We are T-minus five days and counting from Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Five days away from a potential fourth Lombardi Trophy coming back to Titletown (I know the first two weren’t technically called the ‘Lombardi Trophy’ but bear with me).
Since the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event of the year, I decided to do a preview on a much grander scale spread over five days. Starting today through the weekend, I will be breaking down the matchup for each team on each side of the ball plus special teams and coaching and ending with keys to the game and a prediction.
Today will be the Packers offense versus the Steelers defense. Tomorrow will be the Steelers offense vs. the Packers defense. Thursday will be the special teams comparison, Friday the coaching and then Saturday the keys to the game and my pick to win Super Bowl XLV.
Here we go with part one.
Green Bay Packers offense
Ever since opening day running back Ryan Grant went down with a knee injury in the first game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers offensive attack has started and ended with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Without the support of a solid running game for the vast majority of the season, Rodgers carried this offense on his right arm and for the most part did so brilliantly. After tight end Jermichael Finley, arguably the Packers’ biggest offensive weapon went down for the season the Packers receiving corps had to step up.
Enter wide receiver Greg Jennings. Even though he was practically ignored early on, Jennings has come up huge since Finley went down. In 2010, Jennings earned his first Pro Bowl spot (even though he couldn’t play due to the Packers being in the Super Bow) and has finally earned discussion in being part of the NFL’s elite wide receivers. With deceptive speed, great hands and an even better ability to get yards after the catch, Jennings has arrived on the NFL’s biggest stage.
This isn’t to say Jennings’ supporting cast is weak either. Ageless wonder Donald Driver continued to defy Father Time and contributed as we all have come to expect him too. Jordy Nelson and James Jones played key roles in certain games as well, though Jones has shown an unfortunate knack for dropping the ball at the worst possible time.
Getting the job done in the trenches is an offensive line that is vastly improved over 2010. Josh Sitton has emerged as one of the NFL’s best guards and tackle Chad Clifton had perhaps the best season of his career. Perhaps even more remarkable is that the Packers lost Mark Tauscher for the year and rookie Bryan Bulaga, though sometimes inconsistent, has not really had a downright “bad” game all season.
So what of the Packers’ previously non-existent running game? Well, with the late emergence of James “Neo” Starks and Brandon Jackson now playing his normal third down role, the Packers rediscovered a balanced offensive attack at the perfect time of year. Now opponents have to respect the Packers rushing attack, which makes an already potent passing attack even more lethal.
Pittsburgh Steelers defense
There’s no doubt that when Packers coach Mike McCarthy looked at the Steelers defense to begin game planning for the Super Bowl, he saw a defense that was a near mirror image of his own defensive unit.
Of course, there is a good reason for that. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers are both from the same tree so to speak. Capers coached in Pittsburgh before taking his first head coaching job with the then-expansion Carolina Panthers.
The similarities are endless. Aggressive linebackers. A powerful yet athletic secondary. A big and mobile front.
Sound familiar, Packers fans?
Leading the way for the Steelers is linebacker and former defensive player of the year James Harrison. Notorious for his hard hits that had him fork over $100,000 in fines to the NFL this year alone, Harrison is a fast and powerful player who would run over his own mother if it meant sacking the quarterback. Along with LaMar Woodley, James Farrior, and Lawrence Timmons, Harrison leads a linebacking corps every bit as great as the Packers.
The Steelers secondary isn’t bad either. With newly crowned (barely) NFL defensive player of the year safety Troy Polamalu leading the way, the secondary looks to give the Packers’ multiple weapons headaches all day long on Sunday. Ryan Clark is also dangerous as the other safety and corners Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor are capable of making a big over the top interception at any given point.
Aaron Rodgers beware.
The Steelers defensive line is solid and underrated. Casey Hampton at nose tackle is very good against the run and a physical back like Starks will have some difficulty running up the A gap if he’s trying to avoid the Steelers linebackers. Defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Brett “the beard” Keisel have the ability to break through the Packers line on even a three man rush so the Packers offensive line will have their hands full all night.
The Packers offense against the Steelers defense is probably the most intriguing matchup of Super Bowl XLV. A high octane offense against a high octane defense with everything on the line. It doesn’t get any better than that.
So who has the advantage? Well, I’d put it as “too close to call” with the Packers perhaps holding an ever-so-slight advantage.
Why the Packers? Simply put, they face the same basic defense every day in practice against their own defense. The offense the Steelers defense faces during the week, while still potent, is still not quite as explosive as the Packers’. Hines Ward and Mike Wallace, again while they are still talented, are not quite the same as Jennings and Driver and company.
That’s the other thing the Packers have going for the them: not just the amount of talent their playmakers have, but the sheer number OF playmakers they have.
It’s as close as a matchup as you likely will find in the NFL today, but the Packers to me have a slight edge.
Advantage: Packers (barely).——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke