Super Bowl XLV: Why Big Ben Will Strike Seven in Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood
With officially less than one week until the big game, it's time for all sports fans across the land to step back, look at all the match-ups, predictions, injuries, and statistics and place your bets on either the Loyal Cheese Heads of Green Bay or the Towel Waving Faithful of the Steelers. In what may go down as one of the most anticipated and historical championships in Super Bowl history, these two teams are almost identical. However, here are 10 reasons Ben, Hines, and Troy will come out with a record seventh Lombardi.
1) Fed-Ex Ground
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The running game has been a staple of these two franchises for as long as they have been around. Yes, they both have possible Canton-bound quarterbacks, but the running game has set up the play action on both of these teams in the past for these big games.
Going into this game, James Starks and Rashard Mendenhall have both surprised people during the post season. Starks, coming out of the University of Buffalo, proved to be exactly what the Packers needed. Mendenhall, the established former first round pick, surprised everyone, especially Rex Ryan when he on two separate drives ran the Steelers to the end zone against the dominant Jets defense. While both defenses are elite, the Steelers have the edge even with a depleted line due to Mendenhall's bruising style and the confidence to run over anybody. The Steelers will establish balance while the Packers will not.
2) Not So Special Teams
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Adam Vinatieri has shown his worth in the Super Bowl not once but three times. In a game in which the defenses are the same, the offenses are almost identical, and even the fans are similar, it will come down to the difference between special teams units. The ironic part is, both units draw the response of "eh." These units did not win games—they tried not to lose them.
For the Steelers especially, kicking was horrendous at the beginning of the season and eventually kicker Jeff Reed was released. Since, Sean Suisham has only missed one kick, even though it was in the playoff game against Baltimore. Mason Crosby was an average 22-26 and that about sums up the returners and kickers for these teams: average. Yes they have potential, but neither side is there yet. It more than likely will come down to what unit DOESN'T make the big mistake. For the Steelers, after the Reed incident and the runback the Jets put up in their regular season match up, they paid extra attention to firming up this unit. They won't make a mistake while Green Bay will most likely have at least one small flub.
3) Steel Curtain 2.0
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For those not from the Pittsburgh fan base, the Steel Curtain was never really used to describe the entire Steelers defense until NFL Films came around. The Original Steel Curtain was the defensive line of Ernie "Fats" Holmes, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight "Mad Dog" White, and "Mean" Joe Greene. This front four alone could handle, destroy and intimidate any eight-man offensive line because they were that good. This years' version is not quite as dominating but unfortunately for Green Bay, the four men playing for the Steelers will be just as troubling. Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Nick Eason and Chris Hoke all stepped up when injuries decimated this line throughout the year. Unlike when Aaron Smith left the unit last time, they all really showed growth as players and continued to hold teams hostage to their ferocious run blitz. With the odds continuing to look favorable for a Smith return, even with B.J. Raji making interceptions, this Steelers defensive line is the superior unit.
4) Under Pressure
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The key to this game is who will put more pressure on the opposing quarterback. I see B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews getting to and sacking Ben multiple times, but I can also picture about five 5 Steelers invading the backfield and making Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood a very painful place. The key to the Steelers blitz scheme is total confusion. Often, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will switch sides in order to confuse blockers, as their size difference affects blocking schemes. Other times, Lawrence Timmons will line up as the outside zone coverage man to back up Woodley off the blitz.
And don't forget about the guy with the million dollar hair who can cover more ground then starving wolves which just found fresh meat. The Packers need Rodgers to have an excellent day if they want to win, and Blitzburgh isn't going to allow that.
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I'll get to my MVP pick later, but what I'm referencing right now is that there is one Super Bowl MVP lacing up for the Steelers. Hines Ward had an amazing game in Super Bowl XL and played the last Super Bowl for the Steelers on one leg! That didn't stop "Mighty Mouse" from catching the game opening pass for over 20 yards. Hines proves to be the "Antonio Gates problem matchup" at the wide receiver position: he's too tough for a corner but too quick for a linebacker other than Clay Matthews to effectively handle him over the middle. When the game is on the line and the Steelers need a play, the Packers will have to blitz Matthews and Hines will end up open over the middle, as he has so many other times as a Steeler.
6) Youthful Veteran Experience
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This oxymoron is the situation the Steelers are lucky enough to have. Over twenty players on their roster have at least the 2008 Super Bowl under their belts and at the key positions of quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and safety, there are at least two rings on their fingers. This team has been there, done that, won that Lombardi trophy enough times that they know the winning formula. What really makes this work in their favor is that these aren't guys who are 35 hanging around for their last chance. These are players in the prime of their careers (Mendenhall, Troy, Ben, and LaMarr) or older players who are heavily contributing to the success of the black and gold (Hines, Farrior, Larry Foote). Furthermore, their coach Mike Tomlin has the opportunity to become the youngest coach to win multiple Super Bowls (38 years old). The experienced players and coaches can get the message across to the the inexperienced players of what needs to be done, and the young players will listen to their peers.
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As a Steelers fan I will be the first to admit it: in games when James Harrison or the offensive line are not targeted, the Steelers come out with some pretty lucky calls. Granted, my train of thought has always been "good teams make their own luck" but the Steelers often do get the benefit of the doubt.
I do not know who the officials will be, but as long as he is a: not a member of any women's protection rights group b: understands that these men are playing football and know that they are getting paid millions to be crash dolls and c: realizes that if James Harrison gets held every play, the Steelers offensive line can get the same advantage, I can totally see an odd or close call going the Steelers' way and helping them gain valuable momentum. Because as we all know, coming down with two feet in the end zone while on the goal line = a touchdown.
8) Perfect Match
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As I stated earlier, these two teams are near identical. Looking at this then, where do both teams struggle most? Pass defense. Not for lack of talent, but mostly because thanks to stifling run defenses and the ability to gain an early lead, teams pass far more against these two units. So then you look to see who has the better unit, and which matchup is better.
I will concede that Green Bay has a much deeper and athletic unit, but the matchup favors the Steelers. The Packers secondary will be difficult to throw on, but with three speedsters in Mike Wallace, Emanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown, man coverage will be difficult. That leaves a zone coverage style which the Packers prefer. The only issue with zones is that the rush becomes weaker. Ben will then run around and improvise. When he does this, the Steelers have the players who can break away from coverage and get open. Troy and Ike are shutdown players taking zones and receivers out of the game plan, leaving the rest of the the Steelers coverage to handle 2-4 receivers at most.
9) Master vs. Apprentice
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The young, upstart apprentice versus the old aging man who taught him all he knows. Everyone mentions LeBeau versus Capers because back when the magic cleft of Bill Cowher was coach in the Steel City, they were both on the same staff. LeBeau taught Capers the intricacies of the zone blitz and together they perfected the 1.0 version. LeBeau then left to be the head coach in Cincinnati while Capers stayed on as the defensive guru before moving on as well. Both men have since added their own flares and wrinkles into the zone blitz scheme based on the players available, but essentially, it is the same scheme they came up with all those years ago.
After the shootout that was witnessed in Heinz Field last year when these two teams met, you could bet your house both of these men have created game plans to prevent that from happening again. Why not wait for the biggest stage for both master and apprentice to unveil their best zone blitzes?
10) Big Ben
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Here is my MVP pick I promised. Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews will have good games, but the MVP goes to the player who shines the brightest under the stars of Dallas. Much has been said and made of his already roller coaster of a career in Pittsburgh, but the bottom line is that since Bradshaw and before Ben, the Steelers had 13 different starting quarterbacks, with only three getting a full sixteen games in one season. Neil O'Donnell proved that the Steelers could not win without a solid quarterback. Since Ben, the Steelers have won two Super Bowls, even when he did not play his best. He's won 79 games, many of which he led the comeback in the final minutes (Green Bay knows this firsthand) and can be both a mailman and gunslinger. He plays rough, tough, schoolyard football that no one can game plan for and is the ultimate wild card on offense. Ben knows how to handle pressure, adversity, and difficult defenses and will prove it on Sunday. Watch for the first time Clay Matthews tries to sack Ben. Ben will shake him off and inspire his teammates onto a...
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Steelers win this one 24-19. Ben and Rodgers will go back and forth on each other while the defenses make it miserable day to be a lineman or wide receiver. Mason Crosby will miss at least one kick to tie the game and going into the fourth quarter the Steelers will be up 24-13. Rodgers will lead the Pack on a scoring drive and miss the two point conversion in make it a field goal game. Ben will drive the Steelers down to what will end up as a Suisham missed kick. As Rodgers looks to try to become the hero, LaMarr Woodley will rush off the edge to force a fumble and an eerily similar finish to Super Bowl XLIII. Ben is named MVP with 2 TD throws and the Steelers will be defined as a dynasty.