide the same things as Raji given the scheme. Brett Keisel, and his beard, is a very good 3-4 defensive end. He won’t be a hall of famer, but he certainly will outperform most of the guys he’s matched up against. As for the Packers, Ryan Pickett is the Packers weakest link on the line, but he is also very versatile. He can slide and fire into the gaps whenever they feign a two-man front. Raji, as mentioned, is a game-changing NT. He can do everything asked of a Nose Tackle and rarely gets winded. He is the key to the defense and has some pretty solid dance moves as well. Cullen Jenkins, much like Pickett is versatile. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his efforts and was the unsung hero in the win over the Bears. Advantage: without Smith… very slightly Green Bay

Linebackers: Woodley, Farrior, Timmons, Harrison vs. Matthews, Hawk, Bishop, Walden

Clay Matthews probably should have been the defensive player of the year this season, but the Steelers James Harrison is the best linebacker on the field. Harrison is a self-made player who never stops competing. He has tremendous technique in the pass rush to go along with his unmatched run-stopping skills. His weakest suit is if he gets sucked into deeper zone coverage, but he almost never does. He seldom misses tackles and attacks with a violent force. Matthews is a great all-around linebacker, but he seemed to run out of gas late in the season. He does everything better than just about every other linebacker in the league except Harrison. To go along with Harrison, the Steelers have 3 other all-pro caliber linebackers. LaMarr Woodley would be the guy on almost every other team in the league. Teamed up with Harrison and Pittsburgh has one of the all-time greatest outside linebacking corps in NFL history. On the inside the Steelers have two linebackers without flaws. Lawrence Timmons is as naturally gifted as anyone in his position and is maturing into an absolute beast. James Farrior may have lost a step, but he hasn’t lost any productivity. What he has lost in quickness (which is barely anything), he’s made up for with his understanding of the game and ability to read and recognize. The Packers line up AJ Hawk, Desmond Bishop, and Erik Walden next to Matthews. Hawk is a tackling machine that is rarely out of position. He has learned to read and react quickly and will need to have a big game if the Packers hope to hoist the hardware. Bishop is a guy you’ve never heard of, but should know. He’s had a nice season and will be key to shutting down the middle of the field. OLB Erik Walden on the other hand is a liability. He doesn’t seem to read plays until they are past him. He isn’t an adept pass rusher and even worse against the run. I would look for the Steelers to attack him early and often. Advantage: Pittsburgh

Secondary: Taylor, Polamalu, Clark, McFadden vs. Woodson, Peprah, Collins, Williams

Troy Polamalu is great enough that he won the defensive player of the year award despite missing good portions of the last four games of the regular season with an Achilles injury. The injury may be accounting for why he is playing more of a centerfield role than crowding the line of scrimmage. No matter where he is though, he can and will make game-changing plays. He’s spectacular to watch and one of the league’s most exciting players. With Polamalu essentially playing the role of two safeties back there, having Ryan Clark just seems like a bonus. He is another self-made guy who does everything right. He is nowhere near as talented as his running mate Polamalu, but he is a very solid NFL safety. Ike Taylor is Pittsburgh’s best cover man. He plays a good, but not great corner, and can get beat by great route runners. The matchup with Jennings will definitely be all that he can handle. On the other side, Pittsburgh will be starting Bryant McFadden, another corner that has had issues in coverage. He plays with toughness, but also with tight hips. He will probably be matched up on Donald Driver which will be helpful, but the Steelers CBs, while much better than last year, are still a work in progress. Green Bay on the other hand has two dominant corners in Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. Woodson is almost certainly worthy of hall of fame induction and can make plays from the corner spot like Polamalu from the safety. Tramon Williams has made a name for himself this year. He’s always been an excellent coverman, but now he’s starting to believe it. A confident corner is a tough one to beat. At safety the Packers have another pro-bowler in Nick Collins. He is a terrific free safety with a nose for the ball. He isn’t Polamalu, but no one is. Roethlisberger will do himself a lot of favors by making sure he’s aware of what Collins is doing on every play. Green Bay may have one of the best secondaries in the league, but they aren’t without liability. In this case it’s SS Charlie Peprah. Green Bay does a nice job masking his inadequacies with Collins, but they can’t always hide him. Peprah has made some silly mistakes that has cost the Packers this season and he will need to be better on Sunday if he wants to take home a ring. Advantage: Green Bay

Special Teams: Suisham, Kapinos, Brown vs. Crosby, Masthay, Shields/Williams

Pretty similar units overall. Both teams have lapses in coverage that can lead to big plays. I would give Crosby a slight nod over Suisham and the punters are about even. Any one of the returners has the ability one to break, but none are elite. If forced to choose: Advantage: Green Bay… slightly

Head Coach: Tomlin vs. McCarthy

Tomlin is a guy that was given a great opportunity and has made the most of it. He didn’t have to build a team from the ground up, but he has kept the Steelers on the same championship level. He makes some mistakes during the course of the game that can be chalked up to his inexperience, but his players would run through a wall for him, and that’s what matters most.  McCarthy is a true players coach. He is outspoken and honest. There is no question of where you stand within the organization as McCarthy will be sure you know. He has a strong offensive knowledge base and knows how to attack and adjust to defenses. He primarily lets his defensive coaches do their job and concentrates on the offensive side. He has played all the right cards to this point, and there are no signs of it being any different now. Advantage: Pittsburgh

When the Packers were installed as the favorite I was borderline shocked. I’ve watched every game that both of these teams have played and just don’t see it. My only guess is that oddsmakers are banking that the public will roll with the hot hand and Green Bay. Perhaps they considered the Pouncey injury and think the Steelers will have a nightmare of a time protecting Roethlisberger. Unfortunately for the Packers, I think Ben likes making plays while running for his life. I also think the Steelers will be able to run the ball on the Packers despite having a makeshift line. The Packers will get their points, and I think the game will be close but in the Super Bowl I’ll take Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh D any day of the week.  Green Bay and their proud fanbase will be forced to watch the the trophy named for their nostalgic leader Vince Lombardi taking a trip to Pittsburgh for the seventh time.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 – Green Bay Packers 23


One Response to “Super Bowl XLV Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers”

  1. PACKERS WIN!!!!!!!!

    Posted by Bobby Digital | February 11, 2011, 1:35 pm

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