Super Bowl 2011: 10 Players Who Can Be the X-Factor Sunday Night in Dallas
The Super Bowl is the one game every year where not only the big-name players play big, but also unlikely contributors can become the X-factor to a team’s success, capping off a year-long championship run.
Like David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII, these 10 players have a chance to make history in Super Bowl XLV.
While a lot of focus this past week has been on the teams as a whole—or on the still pending CBA talks between the teams, players, and league officials—we at B/R want to take a moment to look at who could be enshrined in Super Bowl lore come Sunday night.
We bring you the top 10 X-factor players of Super Bowl XLV. May the spirit of Lombardi shine down upon these players so that they may bring us the spectacular plays that make the NFL and Super Bowl Sunday so great.
10. Troy Polamalu
This may seem like a no-brainer, but hear me out.
Polamalu had another good year this season, even though it was shortened by his Achilles injury. However, if he goes down early in this game, the Steelers will lose their defensive leader while gaining a very large hole in their secondary.
Even if the Pittsburgh Steelers had a proper strong safety to back up Troy, the fact is that you cannot replace someone like Polamalu, especially not mid-game. It isn’t likely that he will be hurt to the point of coming out of the game for good, but even a few snaps when he is off the field could be enough for the potent Packers offense to take advantage.
Just watch for the hungry looks on Aaron Rodgers’ face if Polamalu pulls up short in coverage or comes up limping from a tackle. If he can stay healthy through the game though, he’ll be an X-factor.
9. Bryan Bulaga
He may be 6’5” and 314 lbs, but Bryan Bulaga still has some big shoes to fill.
Bulaga will be charged with protecting Aaron Rodgers from the likes of James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley. These matchups will be extremely important on Sunday as the Pack is going to need to be able to pass the ball often, since they won't likely find much success on the ground against the league’s No. 1 run defense.
Bulaga has stepped up and played extremely well in his first season out of Iowa, where he won the Big Ten’s 2009 Offensive Lineman of the Year award. We’ll see on Sunday if he can be the O-lineman of the year again.
8. James Starks
I know, I know. The Packers have virtually no running game and are going up against the best run defense they've seen all year. However, if the Steelers D banks on that, they could find themselves on the wrong end of James Starks.
Starks didn’t quite continue the pace he set in the Wild Card round in Philly with 123 yards on 23 attempts, but he has been a consistent source of yards during the playoffs.
The fact is, he gives the Packers something they have desperately needed—a rushing threat. Without a running back to keep them honest, the Steelers defense won’t be exposed to Donald Driver and Greg Jennings getting open down field. On the other hand, if they don’t respect Starks, he could have a big day and make the lack of open passing targets a non-issue.
7. Cullen Jenkins
Cullen Jenkins is a huge force on Green Bay's defensive line. With 7.5 sacks this season including one in the playoffs, he could have a big game against the much maligned Pittsburgh O-Line.
Lined up across from Jonathan Scott and Chris Kemoeatu, Jenkins could have a breakout game and can apply continual pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. Not to mention that this guy hits hard. All he needs is to rock Big Ben once and Roethlisberger will have a tough time forgetting about him anytime soon.
6. Doug Legursky
While it isn’t “decided” that Maurkice Pouncey will not play on Super Bowl Sunday, the world waits with baited breath to see how Doug Legursky will stand up against a very impressive Packers pass rush.
If Legursky does play, he will have to handle Green Bay’s big man in the middle—B.J. Raji—along with pressure up the middle from Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk.
He is a big man from Frankfurt, Germany, but whether or not he can be the keystone in a Steel Curtain offensive line will be determined on a very big stage—and replayed on a very large Jumbotron if he can’t.
5. B.J. Raji
Speaking of the league’s largest fullback, B.J. Raji was probably doing his signature dance in his head when he heard that Maurkice Pouncey would likely not be playing in Super Bowl XLV. Scratch that—he probably did it for real.
The fact is that all 337 pounds of B.J. Raji will be looking to add to his one postseason sack this year. He is an extremely talented defensive tackle—possibly the best in the league with less than three years of experience.
Yes, that includes the league’s largest place-kicker Ndamukong Suh. Look for Raji to have a huge game up the middle of that Steelers offensive line, but don’t expect too much from him in the way of rushing yards against the Steelers’ strong D-Line.
4. Mike Wallace
There’s no denying that Mike Wallace is having a breakout year.
Now in his second year in the league, Wallace is averaging over 20 yards per catch with 103 receptions.
His presence on that offense also opens up opportunities for Rashard Mendenhall and for the Steelers’ slot receivers like Antwaan Randle El to exploit the Packers’ zone coverages.
He is a great deep threat for Big Ben’s cannon of an arm and really plays well off of defenses and the best pump fake in the league.
If the game is tight in the fourth quarter, turn on your Tivo because you’re likely to record a historic catch by Mike Wallace in the dying minutes of the game.
3. A.J. Hawk
A.J. Hawk isn’t the guy you think of when someone comes up to you and asks, “What’s the name of the Green Bay Packers linebacker with long hair?”
That doesn’t phase him though. He is a fast and experienced short and medium zone coverage LILB who will be watching Roethlisberger’s eyes all night and won’t give him anywhere to go with the ball—with his arm or with his legs.
Watch for him to be master of the tip drill on Sunday while he looks for his first career postseason interception. Big Ben better be careful, because getting sacked isn’t the only way the Packers’ D can ring his bell in Super Bowl XLV.
2. Antwaan Randle El
Antwaan Randle El has been here before and has reveled in the chance to do what he does best—win.
The former University of Indiana quarterback hasn’t thrown many passes in the NFL over the course of his nine-year career, but with a 156.1 career passer rating, I think he’s OK with that.
In all seriousness, Randle El has declined as a wide receiver in recent years, but he can still run and catch with the best the NFL has to offer. His 22 receptions this year is a career low, but he is still a target for Roethlisberger out of the slot, and lest the Packers forget his arm, this video shows how he will make them pay.
1. Mason Crosby
Something about having Crosby as your last name must mean that you score points no matter what game you are playing.
In his four years in the NFL, Crosby has split the uprights 295 times with field goals and extra points.
In that time, he has hit 78.1 percent of his field goal attempts, only missing eight kicks from less than 40 yards, and is 10-for-21 in all attempts from beyond 50 yards.
That last number will likely prove to be important on Sunday where the Packers are favored by less than a field goal, but may have trouble driving the ball deep in the closing seconds.
The difference between each and every Green Bay Packer wearing a very large ring and coming to into the locker room empty-handed to begin training camp next year may very well rest on Crosby’s leg.
Jerry’s World at Cowboys Stadium has a retractable roof that will be closed for the game, but Crosby will still have to make some big kicks in Super Bowl XLV—and one of them could very well be the game-winner.