Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday: Green Bay Packers vs Pittsburgh Steelers

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-Digger's Daily-

Super Bowl Sunday...

Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay Packers vs Pittsburgh Steelers

Are you ready? Super Bowl Sunday has arrived. Green Bay vs Pittsburgh is a tremendous match-up. Two of the most successful NFL franchises in a winner take all battle. Pittsburgh is the all time NFL leader with 6 Super Bowl titles. There's a reason why champions are handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy. He was Green Bay's legendary head coach who guided the Packers to the first two Super Bowl titles in NFL history. 2010's two best teams about to lay it all on the line in the final game of the year. (Quite possibly the last NFL game in a long time to come unless owners and players can hammer out a new agreement before next season).

The nation seems evenly split on who will win. Almost all predicting a very close contest. Many of us hoping for another dramatic finish. Time to examine key elements of today's game...

Pittsburgh's starting center has been shelved. Maukice Pouncey is out with a high ankle sprain. Anchoring Pittsburgh's offensive line and making is first ever NFL start is rookie Doug Legursky. Everyone has to be ready for Green Bay's defense to pound the daylights out of Legursky. He will see plenty of blitz packages and defensive pressure. His impact will be highlighted all game long. Question remains... how will he perform? It's anyone's guess. If I was calling the plays, very first one would be a run right up the middle behind Legursky. Get him involved right away, shake out his butterflies.

Quarterback's calmness under pressure. Green Bay and Pittsburgh love to blitz. Steelers blitz packages brings players from all angles all game long. Green Bay provides more of a power rush. Both teams put serious pops on opposing QB's. Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers styles are very different. Big Ben leads a ball control offense. An expert at crisp short passes, cool head facing blitzes, thrives on big game pressure and 2-time Super Bowl Champ. Rodgers is a bit more of a gunslinger. He'll have to be razor sharp as Packers running game faces their stiffest challenge vs Steelers league best run defense (62.8 yards/game).

Running game dramatically favors Pittsburgh. Or does it? At least it did leading into this game. Center Legursky is the game's variable. The great unknown. If he's successful pancaking Packer defenders allowing Pittsburgh's ground game to chew up the clock (and protecting Roethlisberger) then dreams of title number seven come closer to reality. Another unknown... playoff leading rusher... Green Bay's James Starks. Packers ground game doesn't put fear into defensive coordinators. However, Starks has banged out several key playoff runs. Pack's back's are key contributors in passing attack and must be accounted for out of the backfield.

Game within a game. One of my favorite things to watch during most games is trench battles. Offensive and defensive lines are vital keys to success. One tenth of a second or an inch can make the all the difference in the world. Packers pass rushers racked up 47 sacks. However, porous offensive line surrendered 38. Steelers QB's taken down 43 times while defense recorded 48. Make no mistake, winning the line battles is key number one. Whoever controls the line, barring turnovers, will win. Packers pass rush might be licking their chops heading into the game. Big Ben was sacked 32 times in 12 games. Obviously, Steelers compensated but this is the Super Bowl and playing without their starting center provides a big challenge. Not many second chances will be given, if any. Rodgers will be scrambling around too. How well Green Bay's offensive line give Rodgers time to find passing lanes without being forced into errant throws looms large.

Much talking leading up to today has focused on defense. No defensive line stingier than Steelers. 62.8 rush yards/game was head and shoulders NFL best. 4429 total yards allowed ranked as NFL's 2nd best. Packers D unit finished up NFC 2nd best (4945 yards). That said, don't be surprised if Super Bowl XLV turns into a shootout. I'd venture to say both defenses will blitz no less than 75% setting up key one on one situations and golden opportunities begging for screen plays. Offenses might have a field day exposing blitz vulnerabilities. An oddity but distinct possibility.

Wide Receivers vs Cornerbacks. Most over looked in Super talk has been Steelers wide receivers. They combined to create 62 plays of 20 or more yards in 2010. Wallace led all teammates with 1257 yards (21/catch) and 10 td's. Roethlisberger favors nobody by effectively spreading the ball around to slow down opposing defenders. Charles Woodson is Packers shut down cover man. Pack ball hawking secondary has devastated playoff opponents snagging pick after pick. Greg Jennings and James Jones can expect big hits if they dare going over the middle against Pittsburgh. Rodgers does a fine job spreading the ball around as 5 different players hauled in 40 or more receptions. Key for Pack attack will be WR's ability to recognize blitzes and break off routes quickly enough for Rodgers to keep drives alive.

Coaches. Coaching to win or coaching not to lose? Far too often I've felt too many coaches shied away from what made them playoff contenders. Buffalo seemed clueless vs Dallas teams. San Diego unnerved vs 49ers. Eagles poor clock management in closing minutes. Defining success for Pittsburgh resides with setting up and converting on short yardage first down situations. They're masters at this style of play and I suspect they'll stick with what works and challenge Green Bay's defenders to stop them. On the other hand, I think Green Bay's offense is more worried with combating Steelers defenders. If the running game is shut down early then Packers will become one dimensional. Pack must force the issue if confident Starks won't turn it over. No way Packers wins this game if forced into 3rd and long time after time.

Tangibles. 1) Current Pittsburgh roster is familiar with Super Bowl bonanza and big game pressure. Green Bay has been riding a big wave without too many big time games under their belt. Will it make a difference? 2) Turnovers. Whichever team does the best job with protecting the football should win the game. We might witness 5 or more turnovers coming from heaving hitting ball hawking D's. Possibly more if Legursky/Roethlisberger snaps are muffed. 3) Special Teams. Kicking indoors benefits both place kickers. Indoor games also provide returners with sure footing. Super Bowls have produced plenty of touchdown returns. Will we see another today? Yes! 4) 3rd and short. 3rd and long doesn't bode well for either offense vs either defense. Effective drives need rely on short conversion attempts. 5) Ball control. Can either offense dominate time of possession? If Mendenhall's pounding offensive line can get the job done then Steelers will own the clock.

Key's to success. All of the above. Pittsburgh strikes me as the best disciplined NFL team. They stick to game plans. Compensate/adjust well in all game situations. Able to keep cool in pressure cookers. Multi-dimensional offense is effective and often overlooked. Green Bay must find a way to run effectively. Blocking schemes must be executed to perfection. Rodgers ability for quick strikes against single coverage, or lack thereof, determines Packers fate.

Unspoken fact: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones $2 Billion stadium will host two of the cities most hated playoff rivals... Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Jones built this stadium dreaming of his Cowboys playing at home for all the marbles today. Dreams turned into dark nightmare as Dallas stumbled to a pitiful 1-7 beginning. Now he's playing host to Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Fighting wicked winter weather conditions to boot. That's gotta hurt.

Prediction: It all rests on the shoulders and blocking ability of first time starting center Legursky. Clean crisp center to QB exchanges and effectively playing unnoticed will earn Pittsburgh their seventh Super Bowl ring. I'm betting on Pittsburgh to stick to their guns. Pounding time consuming running attack and effective passing from a calm and cool Roethlisberger. Green Bay will bring their A game, they're ready. Super Bowl XLV will be decided late in the fourth quarter. Steelers 30 Packers 24


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