Rodgers, Roethlisberger Look to Win Through the Air

Chad ToporskiContributor IDecember 17, 2009

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 13: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks for a receiver against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 13, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 21-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the Green Bay Packers travel to Heinz Field on Sunday, Dec. 20, to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, it will be a meeting of the NFL's top two run defenses.

Ryan Grant and Rashard Mendenhall: Get ready for a frustrating day.

Looking at the statistics, naming the better run defense of these two teams becomes nearly impossible.

The Steelers lead the league, allowing only 84.9 rushing yards per game while the Packers allow 85.0 YPG.

Green Bay gives up just 3.6 rushing yards per attempt, putting them second behind the Baltimore Ravens.  Pittsburgh comes in a very close third, surrendering 3.7 YPA.

Both teams are also tied for third, behind the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots, in rushing touchdowns allowed; each with four.

Now this doesn't suggest, by any means, that coaches Mike Tomlin and Mike McCarthy should be giving up on their running game.

After all, we've witnessed the futility in that strategy more than once this year. It does mean, however, that "Big Ben" Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers will be called upon to drive their offenses down the field.

The question then becomes: whose passing game will be more successful?

Let's take a look...

Aaron Rodgers vs. the Steelers Defense

The Packers are 9-0 when Aaron Rodgers has been sacked five times or less. Fortunately for Green Bay, the Steelers have only recorded a total of three sacks in the past two games.

The question, though, is whether Pittsburgh will shake off its recent performances and return to being the team that currently ranks second in sack totals, with 39.

Since the Steelers are looking to redeem themselves this week, Rodgers should assume the worst. Pittsburgh will have the most success on defense if they can both contain Rodgers and keep pressure on him.

If, however, Rodgers and the offensive line can avoid the heat, they should be able to move the ball easily.

The Steelers' biggest defensive weakness is their secondary, especially with Troy Polamalu out nursing a knee injury.

The Packers will be able to create a good share of match-up problems with their receiving corps, as well as make some big plays. They do, after all, rank third in the league for most receptions of 25 yards or more, with 31.

Aaron Rodgers shouldn't be that prone to interceptions, either, as he only has seven so far this season.  The Steelers defense has eight, with zero in the past five games.

The Packers do have 30 dropped passes this season—6th most in the NFL—and that could be cause for concern.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. the Packers Defense

Big Ben and the Steelers' offense will find their task a little more challenging on Sunday.

The Packers' passing defense ranks third in the league (187.0 YPG, 6.1 YPA), and their talented secondary gets most of the credit for that.

Charles Woodson is in contention for Defensive MVP of the Year, while Nick Collins has an interception in each of his last four games. And, as we keep hearing, the Packers continue to lead the league in turnover differential (+18).

But the Green Bay defense has a weakness that Roethlisberger has the ability to exploit.

Despite being second in opponents’ completion percentage, at 53.3 percent, the Packers only claim an average of 2.2 sacks per game, ranking them 14th in the league.

Now, some will point out that Roethlisberger has 38 sacks this season, and that Cleveland was responsible for eight of those last week, though something tells me that fixing that problem was a focus during this week's practices.

Roethlisberger is no stranger to the basic defense being employed by Green Bay, and even when the Packers are able to get pressure on the quarterback, they do have a tendency to lose containment.

If you give Roethlisberger room to move, he will take it and buy some time to let his receivers get open. With the current injuries on the Packers' defensive line, that could be a very real possibility.

Finally, the Packers need to be at their best if the Steelers offense goes into no-huddle mode; for that is when Roethlisberger is most dangerous.

Prediction: GB 21, PIT 17

In what could be another ugly game, the Green Bay Packers should walk away with their sixth straight win. However, the point margin won’t be a big one, and neither team can hope to win without their strongest effort and concentration.

Ben Roethlisberger will be able to create some opportunities on extended plays, but will also suffer one or two costly turnovers.

On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers should have no problems finding open receivers, but he could easily take four sacks in the game, killing a couple drives.

Receivers on both teams will suffer some dropped passes in the cold weather, and kickers Jeff Reed and Mason Crosby will likely each miss a field goal. Let's also not count out the yellow flags in what should be a very physical and emotional game.

When it's all said and done, the Packers defense will once again be the ones to keep things alive and give Rodgers the opportunities he needs to seal up the game.


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