Packers Vs. Steelers: Why Green Bay Should Be Super Bowl Favorites in Dallas
Super Bowl XLV is carved out and ready to roll, as the Green Bay Packers knocked off the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon to earn a date with the AFC-champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
In two weeks, Dallas will be treated to a show.
Two of the league's most renowned franchises will butt heads in a warm environment that is sure to place both Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger on center stage.
With both teams traveling well, crowd numbers aren't a factor.
That being said, picking the winner of these two stealthy franchises is a hard task in its own right.
So why should you favor the Packers to take home their fourth Super Bowl ring?
If there's one thing Green Bay proved in Chicago, it's that the Packers can win without their star quarterback.
Rodgers threw two interceptions against the Bears and was remarkably flat in the second half, allowing the Bears a slight fightback without the injured Jay Cutler.
That shouldn't stop the Packers on Feb. 6, mind you.
Mike McCarthy's team has a barrage of weapons to rely on, so here are 10 factors that could spell a green-and-gold shower in Dallas.
10. The Green Bay Packers Continue to Destroy Quarterbacks
Since Week 17 of the regular season, Dom Capers' defense has been picking off quarterbacks one by one, thanks to a smash-mouth blitzing scheme that is intent on pressuring the passer.
Starting from top to bottom, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was the first to feel the heat.
In the Wild Card round three weeks ago, Vick successfully passed against the Packers secondary early but felt the pinch towards the end of the game, throwing a last minute interception to cornerback Tramon Williams.
Vick wasn't the only victim.
Next, Matt Ryan fell—this time at home in front of a sold-out Georgia Dome crowd.
Ryan passed for just 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on the day, making his performance abnormally poor considering how impressive the Atlanta Falcons were in the regular season.
Finally, there is the man that everyone is questioning right now, Jay Cutler.
On Sunday against the Chicago Bears, the Packers knew full well how demoralizing Cutler can be in the pocket, following a stellar performance in the previous week against the Seattle Seahawks.
Capers was having none of this, though.
Instead of passing up the middle and using his quick feet, Cutler was knocked out of the game after the first half.
A questionable knee injury is yet to suffice any answers, but with no Cutler under center, the Bears ultimately struggled.
In two weeks, the Packers will take on Ben Roethlisberger, a man the New York Jets called a "polar bear." The key for the Packers will be to attack Roethlisberger head-on, instead of allowing him to make plays down field—a mistake the Jets made.
Vick wound up with a quarterback rating of 79.9 following the Wild Card round, while Ryan found himself with an ugly 69.0.
The less said about Cutler the better, but Roethlisberger had best be ready for a bull-rush attack in Dallas.
9. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Turnover Worries
Pittsburgh's clean-cut offense has encountered a few minor kinks in recent weeks, as Mike Tomlin's team is no longer picture perfect right now.
This weekend against the New York Jets, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two crucial interceptions that handed Rex Ryan's team numerous opportunities to fight back in the game.
As if that wasn't enough, Pittsburgh's offense also fumbled four times, but the Steelers were lucky enough to recover all of them.
However, against the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers might not be so lucky.
The area that provides big plays for Dom Capers is the secondary. Cornerback Tramon Williams recorded a 70-yard pick-six last week against Atlanta, while rookie Sam Shields sealed the deal this Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
If the Steelers are to avoid the likes of these two—plus Charles Woodson and Nick Collins—they must rely on Roethlisberger's precision heavily.
But the Packers do have other weapons. Humorously, nose tackle B.J. Raji recorded a game-altering touchdown in Chicago that was enough to relieve some brief pressure on Aaron Rodgers' behalf.
Still, this isn't the entire problem the Steelers will face.
The question that has been plaguing opposing teams lately is: Who will step up next?
Against Philadelphia, it was Williams. With Atlanta, it was Clay Matthews. And with Chicago, it was Shields.
Pittsburgh fumbled against the Jets last week to award New York a safety. The Steelers were lucky to escape without seeing a Rex Ryan comeback, but against the Packers, Tomlin needs to attend to the turnover game.
Green Bay is opportunistic and rarely allows a chance to slip by.
8. The Green Bay Packers Cope Well in a Fast-Paced Game
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Green Bay's matchup in Chicago was a fairly messy affair.
Typical of the game's rivalry, both the Packers and Bears struggled to maintain any offensive consistency on the day.
So what does that say about Mike McCarthy's team heading into Super Bowl XLV?
Quite the opposite.
Against the Atlanta Falcons a week before, the Packers sought the benefits of a fast-paced game.
While Mike Smith's team struggled to keep up in the end, quarterback Aaron Rodgers relished a fast-paced defense that tested his accuracy, vision, quickness and skill.
It's fair to say that we can expect just that against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Unlike Soldier Field, Cowboys Stadium is solid, turf-wise. No footing issues will be present for the wide receivers and the Packers will be free to play their style of game against one of the league's most experienced playoff teams.
Rodgers threw just five incompletions against the Falcons two weeks ago, along with accumulating 366 yards and three touchdowns.
Serious tests lay ahead for the Packers passing game, especially with matchups such as Greg Jennings versus Troy Polamalu and Rodgers versus LaMarr Woodley ahead.
No worry, though—the Packers excel when the game is played at a punt, pass and run-style pace.
7. Aaron Rodgers Plays Well Indoors
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It's no secret that the new breed of NFL quarterback is becoming much more adept to throwing indoors.
Aaron Rodgers is no exception.
Once again, we resort back to the game in Atlanta that saw Rodgers throw perfectly in the Georgia Dome. No wind, no snow and no heat clearly helps out No. 12's arm.
With such deep ball ability, Rodgers feels much more comfortable lobbing one up down the field.
Luckily, Cowboys Stadium caters to this.
While Jerry Jones' billion-dollar prize does have a retractable roof, it also portrays an indoor atmosphere.
So far, Rodgers is fairly unfamiliar with Dallas' new home, along with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
With both quarterbacks coming from two of the most famous stadiums in the league—Lambeau Field and Heinz Field—an indoor arena could prove to be very promising for either player.
Rodgers loves the deep ball and so does Big Ben. They both also love to take off from the pocket.
Green Bay's star quarterback has thrown for 1,057 yards in dome environments this year, making him one of the most equipped indoor quarterbacks in the league.
Chances are Cowboys Stadium will have the roof closed, so expect another sharp passing display from two of the NFL's possible MVP candidates.
6. The Fans
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Cheeseheads nationwide have turned up in full force for the Green Bay Packers throughout the postseason.
In Lincoln Financial Field, the Georgia Dome and Soldier Field "Go Pack Go!" chants have been heard, spurring the Packers toward victory.
While the Super Bowl may not feature allocated seating for either fan base like a college bowl game, Green Bay is well known for traveling supporters, something that is likely to turn out big numbers in two weeks.
Of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers can also rely on this factor.
Both Lambeau Field and Heinz Field have been sold out for quite some time. Although the Packers hold the distinct consecutive-attendance advantage over Pittsburgh, at the end of the day a fairly well-balanced gathering is expected for Cowboys Stadium.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has had to endure three straight away games, along with the rest of the team.
Nonetheless, the Steelers have relished home-field advantage, finding mental support from their loud fans.
Cheeseheads will pop up with each and every camera flash—along with an abundance of Terrible Towels—making Super Bowl XLV that more exciting.
5. The Green Bay Packers Blitzing Pressure
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One of the key elements of the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl run has been the blitzing prowess defensive coordinator Dom Capers has instilled in his team.
Mike McCarthy's young core of linebackers is strong and fast, making the Packers impenetrable at times.
For the record, the Packers have recorded 10 sacks during the postseason, making Green Bay a constant threat when facing the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line in two weeks.
Linebackers Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, Eric Walden and A.J Hawk have all been great in the postseason, especially when it comes to containing the run game.
The first task that awaits the Packers is simple—getting past Maurkice Pouncey, Flozell Adams, Jonathan Scott and Ramon Foster on the Steelers' line.
In the past two weeks, the Steelers haven't been exactly solid when it comes to protecting Ben Roethlisberger, yet Mike Tomlin's offense can never be underestimated.
Speaking of being underestimated, Roethlisberger's running ability continues to slide under the radar.
Early on against the New York Jets on Sunday, Big Ben looked a little shaky in the pocket, but he wound up with 21 rushing yards and one touchdown to his name, earning the Steelers some valuable points.
Green Bay's linebackers have become well known for their up-the-middle play. An all-out rush is normally seen by Matthews, followed by an entire flush-out of the pocket.
Whether or not this works against Bruce Arian's offense is a question.
Capers has known his limits defensively the past two weeks, as different quarterbacks continue to test him.
One week the speed of Michael Vick is to deal with, while the next Matt Ryan's aerial attack becomes priority.
Facing Roethlisberger, getting hits on No. 7 is crucial, as a battered and bruised offensive line has spelled trouble for the Steelers in the past.
4. The Green Bay Packers Early-Scoring Ability
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After a perfect start to Sunday's game at Soldier Field, the Packers found themselves up 14-0 early against the Chicago Bears.
Well, aside from the fact that Aaron Rodgers' precision was on display, the speed of Green Bay's wide receivers allowed the Packers to gain a quick-fire advantage early, something they can have against any opponent.
The usual target that head coach Mike McCarthy chooses to rely upon is Greg Jennings.
Rodgers was perfect on the Packers opening drive on Sunday, hitting Jennings twice to take the Packers into Bears territory.
But No. 85 isn't the only threat Troy Polamalu and Co. must be aware of.
The problem that poses a danger is Green Bay's many other receivers.
Jordy Nelson was responsible for a catch on the opening score, but as we've seen, the likes of James Jones, Andrew Quarless and even Tom Crabtree can come into play.
Pittsburgh's secondary was stellar against the Jets early on this past week, but it fell apart in the week prior against the Baltimore Ravens.
Dick LeBeau's defense has recorded only one interception—thanks to full safety Ryan Clark two weeks ago—so don't be surprised if Green Bay boosts toward an early score in Dallas.
Green Bay's receivers are cunning, especially up the middle.
Jennings and Donald Driver are the old warhorses that run the ship, but the Steelers must keep an eye on Nelson and Jones through all four quarters.
3. James Starks and The Newfound Run Game
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When Green Bay's starting running back, Ryan Grant, went down injured early in the season, the Packers looked flat.
Fortunately, rookie RB James Starks stood up amongst the crowd, and has now ensured his future in green and gold.
Packers fans nationwide smiled when Starks scored his first touchdown on Sunday against Chicago.
Sure, Starks may have been short of the goal line, but it was nice to see one of Green Bay's most motivated players kick his career off in style.
Starks wound up with 74 yards, outdoing Matt Forte's efforts.
More important, though, Starks proved to everybody that Green Bay has a run game that is here to stay—troubling news for Pittsburgh.
In the regular season, the Steelers rush defense was ranked first in the league.
It is no surprise considering how demeaning Pittsburgh's linebackers are, but this doesn't automatically mean a big-time stand in two weeks time.
See, the skills Starks possesses are sheer speed and power.
Bursting through holes and excelling through tackles, Starks has been a factor in each and every postseason game for the Packers this season.
If the Steelers are to get a stop, much of it will come from Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior. Starks' typical move is to run up the middle, rather than challenging the outside corners on a play.
The big stage is likely to hold some nerves for the young rookie, something that head coach Mike McCarthy will expect.
Still, one gets the feeling if Starks can walk into Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago and perform, Dallas is no hard task.
2. Tim Masthay and The Special Teams
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Most people will put up a fight about offering Green Bay punter Tim Masthay the game ball following the Packers 21-14 victory against Chicago.
Fortunately, most people recognize how instrumental Masthay was to the Packers winning chances.
Booming punt after booming punt, Masthay continually limited Bears kick returner Devin Hester all day long.
Week 17 was the same story for the Packers first-year player, but some serious recognition has risen to the surface in the past three weeks.
What some folks continue to overlook, though, is how far Green Bay's special teams unit has come.
In Week 12 against the Atlanta Falcons, the Packers allowed returner Eric Weems to bite off a chunk of yardage, which later resulted in a Matt Ryan drive and a last-second field goal win thanks to kicker Matt Bryant.
Since then, everything has been solid.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Masthay took care of DeSean Jackson.
Last week against the Falcons, Weems did manage to take one to the house for 102 yards, but Masthay's performance against the Bears more than made up for it.
Pittsburgh doesn't have a huge kick return threat, as rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown is still developing.
However, special teams is almost always a factor in the Super Bowl, making Masthay and kicker Mason Crosby vital to the Packers chances.
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The No. 1 reason the Packers advanced to the Super Bowl?
Yes, the Packers may have allowed third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie to wreak havoc in the second half, but for the most part, Green Bay played a well-rounded game.
On the defensive line, nose tackle B.J Raji was the standout. A game-changing interception in the fourth quarter allowed Aaron Rodgers to take a breather, while the work of Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett didn't go unnoticed.
Next, linebacker A.J Hawk continues to silently impress. Fellow star Eric Walden is busy grabbing headlines, but Hawk's five tackles to contain Matt Forte on the ground game meant the difference between a big Chicago offensive day and the small one they actually had.
Last but not least, cornerback Sam Shields was great. With two interceptions and the game-winning pick, Shields was the latest breakout player in the Packers lineup to come through when it mattered for defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Aaron Rodgers may have had an off day, but that didn't limit the Packers in all areas.
The defense stole the day for Mike McCarthy's team, and with one final task remaining, Green Bay can set sights on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rashard Mendenhall poses the biggest threat to the Packers defensively, after burning New York for 121 yards and a score on Sunday.
Nevertheless, Green Bay wasn't ranked fifth defensively during the regular season for nothing.
Vince Lombardi quotes will ring true throughout the next two weeks, so expect a highly-energized defensive performance.