Super Bowl Line 2011: Can the Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Stifle Aaron Rodgers?

Jim MancariCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 23:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates the Packers 21-14 victory against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Surprisingly, the Green Bay Packers have opened as 2.5-point favorites over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Even though they come in as the only No. 6 seed to ever reach the Super Bowl, the Packers are the team to beat right now, and the NFL oddsmakers concur.

One of the major questions already apparent about the upcoming Super Bowl will be the following:

Can the top-rated defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers stop the aerial assault of the scorching hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ offense?

The hype heading into Super Bowl XLV will be through the roof over the next two weeks, but much attention will be placed on this question.

Rodgers heads to Super Bowl with a ton of momentum following his three road playoff victories. He threw for three touchdowns against the Eagles in the Wild Card round and then totally dominated the Falcons for 366 yards on an insane 31-of-36 passing. That was arguably the greatest passing performance of all-time, and it came at the perfect time for Green Bay.

In yesterday’s win over the Chicago Bears, Rodgers threw for 244 yards, but also had two interceptions. However, he used his mobility to make up for those picks as he rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown that gave the Packers the early lead.

Not that yesterday’s performance was a struggle for Rodgers, but how will he fare against the Steel Curtain? Chicago has one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the Steelers boast probably the game’s best defensive unit.

The Steelers defense ranked first in the regular season by only giving up on average of 14.5 points per game. They gave up a minuscule 62.8 rushing yards per game, also tops in the league.

But, while Rodgers can hurt opponents with his legs, he is mostly known for his downfield passing abilities.

The key for the Steelers will be to make sure their middle linebackers, James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons, drop back into coverage on passing downs. Yes, Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau loves to bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks, but sending the middle linebackers opens lanes down the middle of the field for Rodgers.

For example, yesterday against the Bears, Rodgers exploited the middle of the field when Brian Urlacher was unable to recover after being duped on a play-action fake. It’s that type of vision that will allow Rodgers to continue his strong play against a formidable defense.

His main receivers, Greg Jennings and James Jones, feel comfortable running seams down the middle, and if Rodgers can consistently find them, it will be a long day for the Steelers defense.

On the flip side, if Farrior and Timmons do their job of covering the middle, Rodgers may have a tough time finding his receivers on the wings downfield. Troy Polamalu, even when injured, is all over the field and has the ability to make a big play each time he steps on the field.

Many times, the hot team continues to play well right on through the Super Bowl (see the 2008 New York Giants). I believe Rodgers will continue his torrid pace and lead the “cheeseheads” to their fourth ever Super Bowl victory.

If I were a betting man, I would pick the Packers to cover the 2.5-point spread. I foresee them winning the game maybe 21-17, or something along those lines. 

Either way, this game is a must-see because it pits two of the most storied franchises in sports history against each other in an epic battle for Super Bowl glory.