Super Bowl XLV: The Top 10 Personnel Matchups To Watch for in Dallas
The Green Bay Packers are used to stiff competition this season, with the past three weeks being no picnic for Mike McCarthy's team with tough wins at Lincoln Financial Field, the Georgia Dome and Soldier Field.
Pinching victories seems to be the Packers forte this year, even if this has been a trait of Green Bay since the Vince Lombardi era.
Things may be about to change, though.
Because the Pittsburgh Steelers are now up to bat. And Mike Tomlin isn't stepping onto the dance floor for the first time.
As far as experience goes for the Packers, Green Bay has limited knowledge when it comes to facing the six-time Super Bowl champs. The Packers last meeting with the Steelers came in 2009, which saw Ben Roethlisberger utilize some gasping heroics to post a 37-36 victory.
Therefore, some soul-searching must be done in the next fortnight.
Then there is of course the other worry. Pittsburgh's many threats. Some of which are both experienced and skillful enough to annihilate a team at the twirl of a Terrible Towel.
Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, and now Mr. Speed himself, Rashard Mendenhall, equip the Steelers roster, posing a problem or two for Green Bay's coaching staff.
Here are the Top 10 Personnel Matchups for Super Bowl XLV.
10. Antonio Brown Vs. Tim Masthay
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The question of punter Tim Masthay's skill was up for debate six months ago. After stopping two of the league's top kick returners, DeSean Jackson and Devin Hester, the Packers have found their go-to man, at least for the time being.
In two weeks' time, things could get a little dicey for the Packers special teams unit, though. Pittsburgh Steelers rookie returner Antonio Bryant will be placed under the spotlight, and he is expected to grant his team decent field position for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
However, that's easier said than done.
Against the Chicago Bears last week, Masthay was on fire. Booming 60-yard kicks were the result of a sturdy boot, and after limiting Hester in Week 17, it appeared that the Packers have unlocked the secret to Lovie Smith's special teams unit.
But don't label Masthay as Indiana Jones just yet.
For the record, the Steelers kick returning unit isn't amongst the best in the league. Brown is only a rookie, and so far has only returned a kick for a total of 27 yards during the postseason.
Still, don't underestimate the power of Pittsburgh.
In the regular season, the Steelers accumulated 1,153 yards on returns and also saw Brown score a touchdown of his own. These kind of statistics relate to how destructive the Steelers can be on offense, especially with short field position.
Overall, Brown vs. Masthay is a matchup to watch in Dallas.
9. Tramon Williams Vs. Hines Ward
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Green Bay Packer fans never expected a great deal from cornerback Tramon Williams to start the year. A mixture of youth and inexperience always listed as Williams as a question, but now, No. 38 is a godsend.
Similar to the entire team, the past three weeks haven't been easy for Williams. Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago have all posed tough receiving tests for the Packer defense, and with Hines Ward now on the horizon, Green Bay prepare themselves for one last challenge.
The ability that Ward has over Williams, is experience. Pittsburgh's Super Bowl knowledge will help Mike Tomlin's team immensely in Dallas, and with Green Bay now standing as mild favorites, the Packers must be ready to perform in all aspects of the game.
Ward currently sits with only 39 yards and one touchdown to his name this postseason, in comparison to Williams' three interceptions. Uncharacteristically, none of this may matter in two weeks' time.
If experience is a factor for Ward, than youth is a factor for Williams. Already we have seen the Packers secondary express athleticism and speed, and with Ward now in his 13th season, the Steelers wide receiver will need to be at the top of his game.
Pittsburgh have noticeably become more reliant on upcoming wide receiver Mike Wallace as of late. Green Bay should note that in the Steelers' last Super Bowl win over Arizona, Ward did play for 43 yards on the day.
Young vs. old will be on show at Cowboys Stadium. Typically, people favor Ward. Not to worry, though, Williams has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league this season, making him Enemy No. 1 for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
8. Rashard Mendenhall Vs. B.J. Raji
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Two years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers released their latest rendition of "Here We Go Steelers". Fittingly enough at the time, that version featured former running back Willie Parker amongst the songs lyrics.
Fast forward to 2010, and a new edition has hit the streets of Pittsburgh. Parker is no longer part of the Steelers organization, hence why new star running back Rashard Mendenhall has taken top spot as a result.
In Dallas, Pittsburgh's running game will be fundamental to the Steelers' chances at a seventh Super Bowl ring. Mendenhall picked apart the New York Jets last weekend running for 121 yards and a score, adding to his ever-growing count against Rex Ryan's defense.
But to cut New York some slack, the Jets don't have the benefit Green Bay has on the defensive line.
The first problem that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians must face is second-year player BJ Raji, the Packers amusing nose tackle. In The Windy City last week, Raji recorded a pick six against quarterback Caleb Hanie, to briefly relieve the pressure from Mike McCarthy's shoulders.
So in Dallas, keep an eye on the Mendenhall vs. Raji match up. Green Bay's defensive line is used to tackling speedy runners this postseason, as LeSean McCoy, Michael Turner and Matt Forte have all tested the Packers' waters.
On the flip side, though, Mendenhall is a totally different slice of pie.
Pittsburgh have been known to fall a little sloppy when the run game is eliminated early, making the meeting in Dallas all that more exquisite. The Packers were ranked 18th in defensive rush yards during the regular season, therefore, don't hold your breath on either end of the stick.
7. Chad Clifton Vs. Brett Keisel
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Green Bay's meeting with Pittsburgh was always deemed to be a showcase of two historic franchises. Considering that a good ol' fashioned offensive tackle vs. defensive lineman battle will be on display in Dallas brings out even more truth in this statement.
Starting with the Packers, tackle Chad Clifton has been the lifeblood of Ted Thompson's organization this year. Offensive line woes became almost humorous for quarterback Aaron Rodgers last season, seeing as though Mike McCarthy's blockers gave up 50 sacks of No. 12.
Things have solidified since then.
Credit the drafting, or credit the conditioning, something has changed in the past year. Of course, 2010 draft pick Bryan Bulaga has helped out immensely, but the persistence of Clifton has been noticeable in the Packers' Super Bowl run.
Given that all goes according to plan next Sunday, Clifton is likely to match up with Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel on the day. Keisel has recorded three sacks and one interception this season, making him one of Pittsburgh's more underrated yet respectable players.
Both Keisel and Clifton combine for 20 years of experience. Both players met last season when the Packers visited Heinz Field, even though Green Bay's offensive line was a mess back then.
It is often said the little things win a team a ring, and both Clifton and Keisel's performance will be crucial to either side. Unfortunately, only one man will come off best in Dallas.
6. Clay Matthews Vs. Ben Roethlisberger
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It doesn't seem all that long ago we were focusing on Ben Roethlisberger's tactics against rookie linebacker Clay Matthews. Still, a year down the track, and not much has changed.
One of Roethlisberger's frustrating knacks that has been known to drive a team insane, is his running ability. Last week at Heinz Field, the New York Jets found this out the hard way when facing Big Ben, as Roethlisberger decided to try his luck against Mike Pettine's defense in his typical "head on" manner.
21 rush yards later and one touchdown to his name, Pettine came off second-best.
Undoubtedly against the Green Bay Packers in Dallas, Dom Capers' defense will have some effect on the Steelers' passing game. Cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson have been electric lately, not to mention rookie Sam Shields, who has popped up amongst the wild flowers.
Yet at the same time, Roethlisberger's aerial assault isn't the only issue Green Bay must worry about.
Sure, Rashard Mendenhall is a concern on the ground game, but so is 241 pounds of Roethlisberger "Polar Bear." The Steelers star quarterback has accumulated three total touchdowns rushing this year, and although these may be no Michael Vick like statistics, they do pose a threat to Capers 3-4 scheme.
Who will plug the hole for the Packers?
If Eric Walden, Desmond Bishop and AJ Hawk should fail (It's hard to say they will), then expect Matthews to play Superman once again. Green Bay's Pro Bowl linebacker has 13.5 sacks to his name this year, and is a legitimate interception threat on any passing play.
Better yet, though, Matthews has two sacks against Roethlisberger on his resume. 2009 saw No.52 ground Big Ben twice in Heinz Field, rattling the Steelers offense momentarily.
Both Matthews and Roethlisberger are two Mack trucks waiting to collide. We've been treated to a small dose of this match up recently, but the encore is now set.
5. Mike Wallace Vs. Charles Woodson
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Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson has been outplayed by fellow teammate Tramon Williams this season. On the contrary, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace has outplayed Hines Ward in the catching game.
It's rare to see a battle of young vs. old in the Super Bowl. Although Kurt Warner proved to be high maintenance for Dick LeBeau in 2008, the Steelers have relished taking on young wide receivers and young running backs in the big dance.
That all comes to an end next weekend.
For once, the Steelers will face one of the most experienced sides in the league. Yes, the Packers do have an abundance of youth on the defensive roster, but the matchup of Woodson vs. Wallace should bamboozle most experts for the time being.
On one hand, we have a cornerback who is always at his very best. Woodson's statistics may be a little down in comparison to 2009, however, that doesn't discount his tackling and turnover ability when facing a receiver.
Then on the other, we have Wallace, a newcomer who has made the most of his time in the spotlight. The funny thing when considering Wallace, though, is the fact that he has been almost silent during the postseason.
He has only 26 yards and zero touchdowns to his name, so the Steelers have relied on other playmakers the past two weeks.
And this means what exactly?
Realistically very little. Wallace could explode in Santonio Holmes fashion against the Packers, although Woodson could do the very opposite and shut down the Steelers bright receiving threat entirely.
Fickle predictions and hazy forecasts are seen right now. Perhaps placing Woodson on Ward and Williams and Wallace would be the better option.
4. Greg Jennings Vs. Bryant McFadden
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Sixth-year cornerback Bryan McFadden will likely have his hands full when taking on wide receiver Greg Jennings in Dallas, as the Packers go-to aerial threat has been red hot since the Wild Card round against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The concerning point that sticks with McFadden right now is his lack of experience with Jennings. The same could be said on the opposite end, however, as we have seen in the past three weeks, the Packers have utilized the middle of the field quite nicely.
Does Jennings have any concerns we should be aware of?
To balance the disadvantages out, yes he does.
One problem that remains outstanding for Jennings is height. McFadden is a solid 6 feet tall, while Jennings himself is only 5-foot-11. Not only does this mean a vertical leap battle in the end zone, it also tests quarterback Aaron Rodgers when attempting to float the ball in over Jennings' head.
Cornerbacks and wide receivers are the highlight of the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning found out the hard way last year when throwing an interception to Tracy Porter, but for all those concerned, expect Rodgers to be much more careful.
Jennings will need to leap high, something that he is used to, while McFadden will need to play tight coverage in order to maintain distance with Green Bay's speedy receiver.
3. Dick LeBeau Vs. Dom Capers
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Here's a scary thought: one day Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers may actually be head coaches in the not to distant future. For the time being, though, a defensive battle will become the fate for these two coordinators in Dallas.
As you can tell by the photo, LeBeau and Capers have met before. 2009 was more of an offensive game rather than a defensive portrayal, but not to be outdone, both men have changed their plan in comparison to a year ago.
On the Capers front, Green Bay's second main man is yet again expected to call many crucial shots. The Packers have relied heavily on Capers' 39 years of experience during the postseason, relative of how demeaning Green Bay's defense has been as of late.
Still, the query of what strategy Capers will implement continues to be a head-scratcher. Against Philadelphia, Capers blitzed heavily to limit Michael Vick.
Against Atlanta, Capers resorted to a safer approach aware of how dangerous Matt Ryan can be. And against Chicago, Capers again pressured Jay Cutler, even though that approach was both hot and cold.
Then there's LeBeau, who is a totally different kettle of fish altogether.
LeBeau's main approach is to let his players do the work. Of course some serious intelligence goes into every play call the Steelers muster up, but at the end of the day, having the likes of Troy Polamalu on your team pays dividends.
Speaking of dividends, the Steelers previous two Super Bowl rings are a credit toward LeBeau's work.
Perhaps when it's all said and done, whichever team defeats the opposing defensive coordinator, is likely to walk away with the victory. Capers and LeBeau have decades of experience, yet both take pride in their diverse ways.
Capers vs. LeBeau? This personnel match up is more important than you think.
2. James Starks Vs. James Harrison
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Deciphering Green Bay's rookie running back, James Starks, is no easy task after three weeks of impressive displays.
However, when you match Starks up with one of the fiercest linebackers in the NFL, James Harrison, another whole room of questioning begins to open.
Typically speaking, rookie runners don't perform exceptionally well in the Super Bowl. The bright lights of Dallas are enough to instill nerves in any player, let alone a first-year player who has had limited experience in the starting role.
Put yourself in Starks' shoes.
On the opposite end of Starks will be Harrison. With 10.5 sacks on the season and two interceptions, Harrison has been the cliche "immovable object" for the Steelers for much of this year.
Starks, well, he simply needs to avoid Harrison at all costs. Up the middle play isn't favorable for Green Bay on the ground, and for a runner who is used to pounding it straight-ahead, bouncing to the outside is a daring move for the Packers.
At the end of the day, though, holding onto the ball is Green Bay's biggest concern. Starks has been lucky thus far, but a turnover in Dallas could mean the difference between winning and losing.
1. Troy Polamalu Vs. Aaron Rodgers
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Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu is a man of many trades. Hard hitter, hair specialist, all-around nice guy, and of course, playmaker. At the very top of Polamalu's resume, though, is Super Bowl specialist.
Similar to the week's events leading up to the Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers vs. Polamalu is a matchup that will be talked about. Rodgers has passed for 790 yards and six touchdowns during the postseason, favorable statistics when meeting Polamalu in Dallas.
But of course, stats don't tell the whole story.
The advantage that Polamalu has over Rodgers isn't just experience. For the most part, Polamalu's ability to direct a quarterback's pass is the difference maker on the Steelers defense.
Rodgers managed to avoid this God-given power in 2009, yet at the same time, next Sunday could be a totally different story.
Polamalu has accounted for zero interceptions in the playoffs. So at least the Packers can feel a little confident when passing against the Steelers' intimidating defense.
Nevertheless, Polamalu vs. Rodgers is a meeting we have seen briefly in recent years. And with both players needing to perform at their 100 percent best, expect each team to try and help out their star player immensely.
Polamalu has done this before. Rodgers has not. Still, this may not be a case of knowledge triumphs over talent, mind you.