The Super Bowl helps define legacies for both teams and individuals. This year it features the team of the 60′s (GB) vs the team of the 70′s (PIT) in the home of the team of the 90′s (DAL). GB is going for its 4th Lombardi while PIT is looking to add to their NFL high 6. NFL teams fortunes are determined by QB play and this game has 2 of the top 5 QB’s in terms of QBR TY with Rodgers and Roethlisberger. This is also the 1st time in NFL history the top 2 scoring defenses face off. GB returns to the SB for the 1st time since the 1997 season when they lost to DEN in SB 32. The Packers are fully out of the shadow of Brett Favre especially considering what transpired the L2Y. With a win, Rodgers would tie Favre for SB victories and solidify his standing in franchise history. GB has withstood 15 players on IR TY which is a testament to the depth set up by GM Ted Thompson. Mike Tomlin calmly lead the team thru the 4 game suspension of Roethlisberger, the loss of their best DL for 12 games as well as the 2 game loss of SS Polamalu while dealing with a very questionable OL. Roethlisberger would join Tom Brady as the only active QB’s with 3 SB rings and change the “best QB of this era” discussion. GB is quite similar to the Cowher era Steelers especially on defense under Dom Capers. Capers was the PIT DC from 1992-94 with Dick LeBeau as his DB coach with both being 2 of the best defensive minds in the league. After being inducted into the HOF TY, there is talk that LeBeau may retire as his contract is up after the Super Bowl. Finally despite the success of the NFL overall in 2010 there is the specter of a work stoppage just 1 month after the SB due to an impasse with a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Steelers are one of the most respected franchises in the NFL as they don’t overreact to a bad season. GM Kevin Colbert has continued to maintain a high level of stability for the team and it shows as the Steelers have 22 players from the PIT/ARZ SB who played vs the Jets with Aaron Smith being questionable here. With Smith, the Steelers would have their entire starting defense from that game (LB Foote is a reserve now) here. Offensively 5 offensive starters remain with RB Moore as the 3rd Dn back (Mendenhall was IR’d after Wk 4). PIT is 10-2 in the playoffs with Roethlisberger. GB is one of the youngest teams in the NFL (only 8 players over 30) and only have 2 players with SB experience (Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett). PIT will be well versed on how to cope with the travel/media day distractions here and LY’s win by the Saints will keep them on their toes in dealing with an inexperienced foe. EDGE: STEELERS
Cowboys Stadium will be the 1st game in a 100,000 seat venue since SB 21 which was in the Rose Bowl back in Jan, 1987. It is also just the 3rd SB to be held in Texas with HOU hosting the 2 previous. This is a Matrix field turf surface which plays to the speed for both teams. Ft Worth will house the Steelers while Irving will accommodate the Packers before the game. Neither team has played at this venue and there may be a bit of “awe factor” esp in terms of the high tech support here. Both teams will be allotted 17.5% of the tickets. One third of those tickets goes to season ticket holders in a lottery system, one third to suite owners and the rest goes to players, coaches and staff. The team hosting the event gets 5% of the tickets, 30% is shared by the other 30 NFL teams with the league itself retaining 30% to reward sponsors and for promotions. Tickets to SB XLV ranged from $2,840 to $17,000 via NFL.com. Both teams are among the best in terms of bringing fans to games and many Steelers fans will travel even without tickets. EDGE: NONE
STEELERS #14 OFFENSE VS PACKERS #5 DEFENSE
The Steelers offensive ranking is a bit misleading as if the 4 game susp of Roethlisberger is omitted their ypg avg goes from 345 ypg to 371 ypg and they would have the #7 offense (reg season). OC Bruce Arians has been very balanced since then with his play calling with PIT having a 422/449 run/pass mix. What makes this truly special is that PIT lost their starting LT in preseason and their RT after 7 games. PIT’s OL is worse than what took the field in SB 43 while Ctr Pouncey (1st PIT rookie OL to Pro Bowl since 50′s) was banged up but should be available. Arians is used to working with a depleted OL and while Big Ben’s been sacked once every 11 pass att’s since returning Roethlisberger is one of the hardest QB’s to take down. PIT only has 5 players with 25 or more rec’s TY with 2nd year WR Wallace being the deep threat. Wallace (4.29 spd) is one of the fastest players in the NFL and his ypc was 2nd in the NFL to DeSean Jackson. Ward has excelled as a possession WR with 35 1st Dns on 59 rec’s and he remains one of the best downfield blockers in the NFL. PIT was forced to put 2 rookies on the field with Sanders/Brown and both were solid contributors. Heath Miller is a very underrated TE in the NFL being a solid in line blocker and a reliable downfield option. The backbone of TY’s offense though has been Mendenhall who accounted for 26% of the offense. He carried the offense in the 1st 4 games (103 ypg 4.6) and dominated the Jets in the championship game. PIT only went 3 and out on 37 reg ssn drives (21% #12), scoring a TD/FG on 37% of their offensive drives (9th). They will see a very familiar defense in GB’s as Capers and LeBeau both helped develop the fire zone blitz concept in the early 90′s. The Packers have excelled in his system the L2Y despite youth and having 12 defensive players land on the IR. NT BJ Raji has rapidly developed after being forced to play a large amount of snaps for a NT due to injuries on the DL. When healthy Cullen Jenkins (calf) is a force vs the run and his injury has been 1 of the big reasons for GB’s #18 rush def despite being the biggest 3-4 front when healthy. Matthews is the heart and soul of the Packers defense logging 13.5 sacks despite playing with a hamstring injury that limited his practice time. AJ Hawk has grown into the system after not getting a single snap in the season opener but he’s at his best vs the run. Bishop earned himself a contract extension by stepping up at the other ILB spot and Walden has been serviceable as Matthews draws most of the OL attention. GB is pulling in 1 sack every 11 pass atts which has set up their impressive 19-30 ratio TY. Woodson continues to play at a high level but one of the breakout players for 2010 has been Tramon Williams who has 9 int’s in the L15 games. GB was 4th in the reg season forcing 49 3 and outs (27%) and 2nd allowing a TD/FG on just 25% of opp’s drives. The Steelers OL is coming off its best game of the year vs the Jets who were tired in the 1H. Roethlisberger will be facing a rested defense playing on turf but his size and ability extend plays. GB is one of the faster units in the NFL and even if Pouncey plays the PIT OL will have problems in pass protection. SLIGHT EDGE: PACKERS
PACKERS #9 OFFENSE VS STEELERS #2 DEFENSE
The Packers were prepared for the loss of RB Ryan Grant after the 1st game as they simply shifted to 2 TE sets to take advantage of the growth of Jermichael Finley (55 rec 12.3 in 09). The loss of Finley (right knee) forced a shift to more spread WR sets and the RB spot became primarily an extra pass blocker/receiving option. Rodgers is one of the few QB’s to successfully adjust to drastic schematic changes due being able to learn the scheme early on and the depth at WR. He’s logged six 300 yd games TY despite 2 concussions with just 4 games of 2 or more int’s. Overall he’s 10th or better in 10 major passing categories including comp’s, comp %, TD’s and ypa. Five players have 40 or more rec’s (Brees had 7 w/ 35 rec’s in 09) with Greg Jennings finishing 4th in yds, 8th in ypc and 2nd in rec TD’s. Much like Ward, Driver has settled in as the possession WR here with 29 of his 51 rec’s going for 1st Dns though he’s not the downfield blocker Ward is. James Jones is the slot WR while Jordy Nelson has been the #4 when not splitting time on special teams. GB’s OL is drastically improved over LY’s with Bulaga settling in at RT and they’ve started the L/15 games together giving up 1 sack every 13.5 pass att’s. GB’s OL is better than its #24 ranking but the system is used to not featuring an RB at this point despite the impressive play of RB Starks. PIT’s #1 rush defense is one of the 10 best in NFL history though allowing just 62.4 ypg (3.0) without Aaron Smith who is widely regarded as the best run stuffing 3-4 DE for the 2000′s. Ziggy Hood is one of the strongest players on the team and is taking off in the system next to Hampton who is the prototype NT for a 3-4. PIT’s LB’s are the gold standard for a 3-4 able to blitz/stop the run and play coverage all equally well. Harrison sets the tone for the defense with his physical style and LB’s Timmons and Woodley are rising stars. Teams have naturally been forced to go the air to move the ball but PIT has only given up one 300 yd game TY (NE). Minus that PIT has allowed just 198 ypg (60%) with a 15-21 ratio while pulling in 1 sack every 11.4 pass att’s. The cog that makes the PIT defense go is Polamalu who’s been playing at 85% the L/3 games due to an Achilles injury as his ability to freelance makes the secondary so dangerous. GB was 24th with 46 3 and outs (25%) on offense but were 11th scoring a FG/TD on 35% of their drives. While PIT was only 17th forcing teams to go 3 and out on 23% of drives (41) they were 3rd best in allowing a FG/TD on just 25.7% of drives. PIT is well equipped to deal with GB’s pass heavy system from facing ATL/NO/NE TY. Their aggressive playmakers will be the edge but expect Rodgers to make plays as well. SLIGHT EDGE: STEELERS
Neither team has dominant special teams with PIT having MY #18 ranked unit vs GB with MY #24. However each has developed strengths to offset some weaknesses. GB has gotten improving play from P Tim Masthay who shutdown the CHI return game in the NFC Championship with 5 of his 8 punts inside the 20. Masthay had a good gross avg (43.9) but injuries sapped the coverage units as GB finished with the #24 PR coverage unit (11.0) with a decent KR coverage unit (#13 21.8). The Packers return units are a weakness as they finished 22nd in PR’s (7.9) and 26th in KR’s (20.1). Mason Crosby was decent with 24 of 31 FG’s but wasn’t needed much with the efficiency of the GB offense. After struggling to contain CLE KR/PR Josh Cribbs, Tomlin brought back Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle to bolster their coverage units TY. The move paid off as while PIT’s PR coverage was slightly below avg (#18 9.2) their KR coverage unit was very good avg 20.0 (#5) with just 1 TD allowed. PIT lost P Sepulveda to a knee injury midway thru the year and Kapinos has been avg at best with a 32.3 net. With all the good that 1st year STC Al Everest has done for PIT the PR unit needs lots of work as it was dead last with a 6.1 avg with a long of 38. The KR units were better as the 23.5 avg was 13th and it could have been better if Sanders and Brown hadn’t been pressed into more snaps on offense. Shaun Suisham (16-18) has been a pleasant find after they cut ties with Jeff Reed after the NE loss. PIT gets the nod here due to their improved coverage units and GB’s lack of punch in the return game. SLIGHT EDGE: STEELERS
Mike McCarthy is a blend of the Marty Schottenheimer and Andy Reid coaching trees continuing the Mike Holmgren offensive philosophy. McCarthy isn’t as stringent as Reid is offensively and OC Joe Philbin’s background as a TE/OL coach has helped the team overcome some key injuries TY. Mike Tomlin is the 1st HC to make 2 trips to the SB while under the age of 40. He has spearheaded the influx of new talent in terms of HC’s into the NFL and comes from the Tony Dungy coaching tree. Tomlin calmly lead the team thru the 4 game suspension of Roethlisberger, the loss of their best DL for 12 games as well as the 2 game loss of SS Polamalu while dealing with the loss of both starting OT’s along with the addition of a rookie Ctr. Bruce Arians has survived criticism of passing too much for the fan base LY with a very balanced attack since Roethlisberger’s return. Both teams have top notch DC’s in Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers who collaborated in the early 90′s to help forge the current 3-4 fire zone blitz packages. GB is built more like an AFC team at this point and has the staff and talent base for future runs. PIT however has continuity and success in big games with their staff affording them the edge which is mitigated some by GB’s unpredictably at this point. SLIGHT EDGE: STEELERS
PAST HISTORY MATCHUP and INTANGIBLES
These teams met last Dec in a 37-36 shootout with PIT (-2′) ending a 5 game losing streak by snapping a 5 game win streak for GB. PIT had 28-18 FD and 537-436 yd edges but needed a last second TD pass to Mike Wallace for the win. Both QB’s were lights out combining for 886 yds and 6 passing TD’s in the game. Both defenses were worn out at the end as PIT had the ball for 7:00 longer in the 2H to wear down the Packers. The natural lean is to assume that both teams will have another shootout but both DC’s will tighten up their units and bring new blitz packages to the fold. Both teams are very well represented in the media and won’t bring the sound bytes that have become popular in the playoffs TY. GB will be billed as the “up and coming team” to the playoffs while PIT is loaded with savvy vets who know how to treat this as a business trip. The Steelers excel at stopping the run but Rogers will move the ball through the air. EDGE: PACKERS
This is a historic matchup with the top 2 scoring defenses facing off. However both teams are led by two of the best QB’s in the NFL and both teams will have plenty of time to gameplan to compensate for the great D’s. I think in the end Pittsburgh’s playoff experience will be the difference.