NFL Super Bowl XLV: The Determining Factor for the Packers and Steelers: O-Line
This show is a shout out to my First Team all state offensive lineman buddy, Zachary Palmer.
Going into Super Bowl XLV, everyone loves the Capers vs. LeBeau battle as two of the geniuses behind the 3-4 are put against each other on the biggest stage.
In reality, the battle lies between Sean Kugler and James Campen. Don't know these guys? They are the head offensive line coaches for the Steelers and Packers, respectively.
These two coaches have the unfortunate pleasure of trying to prepare their players for arguably the two toughest and most exotic defenses in the league. Here are five key reasons the winner of the trenches will ultimately win the Super Bowl.
How many times does this NOT end up as a sack?
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Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethisberger should each give a portion of their paychecks to the boys in front because their styles of play leads to misguiding statistics.
For example, both Rodgers and Roethlisberger were among the top 5 quarterbacks sacked in 2009, but both managed over 4,000 yards passing.
Both of these quarterbacks like to wait until the play breaks down, and then find the open man after the blitz or coverage is dissolved.
The difference is that this year, the offensive lines have done a much better job protecting their signal callers while still running this kind of offense.
Ben was only sacked in 7.6% of his drop backs of this year compared with 9% last year. Aaron's numbers dropped from 8.5% to a mere 6.1%.
Whichever team can maintain this success will have a huge advantage as the game goes on because…
The Long Bomb
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For both Steelers and Packers fans this year, a young batch of up and coming receivers has allowed for both of these young quarterbacks to love the deep bomb.
Antonio Brown stepped up on 3rd and 19 against the Ravens in the divisional round for the Steelers while the Packers have both James Jones and Greg Jennings averaging over 14 yards a catch.
And let's not forget that Mike Wallace averaged 21 yards a catch during the regular season and had burned Antonio Cromartie of the Jets several times during the AFC Championship game.
While both teams have talented secondaries, there is bound to be a time when Jones or Wallace gets a one-on-one match-up that they take advantage of.
The offensive line will have to be able to protect their quarterback from the probable blitz so that they can make a game-changing big play.
Perfect Devensive Nightmare
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Earlier I mentioned that Capers and LeBeau have gotten all of the coaching publicity. That's because anyone who has studied the defensive match-up knows that each defense exploits a huge weakness in each offensive line.
For the Steelers line, Maurkice Pouncy will probably miss the game and leave the center position vulnerable, even though Doug Legursky played well against the Jets.
The Jets, however did not have B.J. Raji. He will cause nightmares at the center of the line, which will open lanes for the dangerous flowing locks of Clay Matthews.
The Steelers haven't done well with pressure coming up the middle (just ask Terrell Suggs) and this Packers defense creates just that.
As for the Packers line, the unfortunate issue is that the front seven of the Steelers is absolutely stacked. Aaron Smith is expected to play, according to Pittsburgh sources, so that gives the Steelers four talented linemen to swap in and out.
The linebacker corps thrives off of creating confusion and as the Bears showed, if you can bewilder Rodgers and the line, the Green Bay offense can be halted.
Whichever line can conquer their weakness best will be able to put up a much more consistent performance.
Rushing Yards Are More Valuable Than Gold
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In a pass-happy league, these two teams decided a return to the ground game in the playoffs was in order.
Green Bay had much better success in terms of total yardage, but Seattle and Chicago aren't quite Baltimore and New York when it comes to run stuffing.
Regardless, setting up some sort of consistent running rhythm has, and will continue to allow these two offensives to put together long, successful drives.
The only thing preventing a Fed Ex Ground-sponsored Super Bowl? Two ferocious run stopping defenses. Cracking the 100-yard plateau is near impossible against Pittsburgh (allowing a mere 62.8 yards/game), and the Steelers may not be able to capitalize on a Packers rushing defense that allowed 114.9 yards a game during the regular season.
Pouncy opened up huge holes in the middle, allowing Mendenhall easy access to the second level of defenders where he would be able to gain 5-6 yards a carry.
Green Bay's line simply needs to ensure the run game is still a factor as the game progresses so that Rodgers can utilize the Play Action against the aggressive Steelers.
The Pittsburgh line needs to somehow become a cohesive unit in just two weeks, so that if the ball-hawking Packers defense becomes passive, the Steelers can run with success.
Protecting Damaged Goods
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Earlier I mentioned that Ben and Aaron like the schoolyard version of football much better than the pocket passing of Brady and Brees. The only problem for both of them is that there is a very high likelihood that in this game, that style may hurt them and their team. Literally.
Aaron is suffering from a sore shoulder and possible concussion-like symptoms. Regardless of whether or not the concussion symptoms are severe, it is a medical fact that once a player sustains one concussion, more are likely to occur.
Rodgers did miss time this year due to concussions and with the NFL's hardline stance this year, if Aaron sustains one during the Super Bowl, it would be very difficult for him to gain medical clearance (not my rule).
As for Ben, a broken foot, nose, ego, and hand have yet to stop him the last few years from playing, however as seen in the Jets game, he manages to find the most bizarre ways to get hurt. I have no doubt that for how tough Ben is, the chinks in the armor have become larger this year.
The bottom line is both quarterbacks control so much for the offenses. Losing them due to injury is the kiss of death. The offensive lines must protect their susceptible quarterbacks as best as possible.