Super Bowl XLV not only features two of the National Football League's premier quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, but two of the most feared pass-rushing linebackers in Pittsburgh's James Harrison and Green Bay's Clay Matthews.
Harrison gained notoriety throughout the league after receiving fines in excess of $150,000 due to illegal helmet-to-helmet hits, while Matthews quietly worked his way into the top-tier of pass-rushers, demolishing any quarterback that dared to stay in the pocket.
In just his second year in the league, Matthews recorded 60 tackles, 13.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and made an interception in the regular season. He continued to produce in the playoffs, racking up another 13 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has used the versatility of Matthews to execute various disguises and different looks for opposing offenses, forcing them to focus their protection schemes on containing Clay.
Matthews has a natural instinct to get to the football, and plays every down like it will be his last. He consistently brings the heat at quarterbacks, and has the core strength to blast past offensive linemen.
He comes from a long line of football blood, as both his father and uncle played in the National Football League, and his younger brother, a linebacker at Oregon, is set to enter the NFL this upcoming season.
James Harrison gives off the exact opposite impression of Matthews, as he has been tagged as the "poster boy" for dirtiest player in the league, as he literally knocked out two players in one game, and has vowed to not change one aspect of his game, despite the fines he incurs each week.
This year, Harrison made 100 tackles, forced six fumbles, 10.5 sacks, two interceptions and deflected five passes, while adding another 14 tackles and three sacks in the 2011 playoffs.
Harrison definitely has the edge in Super Bowl experience, earning a ring in his two appearances, his highlight being the interception he returned for a touchdown two years ago against the Arizona Cardinals.
With seven years of professional experience under his belt, Harrison has made four Pro Bowl rosters and was the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.
Who Has the Edge?
All week long, various experts and pundits have given their two cents as to how to defeat the Packers or Steelers, and I came away with a major advantage the "Cheeseheads" may have over the "Stillers."
The Packers were forced to make a transition from a balanced offense to a pass-heavy attack after star running back Ryan Grant went down with an injury early in the season.
This pass-happy offense may present issues for the Steelers defense, as they often will be forced to use nickel and dime packages to cover the four- or five-receiver sets the Packers most likely will use in order to minimize the pass-rushing pressure from both Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
I can't picture Harrison dropping into coverage against a James Jones or Jordy Nelson, which would be a mismatch Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would attack all night.
On the contrary, Pittsburgh does have playmaking receivers in Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and the recently emerging Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, but the Packers have the secondary in place to contain them.
With Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields keeping tabs on the Steelers wideouts, Matthews will be free to do as he pleases, especially since center Maurkice Pouncey isn't playing, meaning that nose tackle B.J. Raji, who can take up two gaps like no other, will have a field day.
Advantage: Clay Matthews