Here we are, it's February and the NFL season is about to recess, and for a potentially long time, with the conclusion of Super Bowl XLV.
Usually, the Super Bowl is the end of the NFL "season," and the beginning of the NFL's "off" season. Pending a miracle and a new CBA, the NFL will truly have an offseason this spring.
That's another topic for another day!
On to Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two franchises rich in football history, success and folklore. The trophy they are playing for is named after the Packers' legendary head coach Vince Lombardi. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, already the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, can become the youngest to win two "stickies" (a Tomlinism).
In my preseason picks, I had the Baltimore Ravens defeating these very Packers. Now, I'm no Peter King, who had this game picked right, but then again, I'm no "homer" either. If I were, of course, I'd have the right choice!
So, I will take solace in knowing that I was on to something.
There is no doubt in my mind this will be a great game. Both are teams of weaknesses that the other can, and most likely will, expose. For the Packers, I feel their Achilles heel is their run defense and running game. For the Steelers, as always, they have average, at best, cover cornerbacks, this season being Ike Taylor (who is playing better than usual, I'll admit that), Bryant McFadden (who has been injury prone all season) and William Gay (who may just be a sleeper in this game).
For the Packers running game, it starts with injuries to the running back position. Brandon Jackson and James Starks are both inexperienced and unproven in big game situations. To add to those thoughts, they also have not seen a defense such as the Steelers' No. 1 ranked rush defense.
I also think the offensive line of the Packers, specifically rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga, is outmatched by the Steelers front seven. Bulaga will draw the assignment of LaMarr Woodley, who has 10 sacks in six career playoff games.
On the left side of the line, Chad Clifton and James Harrison should be a great battle. On the right side also, the Steelers will line up Brett Kiesel. I'm sure Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau will throw some new looks at the Packers line.
Not to say the Steelers will entirely shut down the Packers running game, but I don't see them allowing more than 80 yards on the ground. That said, those same line matchups will be critical in determining the success of the Packers passing attack.
Aaron Rodgers has great targets in Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones. However, Andrew Quarless at tight end is a significant downgrade from Jermichael Finley. The question is whether Rodgers will have time to get his receivers the ball? This will determine the game.
Along with Woodley, Harrison and Kiesel, the Steelers have Ziggy Hood, who is emerging as a versatile end and tackle in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme. Throw in Casey Hampton clogging the middle and you have a scenario where Rodgers may need to throw the ball 40 times for the Packers to have a chance.
During the regular season, the Packers had the league's 18th overall run defense. The Steelers were the 11th ranked rushing attack in 2010, however, in the playoffs, both units have played considerably better.
Keys to the game:
In order for the Packers to win
1. Contain Big Ben: If Roethlisberger is able to elude the rush and find his speedy receivers on the run, the Packers could be in for a long day.
2. Establish the run: On the first series of the game, look to see where Steelers safety Troy Polamalu lines up. If he is at or near the line of scrimmage, the Packers better start throwing. If Polamalu is playing center field, that is one less person in the "box" the Packers need to account for in their blocking.
3. Pass early, pass often: Use Aaron Rodgers' accuracy and timing to hit short outs and slants with his receivers. The Steelers will play soft coverage, relying on a furious pass rush.
In order for the Steelers to win
1. Control the clock: That means run, run, run. The less Aaron Rodgers has the ball, the less damage he can do.
2. Take a chance or two: On the first drive, take a shot deep to Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown. Maybe throw in a "gadget" play.
3. Use the unconventional weapons: Use Heath Miller early and often. If Miller has either six or more receptions or 75 or more yards receiving, the Steelers will win. Also, look to use Issac Redman.
How this game plays out
There will be no "feeling out" first quarter, look for both teams to establish control early. For the Packers, that means throwing the ball. For the Steelers, that means a healthy dose of Mendenhall. I can see a sprint early, with both teams scoring first quarter touchdowns, then the pace should settle.
1st 2nd 3rd 4th F
Pitt 10 3 9 7 29
GB 7 7 6 0 20
It's time for the Steelers to record a safety in a playoff game. In Super Bowl XLIII, the Cardinals scored a safety of the Steelers via a Justin Hartwig holding call in end zone. On multiple occasions this season, the Jets recorded safeties against the Steelers. Look for Dick LeBeau to be very aggressive if the Steelers have the Packers pinned deep.
Shaun Suisham 45 yard field goal, 3-0 Steelers (10:18)
Aaron Rodgers 34 yard pass to Jennings, 7-3 Packers (7:34)
Ben Roethlisberger 63 yard pass to Wallace, 10-7 Steelers (2:23)
Aaron Rodgers 21 yard pass to Jennings, 14-10 Packers (8:29)
Shaun Suisham 30 yard field goal, 14-13 Packers (:47)
Mason Crosby 40 yard field goal, 17-13 Packers (11:03)
Mason Crosby 20 yard field goal, 20-13 Packers (7:11) This will be a huge Steelers goal line stand.
Steelers safety of Rodgers, 20-15 Packers (3:30)
Ben Roethlisberger 27 yd pass to Miller, 22-20 Steelers (:32)
Ben Roethlisberger 18 yard pass to Ward, 29-20 Steelers (6:39)
After controlling most of the game, the Steelers overcome a 20-13 deficit and score 16 unanswered points over the final 18:30 to defeat the Packers 29-20 in Super Bowl XLV.
The Steelers defense shuts down Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, forcing two interceptions and sacking him in the endzone for a safety. Rodgers is known for fast starts and slow finishes. Roethlisberger is a fourth quarter quarterback, and he will come through again. The Steelers defense will emerge as dominant as ever in the fourth, allowing 18 total yards.
Random Final Stats
Roethlisberger: 25/38 343 yards, 3 TDs, 1 int
Rodgers: 29/41 318 yards, 2 TDs, 3 ints
Steelers rush 98 yards
Packers rush 77 yards
Steelers defense: Five sacks (Harrison two, Polamalu, Woodley, Hood)
Packers defense: Three sacks (Raji, Matthews, Hawk)
Steelers defense: Three interceptions (Polamalu, Taylor, Timmons)
Packers defense: One interception (Woodson)