When the Super Bowl kicks off later today it will be a battle between two of the most storied franchises in NFL History. Two well balanced teams that can hurt you on both offense and defense. These teams are eerily similar, both run aggressive 3-4 defenses predicated on zone blitz schemes, both rely on mobile quarterbacks to make plays for them when things break down, and both have a dominant outside linebacker and secondary player that could change the outcome of the game on Sunday. Screen and Roll Out is going to break the game down on each side of the ball for the respective teams before giving our prediction.
When the Packers have the ball
The Packers offense revolves around Aaron Rodgers just as much as the Colts do around Peyton Manning or the Patriots do around Tom Brady. During this year’s season and playoffs he’s elevated himself into the discussion for best quarterback in the league. Aaron Rodgers has all the tools you look for in an elite quarterback. Arm Strength, accuracy, leadership, the ability to compete under pressure, and the ability to escape the pocket and create on the run as well. An article came out a few days ago about a conversation he had with Steve Young about what it takes to follow up a legend and I think that Aaron Rodgers compares favorably to Steve Young except that he’s come into his own a good deal earlier than Young did. The Packers are a pass first team; however they’ve been able to move the football on the ground in all 3 playoff games they’ve had and its all largely due to the ability of James Starks whose been a bit of a late season revelation for these Green Bay Packers. In the 3 postseason games he’s posted yardage total of 263 which doesn’t seem that impressive until you see that their leading rusher averaged 43 yards per game during the season. Watching this NFL playbook video should give you a good idea of the kind of talent the Packers have when it comes to pass protection. Bryan Beluga has come in at right tackle and done a fine job holding the edge and replacing 13 year stalwart Mark Tauscher. The Packers probably utilize the most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL going 4 deep at wide out with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones. All 4 have the ability to make big plays and all of them have the trust of Aaron Rodgers. Greg Jennings is the leader of this group and somehow still remains an underrated player at the wide receiver position, not only does he provide a huge big play threat like a Mike Wallace for the Steelers but he also provides reliability on pretty much every route that the Packers like to run in their route tree. He’s still considered undersized at 5’11 but over the past 3 years he’s averaged over 1200 yards a season at 16 yards a catch. On the other side of Jennings is Donald Driver who had his consecutive 1,000 yard receiving seasons streak stopped at 6 this year but he’s still in absolutely fantastic shape, however he’s the 2nd receiver in name only at this point as bath James Jones and Jordy Nelson have passed him in production. One significant loss on the offensive side of the ball the Packers have suffered is the loss of their pro bowl tight end Jermichael Finely, however Andrew Quarless has come in and provided another big athletic body and while not as talented as Finley as a receiver he’s quite the blocker in the backfield and provides an adequate safety valve for Rodgers when he’s under pressure.
When the Steelers have the ball
|Visions like this are dancing in Steelers Fans heads as we speak|
The Steelers have a great quarterback themselves in Ben Roethlisberger however they employ a more balanced attack where they complement their deep passing attack with the running of Rashard Mendenhall. The Steelers offensive line is about as decimated as you’ll see in the super bowl with both of their starting tackles on injured reserve their starting center unlikely play and an undrafted rookie starting at right guard this is about as patchwork as it gets. However with a quarterback like Big Ben behind center they can count on him to break so many tackles per game and make so many plays when their protection breaks down that it hasn’t hurt the Steelers as much as it would hurt a normal team. The Steelers are very reminiscent of their super bowl teams of 70’s built around a strong armed quarterback who goes deep early and often and a talented running back who get the tough yards between the tackles but also has the speed to break it outside. Speaking of outside the Steelers have one of the fastest players in the NFL on the outside in Mike Wallace who was second in the NFL in yards per catch at an absolutely insane 21yards per grab. The difference between the explosive Mike Wallace of last year and this years version is his ability to expand upon his big play ability to create space for other players as well as capitalize on that space himself and make catches on routes underneath the coverage. The steady veteran of this receiving corps is still Hines Ward former Super Bowl MVP and renown as the dirtiest wide receiver in football. Whether you think he's a dirty player or not theres no question that Ward is one of the toughest receivers in football and someone I would absolutely trust to come down with a catch in a tough situation.
When the Steelers are on defense
The Steelers were one of the best defenses in the league according to pretty much any metric you threw at them. They were # 2 in yardage allowed behind the Chargers by only 5 yards per game. They were 5th in interceptions, 1st in sacks, and #1 in rush defense by almost 30 yards per game. Their 3-4 defense stout up front with perennial pro bowler Casey Hampton at the nose flanking him are the fantastic beard of Brett Keisel and the young emerging Ziggy Hood of Missouri. However where the Pittsburgh Steelers lap the rest of the NFL is in their linebacking corps. Its home to pro bowlers at 3 of the 4 positions, all pros at 3 of the 4 positions, and it has the defensive player of the year of 2009. It’s hard to say where this linebacking corps start, most would say it’s with James Harrison and I would find it hard to disagree, but I honestly think the key to this 3-4 defense resides on the other side in LaMarr Woodley. Over the past 3 years he’s racked up 35 sacks which would put him 1 behind James Harrison but while James Harrison is coming into the downside of his career at 32 Woodley is entering his at the age of 26. Regardless of whom you prefer when you can get an average of 24 sacks from your outside linebackers every year you’ll be in good shape. The Steelers secondary revolves around 2010 defensive player of the year Troy Polamalu. He's an absolute beast in the box and has the coverage range to be pretty much anywhere on the field prior to the snap and still not have an idea of where his responsibility lies. In only 14 games this year he had 7 interceptions and numerous big plays with tackles on the goal line and in the backfield, watching Polamalu play you can see that his instincts are some of the best in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball and its these same instincts he'll need to quickly diagnose the intentions of Aaron Rodgers this Sunday.
When the Packers are on defense
|B.J. Raji has a belt of his own|
The Packers are built like the Steelers in that they run a 3-4 defense that emphasizes getting pressure through a zone blitz scheme, where the two teams differ is how they get their pressure. The Packers don’t have the talent that the Steelers do in their linebacking corps however they have a much better secondary and defensive line and they use that to their advantage in their schemes. The Packers utilize Charles Woodson in a similar fashion to the way the Steelers use Troy Polamalu moving him all over the field sometimes as a blitzer, sometimes as a nickel back, sometimes in bump and run on the outside, and other times in a short zone assignment. Any offense that plays the Packers needs to be aware of where he is at all times. The story of the Green Bay secondary is no longer Charles Woodson however its now the play of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields how are the primary cover corners of this team and form arguably the best cover corner tandem in the league. Williams has elevated himself into the shutdown corner echelon while Sam Williams has become a fantastic playmaker in his own right with two huge interceptions on the road against Chicago in the NFC Championship. On their defensive line the Packers rely on two guys to clog the middle and create pressure those two guys are B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins. Both can switch between the nose and either end position creating a great deal of flexibility along the defensive line and both players have the ability to drop into coverage occasionally in zone dog schemes as demonstrated by Raji in the NFC championship game. The undoubted star of this team however lies in the linebacking corps. Clay Matthews has become one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL almost overnight, coached by one of the great pass rushers in Steelers history in Kevin Greene he’s made his way from walk on at USC to first round pick to being two votes shy of winning this year’s defensive player of the year. If the Steelers want to have a chance to win this game they can’t let Matthews dominate the game and constantly keep Big Ben on the run.
Pretty much everyone is in agreement that this will be a close game, and looking at the last time these teams played could give use some details into what this game could look like. The last time these teams played was December of 2009 and the Steelers won in a 37-36 shootout that wasn't decided until the last play of the game where Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to Mike Wallace. Big Ben went for over 500 yards and Aaron Rodgers responded with 380 of his own but it wouldn't be enough as the Steelers managed to eke out a win at home. A year later the Steelers have Troy Polamalu while the Packers have an Aaron Rodgers that has seemingly become the best QB in the NFL. While I think Super Bowl experience matters and the Steelers have it in spades I think the Jets gave an absolute blue print to beating the Steelers in that second half, if you're physical with their wide receivers their offensive line can't hold up and Big Ben will try to force things. The Packers defense has capitalized every time someone has forced a throw in these playoffs and I think someone in their secondary makes another huge play in the super bowl that will change the momentum of this game. Aaron Rodgers will win the MVP because the QB almost always does but the Green Bay secondary will be the stars in this super bowl.