Gregorâ€™s Packer Analysis
Super Bowl XLV Preview
There were times during the regular season where it didnâ€™t look like these teams would make it, but after watching the first two rounds of the playoffs it was obvious the Green Bay Packers would be playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers let the Bears hang around, and won an NFC Championship game closer that was closer than it should have been. The Steelers had a huge lead, and hung on to beat the Jets to win the AFC Championship.
Both of these teams are well known to NFL fans. The Steelers offense is led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The main running threat is Rashard Mendenhall. Roethlisberger looks deep for the speedy Mike Wallace, or underneath for long time Steelers Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller. On the other side, itâ€™s a very physical 3-4 defense with outstanding linebackers and a game changing safety in Troy Polamalu.
The Packers have overcome 16 players on IR with great seasons by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Greg Jennings, and the emergence of running back James Starks in the playoffs. On defense, linebacker Clay Matthews has disrupted offenses all season, BJ Raji has been a force at nose tackle, and with undrafted free agent Sam Shields able to step in at corner, Charles Woodson can be a corner, or play like a safety or linebacker against the run or on a blitz. Tramon Williams, Charlie Peprah and Nick Collins complete an outstanding secondary.
Both cold weather outdoor teams will be playing in the dome of Cowboys Stadium. Both teams have matchups that favor them. The Pitttsburgh defense should be able to shut down the Green Bay running game as run blocking has not been a strength for Green Bay (3.8 yards per carry, 25th in the regular season) and Pittsburgh was the best at stopping the run this season allowing just 3 yards per carry.
The Packers receivers can beat the Pittsburgh secondaryâ€”if Aaron Rodgers has time. His passer rating in domes is 111.5, and he can wear his favorite shoes. But when Rodgers took a helmet to helmet shot from Julius Peppers in the NFC Championship Game, he wasnâ€™t the same. If James Harrison or one of the other Pittsburgh defenders get to him and he takes a helmet or forearm in the helmet, it would change the gameâ€”big advantage Pittsburgh. If Rodgers has time, he lights up the scoreboard. Green Bay threw for about 258 yards per game, Pittsburgh gave up 214 a game. Green Bay was 10th in scoring offense at 24.2, Pittsburgh was first in points allowed at just 14.5 a game.
On the other side, the Green Bay defense has been solid to dominant all season. The Steelers average 4.1 yards a carry (17th), the Packers allow 4.7, just 28th in the NFL during the regular season. Pittsburgh averaged 225 yards per game passing (14th), Green Bay gave up just 194 yards passing (5th). The Steelers score 23.4 points a game (12th), the Packers allowed just 15 (2nd).
Three reasons the Steelers will win:
1. Experience. About half of the Pittsburgh roster has already played in a Super Bowl. Just Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett have a Super experience. John Kuhn was on Pittsburghâ€™s practice squad when he went. Talent can win out, but when players and coaches know what to expect, itâ€™s an advantage.
2. Make the Packers one-dimensional. While James Starks has had some impressive runs and good games in the playoffs, nobody runs well against Pittsburgh. That gives D coordinator Dick LeBeau a chance to focus on Green Bayâ€™s passing offense. Hits on Rodgers, especially early, can affect his accuracy.
3. Run all over. The Steelers are going against a Green Bay defense that was one of the worst against the run. And controlling the clock keeps the ball away from Aaron Rodgers.
Three reasons the Packers will win:
1. The Packers secondary can handle the Steelers receivers if the pass rush can get to Roethlisberger and make him get rid of the ball quickly. ESPN analysts said the key to stopping Roethlisberger is to make him pull the ball in and wait for help. What that means is tackling his legs, or hitting his left side still allows him to throw. To keep him from making plays, hit him on his right side. That means that while Sam Shields had success blitzing against the Bears, it will likely be Woodson and linebackers along with Clay Matthews bringing the pressure. Shields canâ€™t bring Roethlisberger down, and might not be able to hold him until help arrives. Plus, they need him to run with Mike Wallace. The Steelers have had injuries at tackle, and starting center Maurkice Pouncey has a high ankle sprain (and one report said a broken bone). If he plays his mobility is limited, but itâ€™s unlikely heâ€™ll play. BJ Raji will disrupt the interior line, pushing backup Center Doug Legursky into the backfield and make it tough to run or pass.
2. Aaron Rodgers has time to throw. His passer rating is over 100 in domes (111.5), and he lit up Atlanta in the last time the Packers played in a dome. The Steelers have a solid pass defense, but their nickel and dime backs canâ€™t stop Jennings, Driver, Nelson and Swain. Plus Andrew Quarless could have a big game. The O line and Brandon Jackson have to keep Rodgers upright, not easy against the Steelers. But if the Packers passing game is in rhythm, no defense in the NFL can stop it.
3. Green Bay wins the field position battle through special teams. In a dome, Mason Crosby can put kickoffs in the end zone and make the Steelers go 80 yards. Tim Masthay has been excellent in getting punts inside the 20, but can also crush the ball 50 yards or more.
And what would the Super Bowl be without off-field stories? For Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive linemen were seen at a Fort Worth piano bar. While Ben was suspended for 4 games this year for alleged sexual assault (charges were dropped) and is under scrutiny, this seems like it was a night out with friends. Nothing inappropriate was discussed, and piano bars are a lot of fun. Hanging out and singing with friends doesnâ€™t seem like a big deal, especially since it was early in the week. On a more serious note, Cullen Jenkins hadnâ€™t heard from his dad since late December, and heâ€™s worried about him. The safety of a friend or relative is a real concern, and hopefully this works out well. But if he doesnâ€™t hear from him before Sunday, it is definitely a distraction.
So who wins? Wish I knew. I was confident the Packers would beat the Eagles. After predicting a fairly close game against Atlanta in the preview, by game time I thought it would be at least a 7-10 point win. And the Bears game shouldnâ€™t have been as close as it was. But the Steelers are different. There is actually a good chance they could win. It comes down to QBs. If the Packers can keep Roethlisberger from extending a play, and keep Rodgers standing, the Vince Lombardi Trophy comes home. If not, Pittsburgh picks up their 7th Super Bowl title. The line is Green Bay by 2 and a half. I think BJ Raji makes the difference, getting a consistent push to disrupt running plays and keep pressure on Roethlisberger up the middle. And Aaron Rodgers is playing in his shoes in a dome. The Packers donâ€™t have the drops by Driver and Jones inside they do outside. After the Conference Championship games I was leaning toward Pittsburgh, but not now. Pack by 7.