Super Bowl 2011: 10 X-Factors That Could Swing the Game
The Super Bowl seems to change on the momentum of a big play every year, and with the star studded cast of X-Factors on this years two teams, Super Bowl XLV should be no different.
Last year it was the onside kick to open up the second half. Two years ago it was Santonio Holmes catch in the corner of the end zone. Three years ago it was David Tyree catching the ball against his helmet. I could go on and on but you get the picture, a big crucial play will be made.
With that in mind I have compiled a list of 10 x-factors that I think could cause that big play. These are in no particular order because to be honest it's not easy picking a single biggest x-factor. I mean who would have ever picked David Tyree?
Feel free to leave your comments of who you think could be the player or set of players that will flip the tables during the game.
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The two quarterbacks in this game, Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, have both redefined the art of the quarterback position.
What these two players do better than the other 28 starting quarterbacks in the league is that they improvise so well. Peyton Manning may be able to adjust at the line the best, but when the ball is snapped these guys make plays out of nothing.
Much of this is do to the fact that they both can and will run the ball, and with a more power running style. I would not be surprised to see one of these guys take off and run for thirty yards, or one of them to score a crucial touchdown.
With two quarterbacks that are hard to take down, and who will challenge you on the ground, it seems very likely that whoever makes that crucial escape from the pocket or scramble could be the x-factor of this years game.
Packers Run Game
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By now every NFL fan knows that the Packers run game has gone through countless injuries, and is on what seems to be their seventh string running back.
But, with this "seventh stringer" they may just have found a winner. James Starks has come out of nowhere to be a running threat when the Packers need him, and a blocking threat when they opt for the air.
Starks had 77 yards and a touchdown against the Bears in the NFC Championship game, and if he can get anything going against a stout Steelers rush defense than he may just turn into the x-factor.
Throw in John Kuhn, who has done a great job catching the ball out of the backfield, and you have a double threat of non-household names.
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As a Jets fan I can tell you that Rashard Mendenhall is a scary man to be going against. He has a great knack for turning a short gain into a long one, and even more impressive turning a loss into a gain. He was a tackle breaking machine against the Jets on his way to 121 yards and a touchdown.
If Mendenhall could break one long, that could be the big difference that separates the two teams. In a game that everyone is focusing so much on the quarterbacks, a running back, and Mendenhall is specific, could really make the difference.
Mendenhall looked scary good on the less then great field conditions of Heinz Field, I can only imagine what he will do in a domed stadium with turf.
Packers Defensive Line
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On the flip side of the ball, the guys going directly up against Rashard Mendenhall could be the game changers.
As we all saw last week, one big play by these guys and the game can be flipped. B.J. Raji's 18 yard interception return for a touchdown turned out to be the difference in the game.
Against the Steelers the Packers defensive line has a few more things to worry about. Besides slowing down and wrapping up Rashard Mendenhall, they must contain Ben Roethlisberger. What makes this so difficult is that they need to keep him from getting outside the pocket, but they also can not let him escape up the middle.
If the Packers defensive line can make a big play, whether is be a forced fumble or even another interception, they could be the x-factor.
Steelers Offensive Line
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Plain and simple the Steelers offensive line is in shambles when it comes to injuries. The only remaining projected started from training camp is Chris Kemoeatu, the rest are all fill-ins. This being said they did a great job against the Jets, and were the reason why Roethlisberger was able to escape so many times and why Mendenhall had such a great game.
It will not be obvious if this group were to be the x-factor, because the skill position player who makes the play will be holding the ball in the end-zone. But, make sure to keep a close eye on what the Steelers offensive line did on that play, maybe kept the pass rush away for an extra second, or opened up a massive hole to run through.
These guys will not be the ones receiving the praise right away, but this group could be the group that changes the game in the Steelers advantage.
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Last years Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson is the Packers biggest defensive back threat to the Steelers. Although he has not had nearly as good a year statistically this year as last year, he still can change the shape of a game in the blink of an eye.
The Steelers will have to keep an eye on Woodson wherever he is on the field, and will need to hold on to the ball tightly when around him, he has forced five fumbles so far this year.
One of the NFL's greatest of all time, Woodson has never won a Super Bowl and will be hungry to visit President Obama in the White House.
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The Steelers have their own x-factor defensive back, and he may be the biggest x-factor in the entire league.
Troy Polamalu could be anywhere on the field, and pretty much is allowed to do anything, from jumping over the line of scrimmage on the snap of the ball to roaming deep waiting to lay out a receiver.
One of the most exciting players to watch in football, Polamalu is someone who you will find yourself watching instead of the ball.
Unfortunately for Polamalu he has a lingering injury, and no one is really sure just how healthy he is. You can be sure though that Polamalu will give it all he has got when he is on that field, and the ultimate x-factor could just be Super Bowl XLV's x-factor as well.
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Lets briefly look back at Aaron Rodgers' stats from his Divisional game against the Atlanta Falcons. He was 31-36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns. That game was played inside a dome on a turf field.
The Super Bowl just so happens to be played on a turf field inside a dome as well. Aaron Rodgers had a completion percentage of 86.1 last time he was in a dome, and if he duplicates that effort, or even comes close to repeating it, he will be the x-factor.
Rodgers QB rating goes up by 17 points when he plays inside. The Steelers are going to have a touch time keeping up with that.
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Both teams are coming into the game pretty healthy, but the Steelers may be at a slight disadvantage. As mentioned earlier Troy Polamalu has a lingering Achilles injury, and probably even a bigger deal is the status of center Maurkice Pouncey.
Pouncey has been unable to practice so far this week, and according to his teammates has been in a walking boot. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line, calling out who is blocking who and any slide protections that may be necessary. If Pouncey can't go next weekend that would be a huge loss for the Steelers.
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In the ultimate football game the ultimate game changers could be what becomes the big x-factor. These teams both seem so close that whoever has more possessions could very well be the winner.
Turnovers are going to be crucial to winning this game, and both these teams know how to force them. The Steelers were second while the Packers were fourth in the regular season when it comes to turnover differential.
This game could come down to which defense can make the big play, with both having touchdowns last week in their conference championship games. If either defense can score a touchdown, that would very likely be the x-factor needed to win.