Packers vs. Steelers (+2.5) 45 o/u
Two weeks of overkill analysis and no football (Pro Bowl doesn’t count) has left us with the final game of the 2010 NFL season. The showdown in icy Dallas supposedly pits the two best teams in the country against one another: The Cheesehead Green Bay Packers against the Steelhead Pittsburgh Steelers.
I’ve put together a somewhat length and hopefully informative breakdown of Super Bowl XLV, highlighting specific aspects that will play a determining factor in which great franchise adds another Lombardi Trophy to their collection.
The Steelers Injuries
Much has been made about Maurkice Pouncey’s injured ankle and that the rookie center will be replaced by Dan Legursky. After two weeks of practice one shouldn’t expect any snap exchange problems between the back-up center and Roethlisberger. However, Pouncey’s absence should be felt during pass protection. Reportedly the Steelers will be running their least complex passing protection scheme of the year (partial because of Legursky and partial because of the Packers own blitzing scheme). Whether or not the scheme provides sufficient time for Big Ben and whether Legursky can tame the wild beast who is BJ Raji, will go a long way to determining the offense success of the Steelers.
Concerning the NFL’s defensive player of the year Troy Polamalu…there should be great concern from Steeler fans about the safety’s health. Yes, Polamalu has had two weeks to allow his injured ankle to heal. However, we shouldn’t forget that in the AFC Championship game Polamalu was a ghost with the exception of one play. If you don’t see the ball hawking safety rooming the field and up on the defensive line early in this game, it is fair to say that Polamalu is still injured and will be a non-factor.
With the exception of the NFC Championship against the rival Chicago Bears (who he rarely plays well against), Aaron Rodgers in playing the best football of any quarterback in the league. Throw in the fact that Rodgers has a 111.5 quarterback ratings indoors with 25 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions (over 12 games) and you would think the Packers quarterback couldn’t lose this Super Bowl. The general statistics are useful but I’m more interested in how Rodgers will do against the Steelers 3-4 defense.
The only time that Aaron Rodgers faced Dick Lebeau and the Steelers defense was last season in the 37-36 shootout every analyst has been yapping about for two weeks. In the game Rodgers threw for 383 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. All well in good, but how has Rodgers done against 3-4 defenses this season? Interestingly enough the Packers’ quarterback is averaging over 272 yards per game, completed 61% of his passes and thrown 8 touchdowns to 2 interceptions in five games. Meaning Rodgers is averaging more passing yards and few interceptions against 3-4 defenses this season.
Overall, you would expect Rodgers to at the very least continue his solid-to-exceptional play as of late against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. However, one key for Rodgers in this game will be his ability to remain allusive in the pocket.
We have seen Rodgers make some incredible plays in the playoffs to elude tacklers, mainly from outside blitzes. However, the majority of the Steelers sacks this season have come from their inside linebacker and pressure up the middle. It will be interesting to see how Rodgers handles this potentially disruptive inside pressure.
As for the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, you can usually throw any of his statistics out the window. His performances can be good, average, or bad and all the matters is whether or not he is able to make the big play to help the Steelers win. In the 2009 meeting of the two teams Big Ben had a career day with 503 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. This wasn’t the first time that Roethlisberger has had success against a Dom Capers’ defense. In two previous match-ups, the Steelers quarterback completed 76% of his passes, averaged 209.5 yards passing with 2 touchdowns and one interception. Interestingly enough Roethlisberger has been sacked 5 times in each of the last two match-ups against Capers defenses, meaning Capers has the ability to call plays which bring the Big Ben down.
Roethlisberger will be facing a defense has the ability to blitz for just about any position and a defensive line that has shown the ability to create pressure on their own (the fact that Pouncey is out doesn’t help). The question then becomes whether or not Roethlisberger will be able to shake off the tackles of Clay Matthews and others, while continuing to make accurate passes. This season (including playoffs) he has completed 59% of his passes, averaged over 250 yards passing, with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in eight games against 3-4 defenses.
These numbers are somewhat comparable to Rodgers numbers. However, Roethlisberger played poorly in both games against the only other team with a comparable secondary to the Packers. In two games against the New York Jets, Big Ben completed only 52% of his passes, averaged 198.5 yards passing, while throwing 1 touchdown to 2 interceptions. Two weeks of preparation should certainly assist Roethlisberger, but you have to like the Packers advantage in the secondary over Big Ben and the Steelers wide receivers.
The key for the Steelers passing attack might very well rest then with tight end Heath Miller. One of the Packers defensive weaknesses this season has been consistently covering the tight end position. Miller had a big game in the 2009 meeting with 7 receptions for 111 yards and is one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets. Who covers Miller and how effective they are could very well go a long way to determining the Steelers ability to move the ball through the air.
The Running Game
No matter what the Packers James Starks has done this post-season (87.6 ypg and 3.76 ypc), the Steelers have the obvious advantage here with Rashard Mendenhall and it is an advantage they need to capitalize on. The Steelers averaged over 125 yards rushing per game against teams with a winning record this season (including playoffs). However, they averaged less than 104 yards per game in their four losses to teams with winning records. Some analysts believe the Steelers should forgo the running game and air it out like they did in 2009. I would argue the more prudent course is to slow the game down by running the ball, winning the time of possession, and keeping the ball out of the hands of Aaron Rodgers.
As for the Packers rushing attack, I wrote for the NFC Championship game that the Packers needed to run the ball for over 80 yards to provide enough balance for their potent passing attack (Green Bay is 1-4 in games when they rush for 80 yards or less). This will not be an easy feat against the Steelers top ranked rushing defense (62.8 yards allowed per game). However, it is relevant to note that in the 2009 meeting the Packers averaged 5 yards per carry rushing the ball. The Packers need only to rush the ball for balance not effectiveness and Mike McCarthy has already shown that he can do this against Dick Lebeau’s defense.
Are the Steelers Legitimate Contenders?
Let’s take a step back from with the whole Pittsburgh Steelers invincibility image, especially in the Super Bowl. In the 70’s this may have been all true, this wasn’t so during the Steelers last three Super Bowl visits. In 1995* after narrowly defeating an undermanned/sized Colts team, Pittsburgh was absolutely pitiful against Dallas in the Super Bowl. In 2005* against Seahawks, the Steelers won one of the least impressive Super Bowl games and performances (possibly ever). Their 2007* win against the Arizona Cardinals was certainly thrilling, but with the exception of one play the Steelers defense wasn’t the Steel Curtain and the game could have easily been a 30-20 Arizona victory. (*Denotes season)
I asked the question earlier in the playoffs and I’ll ask it again; exactly how good is this Pittsburgh team? This season the Steelers were 3-4 against teams with a winning record, with only one victory coming after Week 3. In their regular season losses to New Orleans, New York, and especially to New England, Pittsburgh looked more like an average NFL team and then a Super Bowl contender. In those three games, the Steelers allowed an average of 313 passing and 78.6 rushing yards and averaged over 9 fewer points than their opponent.
In light of Pittsburgh’s playoff performances should the regular season matter when it comes to the Super Bowl? Absolutely.
The Steelers Super Bowl appearance is a result of circumstance as much as defeating quality opponents on their home turf (remember that the Packers beat the #1, 2, and 3 seeds on the road). Pittsburgh’s first game was against a divisional rival where really either team could have won. In fact it could be argued that if the Ravens hadn’t imploded the Steelers would have suffered an embarrassing home playoff loss. The Steelers second game was a rematch of their Week 15 loss to the Jets. I argued before that the Jets defeated the Steelers in the first game because of circumstance and that Pittsburgh would win the AFC Championship (click for article). The Steelers defeating the Jets had little to do with them being the best team in the AFC, but rather a team that won because of the circumstances surrounding that game. Namely, that the Jets weren’t offensively talented enough to overcome the Steelers defense.
Additionally, don’t forget that the Steelers offense was completely shut down during the second half of that game and Big Ben completed only 52% of his passes with two interceptions.
The Victorious Team
I’m doubtful about Pittsburgh’s ability to defeat Green Bay in this game. However, if the Steelers can show patience by committing to the run, winning the time of possession, and can keep this a close game (high or low scoring) then I give them the edge in this Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has playmakers on both sides of the ball and the worst scenario for Green Bay is having to defend or overcome a one possession/score at the end of the game. Experience/confidence counts in close games and the Steelers have both
With that said, I believe that Green Bay is a team which peaked heading into the playoffs and has continued their hot-streak throughout the playoffs. They have proven to be dynamic and dangerous on both offense and defense. If the two-week break hasn’t disrupted the Packers momentum I fully expect Green Bay to control this game on both sides of the ball, possibly winning by more than 20 points. But the Packers must strike early on offense and not let up on the gas. As I indicated above, a close game only favors the Steelers.
Packers win, take the Packers minus 2.5 and the over
A few last items:
- BJ Raji on offense: Raji came did his best “Fridge” impersonation in both of the Packers last two playoff games. Against the Falcons he lead the way for a John Kuhn touchdown run and against the Bears he proved the ultimate decoy for Rodgers touchdown run. If the Packers bring in Raji again on the goal line will they do a play-action pass?
- The favorite has won the 32 or 44 Super Bowls (73%) and Vegas has the Packers winning by 2.5 points
- Watch for how many of those annoying Coors Light Head Coach ads are played during the Super Bowl. After this season Coors Light will no longer be the official beer of the NFL (replaced by Bud Light) and it would surprise me to see Coors Light inundate viewers with sub-par NFL based television commercials for the last time.