SUPER BOWL XLV OVERVIEW
As America scarfs down their nachos and wings and pizza and beer on Sunday evening, while taking in lame commercials that some ad agencies created from their colons, you may notice that, in between commercials, a football game is taking place.
Indeed, the forty-five incarnation of the Super Bowl takes place between two teams with feisty defenses and nearly infallible quarterbacks. The Green Bay Packers had to play ‘road warrior’, mounting dominant first halves on Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago en route to “Jerryland” in Dallas. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers with a first round bye, outworked Baltimore in a come-from-behind win, and then built up a big enough lead on the Jets that New York couldn’t quite overcome. Now matched up head to head in Dallas this Sunday night, one side has to give. Can Ben Roethlisberger overpower Green Bay’s poaching zone defense? Or will Aaron Rodgers navigate Pittsburgh’s stifling linebacker coverage?
1. How did Green Bay dominate Chicago so early?
Aaron Rodgers is on a crazy roll right now. Unlike Peyton Manning and Tom Brady this playoff season, I haven’t once seen Rodgers look timid, nor have I seen him second guess himself. The opening drive in which the Packers went downfield on a tough Bears defense, Rodgers just patiently made his reads and racked up first down after first down before scrambling in from one yard out for the score. A 14-0 halftime lead was built, and Jay Cutler was taken out of the game with a knee issue that became the source of controversy. The only reason that the game even became close is because Green Bay was unprepared for third stringer Caleb Hanie, and the kid was playing with a sense of “even if I fail, I won’t get blamed.” Matt Forte was held to 70 yards rushing, and the Packers prevented just about any big play.
The Steelers’ first possession of the game ate up around ten minutes of clock, and even the best defenses can’t go ten minutes on the field without being deflated. To let Pittsburgh keep the clock rolling for that long and end up with a touchdown, it’s demoralizing. Compounding the problem is that the Jets could not answer back, instead watching haplessly as Pittsburgh added 17 more points in the second quarter. A team like Pittsburgh can strangle a quarterback, and Mark Sanchez seemed wholly unprepared to throw a counter punch after the Steelers chewed up that first quarter. The Jets offensive line, considered one of the stronger lines in the league, allowed Ike Taylor to fly in and clobber Sanchez, forcing a fumble that William Gay took in 19 yards for a touchdown, at a point in which the Jets couldn’t afford to give ground. Pittsburgh simply dominated when it mattered.
3. Is Aaron Rodgers capable of navigating Pittsburgh’s defense?
What did I say earlier about Rodgers playing with no fear? You don’t want to play stupid against Pittsburgh, but there’s no sense in being conservative against Dick LeBeau’s new “Steel Curtain” either. Rodgers, of course, is the former type. He’s completed 15 passes between 20 and 39 yards this postseason, far more than the second place quarterback (Jay Cutler with 7), and, as mentioned, led Green Bay down field on Chicago on that opening drive without hesitation. Pittsburgh, of course, has kept up their defensive pressure all postseason; the Steelers have two defensive touchdowns (one off of a fumble, the other on a pick six), and have seven sacks over two games, including five against Baltimore. Rodgers has developed a quicker release on his throws due to offensive line woes (particularly last season), and it’s up to him to make sure the Steelers coverage doesn’t shadow his range of vision.
4. Is Ben Roethlisberger the most underrated quarterback in football?
This would be Ben’s third trip to the Super Bowl in just seven seasons, and the troubled quarterback is a win here away from tying the likes of Troy Aikman and Tom Brady, while bringing him a ring away from equaling Joe Montana and his famed predecessor in Pittsburgh, Terry Bradshaw. It’s time to start making the argument that Ben is, in fact, one of the best quarterbacks ever. His career stat line may not be as staggering as Brady’s or Peyton Manning’s, but Ben Roethlisberger has them trumped in another category: fourth quarter comebacks. Roethlisberger possesses 26 game winning drives, and 19 fourth quarter comebacks in his impressive career, including Super Bowl XLIII, when he found Santonio Holmes for the improbable touchdown. In 2010, Roethlisberger led four victories in the fourth quarter, including two over Baltimore (the December late comeback, and the playoff third down bomb to rookie Antonio Brown).
5. Which offensive player of Green Bay’s would be most effective?
My money would be on Greg Jennings. In three games this postseason, Jennings has put up 17 catches for 239 yards, albeit with zero touchdowns. That’s okay, because against Pittsburgh, getting downfield is a moral victory unto itself. Because let’s face it, trying to run on the Steelers is like running in concrete shoes. James Starks and Brandon Jackson, and even John Kuhn, are going to find themselves getting swarmed. Rodgers, if he can find time like he’s been able to, can sidestep as much of the rush as possible and start firing bullets downfield. Jennings is his ideal target in this situation; not many number one corners can shut him down completely. If Rodgers uses a deep passing game to at least enter the red zone, from there he has more options with the shorter field. An offense is more confident running the ball with daylight in their sights.
6. Which offensive player of Pittsburgh’s would be most effective?
This is where Rashard Mendenhall would come in handy. The Eagles and Falcons stupidly tried to force throws into Green Bay’s abyss of a zone defense. For as effective as the Packers zone is, you can burn them with runs. This is a defense that, during the regular season, was giving up 4.7 yards a rush. How can a team get away with that as a Super Bowl contender? That’s easy, getting turnovers. Green Bay’s zone employs some of the most complex and confusing blitzes that a quarterback will see, and the lack of comfort afforded him leads to blindly-thrown interceptions, and “never had a chance” fumbles. While Roethlisberger is known for his clutch capabilities and supreme confidence, it doesn’t mean that Pittsburgh won’t defer to Mendenhall early and often. After all, Pittsburgh challenged New York’s defense with that opening drive; expect them to try the same on Green Bay.
7. Which part of Green Bay’s defense matches up best with Roethlisberger?
Just about any quarterback would struggle to fight off Green Bay’s complicated blitz, given the layers of uniqueness that Dom Capers keeps adding to the charge. Clay Matthews, perhaps better than any Packers defender, stands the best chance of making Roethlisberger have to do it all himself. Despite the 4.7 yards per carry average that Green Bay allows, Matthews can still chase down the fastest running backs in the game. If you take the edge away from Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, that leaves the middle. Problem here is that Maurkice Pouncey may not be able to go with a busted ankle, and he’s been one of the difference makers for that offensive line. If he can’t go, or he’s less than optimally effective, that’s more pressure that the linebackers will be capable of bringing. Roethlisberger won’t mind throwing so much, but take away the run, and the Steelers become predictable.
8. Which part of Pittsburgh’s defense matches up best with Rodgers?
We may as well be living in a parallel universe, because Pittsburgh’s linebackers provide the most pop for their defense. I feel like I could rewrite the previous paragraph and just modify some of the names, but let’s keep this fresh. James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, and Lamar Woodley have a combined 30.5 sacks this season, and that’s in addition to helping the Steelers became the NFL’s most superior run stopping unit. Rodgers’ move is to scramble to his right to avoid pressure, and then make a quick read before throwing, and this is where Pittsburgh will do their most damage. Get to Rodgers early, and Green Bay has to readjust with tight end help. If you take away Rodgers’ various options deep, he needs to take a little longer to find a good read. I predict at 6 or 7 Rodgers passes will be thrown out of bounds.
Since the Packers have been good at building early leads this playoffs, and the chances of them doing it on Pittsburgh’s defense are a little slimmer, it’s time for Pittsburgh to take advantage. While Green Bay has a crippling zone defense, their man to man coverage is, for whatever reason, flawed. Roethlisberger, if he can fight off the blitzes that’ll be thrown his way, needs to take advantage by completing his passes early. Anytime you can render a zone ineffective, you force a defense to either go deeper into the playbook to dig their heels in with unseen blitzes, or you force them to go man to man. Charles Woodson thrives on zone coverage, and that’s kept him playing at a high level. But get him man to man on Mike Wallace without a safety nearby, and that can become an easy six points. Point blank, Pittsburgh must score early.
10. What part of Green Bay can Pittsburgh exploit the most?
Green Bay’s calling card has been their ability to force turnovers. 24 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries on the season means that my previous paragraph would be easier said than done for Roethlisberger. Baltimore had the right idea in round two, making Pittsburgh pay dearly for a pair of fumbles in their own territory. Green Bay simply cannot relent in their pass rush, as well as their run stopping. Keeping Roethlisberger off the field, especially taking him out after a turnover, is in Green Bay’s best interests. Much like Pittsburgh needs to build an early lead, as does the Packers. Their second half defenses have faltered (nearly coughing up the Eagles and Bears games), and Roethlisberger is not the guy to face in the fourth quarter. Getting to Roethlisberger early on would remedy the need to try and hang on late, and it keeps Aaron Rodgers in the driver’s seat.
While many are anticipating a low scoring, mud-slinging, defensive fight to the death, I truly believe we’re going to see something a bit closer to a shoot out, much like the Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl of two years ago. If Green Bay can put up points early, they’re not out of the woods, because Roethlisberger seems to enter a cheat code in the fourth quarter that turns him into the Tasmanian Devil. Pittsburgh, should they exert themselves on Green Bay with high scoring early, have to know that if Mark Sanchez can lead a near comeback victory on them, Aaron Rodgers can most assuredly top it. It’s a game where both teams have to be on their toes for all sixty minutes. Both teams can force turnovers, and they can institute comebacks out of scratch. In the end, I predict a less-than-a-touchdown win for Pittsburgh, by holding off Aaron Rodgers late.
Super Bowl XLV Score: Pittsburgh 27, Green Bay 21