The Packers will hold off the Steelers in what is sure to be a classic
The NFL season is two weeks away from completion. When the season started, 32 teams were in contention and now only two are left standing.
It is fitting that the two teams with the highest winning percentages in playoff history will square off on Feb. 6 for the Superbowl, football’s biggest prize.
Neither the Green Bay Packers nor the Pittsburgh Steelers had an easy road to the big dance. Both conference championship games this past weekend were close, hard-fought battles that came down to the final moments.
But, after all the blood, sweat, and tears, here we are. The biggest game of the year is a little under two weeks away, and these two historic NFL franchises promise to combine for a thrilling matchup.
On the surface, Superbowl XLV appears to be the classic offence vs. defence matchup, but a closer look at both teams reveals a few more pieces to the puzzle.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers, in a nutshell, are built for the passing game on both sides of the ball. Their offence, under the command of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, is playing their best football of the season and the best offensive football of any team in the playoffs this year.
Green Bay has the leading passer (Rodgers), rusher (James Starks), and receiver (Greg Jennings) in the playoffs. Their passing offence has been virtually unstoppable this post-season. Rodgers is on fire, completing over 70 percent of his passes, many of them to a wide variety of receivers, and his adequate running ability can extend plays well past their due date. The Packers love to spread the ball out. Defending the dynamic Packer air attack has been a nightmare all post-season, and when you throw the surprise rushing leader Starkes in the mix, you have an offensive team that is well balanced and explosive. With an offence that gets everyone involved, the Packers do not have to rely on a central offensive weapon. If one of their players gets shut down, they have the ability to adjust and get the ball to other playmakers.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers are stout and talented. The offence takes all the limelight, but the Packer defence is chock full of pro-bowlers and playmakers. In fact, you can make the argument that the defence is Green Bay’s better half. The Packers were ranked fifth in total defence over the regular season, and were second in scoring defence. They have three pro-bowlers in the secondary, and another in the linebacking core.
The creative blitzing and explosive pass rush of players like Clay Mathews has been giving offensive coordinators nightmares all season. Pressure on quarterbacks is key to the Packers’ defensive success. This pressure allows their ball-hawking secondary to aggressively attack the ball on hurried throws, accounting for the Packers’ playoff-leading six interceptions. The Packers also lead all teams in the playoffs with ten sacks.
The Achilles heel of their defense is their ability to stop the run, which ranked only 18th during the regular season.
The Steelers are one of the most celebrated franchises in NFL history. Since their glory days of the seventies until today, the Steelers have maintained the same identity, toughness, and jaw-breaking defence.
The hard-hitting defence of the Steelers is no secret to anyone. There is an old saying, “defence wins championships.” No team this post-season has done better on the defensive side of the ball than the Steelers and no team in NFL history has won more championships. They are ranked first in rushing and total defence this post-season.
Their defensive unit is littered with playmakers. They have pro-bowlers on the defensive line, linebacking core, and in the secondary.
But, arguably the most important piece to the puzzle is defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. His blitz packages and defensive schemes are the best in the business and a big reason the Steelers are able to maintain such a high level of play of the defensive side. LeBeau is one of the best defensive minds of all time, period. Having such a gifted mind leading their defence is invaluable.
The Pittsburgh offence is not an intimidating force like the Packers, but they have playmakers of their own and a wealth of Superbowl experience behind them.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story with the Steelers offence – they ranked in the middle third of the league in every major offensive category. What they do have is grit and toughness. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is durable, fast, and powerful. Look for him to carry the load as the Steelers will look to grid it out on the ground.
Their other weapon is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisbeger’s quick legs allow him to make plays when the original plan falls apart, he is great from play-action, and has excellent arm strength. The Steelers may not be the offensive powerhouse that the Packers are, but they can certainly get the job done.
Superbowl XLV has all the makings of a classic. There will be hits, touchdowns, turnovers and blood. Both teams bring tough defence to the table, and both can make plays on offence.
The Steelers love to run the football. Mendenhall will be a key factor in the offensive strategy, and you can look for him to have a big game considering the Packers’ weakness against the run. The Steelers will need the running game to get going early, because the secondary of the Packers will be relentless against the pass. If the Steelers cannot run the ball effectively on Superbowl Sunday, the Packers will blitz them relentlessly and force turnovers. Roethlisberger has mobility, and uses it well, but he will not be able to perform his best if the Packers are allowed to rush him without abandon.
The receiving core of the Steelers has big-play potential from players like Mike Wallace, but the secondary of Green Bay will be more than capable of keeping them contained. Pro-bowlers Charles Woodson and Tremon Williams will be a blanket over the Steelers receiving core. Mathews will be in Roethlisberger’s face all game.
Unless the Steelers can run the ball effectively and often, their offence will have a very long day against the swarm of Green Bay.
The passing attack of Green Bay will have its hands full with a plethora of blitzes and confusing schemes to throw them off balance. The Steelers will rush the passer aggressively, and they will get to Rodgers several times. But Rodgers has proven to be excellent at getting the ball out quickly, and he has many receiver options come crunch time. The Steelers have previously been exposed by teams that can spread the ball out like the Packers can. If they can’t get pressure on Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers will have a field day making completions.
The Packer offence is also capable of completing passes without the aid of the running game, which should be nullified by the Steelers’ number 1 rushing defence.
The Steelers defence will give the Packers a very tough game. There will be no easy gains and every yard will have to be earned. But, look for the Packers to rise up to the challenge. Their wide-open passing attack will match up well with the Steelers secondary. It won’t be easy, but the Packers will get the job done.
This Superbowl will be a struggle, and it will be tough. Don’t expect a shootout. Expect a war.
Prediction: Green Bay 21, Pittsburgh 17