With Super Bowl XLV just days away, I figured now would be a good time to start my coverage of what many consider to be a true American holiday. This year the game is being held in the suddenly Arctic like Dallas, Texas in the new Cowboys Stadium. To get things started let’s take a look at exactly what the Green Bay Packers have to do in order to beat those bastards, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Green Bay Packers have been the story of the playoffs so far. Picked by many early in the season to make it to Super Bowl XLV, things looked bleak halfway through the year. Sixteen players ended up on the season ended injured reserve list. Among these players were starting running back Ryan Grant, linebacker Nick Barnett, and tight end Jermichael Finley. How they were able to withstand these injuries and make it to this point is a testament to their depth and the ability to develop young talent. Hopefully the Browns are taking notes.
Of course anyone who has been paying close attention has come to realize that these playoffs have been the coming out party for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Having already established himself as one of the top 5 QB’s in the game, Rodgers has elevated his game to another level and is threatening to take over the spot as the best QB in all of football. Just take a look at his numbers so far this postseason:
If you’re doing the math at home that averages out to the following per game averages:
- 22-31 for a 71% completion percentage
- 264 yards per game
- 2 TD
- Less than 1 interception
- 104.9 QB rating (Removing the Chicago game as an outlier yields a QB rating of 129.65)
- Slightly over 8 yards gained per pass attempt
Throw in the fact that Rodgers has also made several key plays with his feet and he becomes that much more dangerous. After three playoff games he is averaging almost 5 yards per rush and has 2 touchdowns.
When you get down to it, one fact is clearly evident. If Aaron Rodgers plays well and can connect on several quick slants with Donald Driver or Greg Jennings, the Packers will have an excellent chance of winning Super Bowl XLV. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Rodgers has to contend with a Steelers defense that is among the league’s elite. Clearly they won’t make things easy for him. That’s why the performance of running back James Starks may be just as important.
If Starks can be effective running the ball it will help keep the Steelers defense honest. By attempting to run the ball the Packers may be able to force the Steelers to play closer to the line and allow their wide receivers to get down field for big plays. However, that won’t be an easy task. The Steelers don’t give up rushing yards so it may be tempting for the Packers to abandon the run early. Doing so could be disastrous. Even though their run game is among the worst in the NFL they need to utilize it if only to keep Pittsburgh on their toes. Simply spreading out the wide receivers and going pass every play would essentially be like setting Rodger’s up on a tee for the Steelers linebackers. Once they smell blood they’re like sharks. Rodgers has also shown in the past that he can be rattled once he starts getting beat up. So note to Mike McCarthy, run the ball if only to preserve your quarterback.
Meanwhile, while the Steelers get an insane amount of attention for their defense, the Packers aren’t exactly slouches on that side of the ball. In fact, the Packers may be just as, if not more talented than the Steelers on the defensive side of the ball. They have athletically gifted freaks all over the field: BJ Raji up front stopping the run, Clay Matthews and AJ Hawk leading the linebackers, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams in the secondary. There is an absolutely ridiculous amount of talent right there.
For the Packer defense their game plan should be simple with three key points of importance:
- Stop the run
- Keep the Steelers wide receivers, most notably Mike Wallace, in front of them to avoid the big play
- Contain Ben Roethlisberger within the pocket and prevent him from extending plays
Of course none of that is as easy as it sounds. Rashard Mendenhall ran like a man possessed against the Jets in the AFC Championship and is more than capable of repeating that performance. More often than not when Mendenhall is playing well and hitting holes with a burst, the Steelers are unstoppable. BJ Raji will need to break free from his blocks and hit Mendenhall before he can break the line of scrimmage. This should be aided by the fact that Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey might not play and even if he does it’ll be on one good leg. If Raji can penetrate the line, the linebackers will be able to come in and help wrap up Mendenhall, thus limiting his effectiveness.
For Woodson and Williams, their task is much more difficult. Mike Wallace is one of, if not the fastest player in the NFL. Keeping up with him in a race on the outside could be difficult. Bear in mind that Wallace is good for at least one catch of 20 plus yards per game. He is their big play guy. The combination of Woodson and Williams will have their hands full with him. It becomes even more difficult for Green Bay when you factor in the rest of the Steelers wide outs. Hines Ward will hit them for a number of short yardage gains over the middle, Antwan Randle El is the wild card for their trick plays, and even if they stop Williams they have to deal with Emmanuel Sanders. On top of that, the Packers will also have to deal with tight end Heath Miller. Good luck Green Bay… pick your poison.
That is why the third point is the most critical. The Packers need to contain Roethlisberger within the pocket. He’s at his best when his is on the run and shedding tackelers. He is the master of improvisation in the NFL. Once he breaks the constraints of the pocket it becomes backyard football. It’s what they do best. Roethlisberger extends the play and the receivers just find ways to get open by coming back to the ball or going deep. It’s very difficult to cover receivers for 8, 9, or 10 seconds. For the Packers it’s simple. Don’t go for the home run shot on Roethlisberger. Grab him, wrap him up, and wait for help to come. One player will have a hard time bringing him down. There’s no doubt that Matthews will find a way to get to him, but when he does he needs to finish.
When you get down to it, the Packers have their hands full with the Steelers. Fortunately for them, they have a very good defense and quite possibly the best quarterback in football. If anyone is going to make life a living hell for the Steelers, the Packers might have the best makeup to do it. In so many ways they mimic the Steelers in terms of talent and even history. It should make for a very exciting game. If the Packers are able to do everything above they may very well be raising the Lombardi Trophy when the clock reads 0:00.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy back in Green Bay? It only seems appropriate…