Super Bowl XLV: Packers vs. Steelers – Getting Defensive All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Despite the records of the Packers’ and Steelers’ defenses and how spectacularly stingy they’ve been in giving up points (Pittsburgh was best in the NFL, allowing just 14.5 PPG; Green Bay trailed them by half a point), this could be closer to a shootout than everyone is predicting.

The Packers have been the best team in the playoffs at just 17 points/game, while Pittsburgh allows 21.5, but these two defenses are built in the same mold. Pittsburgh has better safeties and a better ROLB, Green Bay has better corners and ILBs, but both these teams are built in the Pittsburgh style.

When Dom Capers was remaking the defense in summer 2009, the popular term for his efforts was that the Pack became Pittsburgh West. Capers served as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator in 1992-1994, when Dick LeBeau was first coming up with his fire-zone blitzes.

The bottom line is that, for all of Capers’ creative blitzing and zone drops, the odds are that Ben Roethlisberger has seen most of the material. There aren’t many secrets here. Expect Big Ben and Rodgers to have an easier time with the defenses then they had last week.

The performance of Rashard Mendenhall against the heralded Jets defense last week-27 carries, 121 yards and a TD-would seem to be worrisome against the Packers’ middling ground game.

However, the Packers’ run defense has actually improved in the playoffs, holding LeSean McCoy (Eagles), Michael Turner (Falcons) and Matt Forte (Bears) to a combined 155 yards on 39 carries, or 3.97 YPC. This represents a vast improvement over their per-carry average of 4.5 in the regular season.

Two more rushing items of note:

-In the case of Turner, the Packers (who were able to contain his inside rushes in both meetings) built a big lead on Atlanta and forced the Falcons to abandon the run. This may not be the greatest strategy against Roethlisberger, but Mendenhall typically rushes on inside zone plays of the type the Packers run all the time.

Anchored by B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, the Packers’ run defense inside has been relatively stout all season. Against a relatively weak Pittsburgh interior that might lack Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, there’s no reason to think that the Packers will have serious trouble with Mendenhall inside.

-While Matt Forte didn’t have a spectacular rushing day, he did catch 10 passes (mostly check-downs) for ninety yards. LeSean McCoy also had four catches for 36 yards. Packers fans shouldn’t be worried about Mendenhall catching the ball (23 regular-season catches, 167 yards), but third-down back and former Viking Mewelde Moore may present problems for the Green Bay LBs. Mendenhall does have three catches this postseason, for 45 yards.

Speaking of LBs, whether it’s Frank Zombo, Erik Walden or Robert Francois, the Steelers will attack the Packers’ ROLB and try to get TE Heath Miller matched up on them in coverage. Walden hasn’t had success rushing the passer since Week 17, so it’ll be up to Capers to manufacture pressure with Matthews. However, with an extra week of preparation, Capers should be able to move Matthews around more then he normally would.

The other part of that equation is that the Steelers are playing with their backups at left and right tackle. The guards aren’t that great, either. Cullen Jenkins and Raji should be able to get consistent pressure in the pocket on Big Ben against them and whatever center plays. Clay Matthews terrorized Roethlisberger last year, sacking him twice and forcing an apparent fumble on a would-be third sack (it was ruled an incompletion). Against backup tackles, he should be able to do the same this time.

The key for Packers rushers is to attack the ball first, then the QB. Roethlisberger is extremely good at getting the ball out even with defenders draped all over him. The Packers haven’t forced many fumbles by the QB this year, but their best course of attack might be to go for the fumble here.

The battle between Hines Ward and Charles Woodson in the slot should be a great one to watch. The Steelers will try to set up mismatches with their five-wide sets, as on the last third down that beat the Jets in the AFC Championship. The combination of Tramon Williams, Woodson and Sam Shields is extremely solid, but Jarrett Bush has been the same old Bush at dime back.

It’s hard to forget Mike Wallace beating him in single coverage in the last meeting for a 67-yard TD on the first play of the game. If the Steelers spread the Packers out and Roethlisberger can extend the play in the pocket (as he is really, really good at doing), look out below.

I rag on Bush a lot, but it’s only fair to give him credit for an amazing job on special teams last week. Both he and Masthay essentially won the field-position battle for the Packers. While the Steelers don’t have a Devin Hester or an Eric Weems returning the ball, containing their returners will be a priority for the Packers nonetheless.

That’s about all for now; I’ll have some more matchups later on in the week, this time concerned more with the Packer offense. Cheers!

14 thoughts on “Super Bowl XLV: Packers vs. Steelers – Getting Defensive

  1. If the Steelers insist on trying to spread the Pack D out with 5 WR sets- and our Dime personnel has issues (be it Bush or Underwood), I would strongly advocate putting Bigby in at S alongside Peprah and using Nick Collins as the Dime….

    Unorthodox, yeah, but Collins has the athleticism to play CB in a pinch, and if Bush or Underwood- or whoever- end up being repeatedly abused, It’s worth a shot.

    1. I do want to point out that I’d be surprised to see much Dime from the Pack anyways. Capers seems comfortable letting a LBs fend for themselves, even against the occasional WR

      1. I was thinking that too, but then we broke out the dime package against Philadelphia. I am anxious to see how Capers integrates Bigby into the game plan…

        1. They don’t have the wide receivers to go Big 5… so it would end up being WR+RB/TE, which is really no different personnel-wise than other formations. So the match-ups wouldn’t be too much of a concern with nickel package.

          1. Ehh, I don’t know about that. They have gone to a four and five-wide package at times, employing Emmanuel Sanders (rookie, 3rd round) and Antonio Brown (6th). It was Sanders, I believe, who got the final first down to beat the Jets out of a five-wide set with Antwaan Randle El. The WR depth on their roster isn’t as dangerous as, say, the Packers’, but they’ll line up and run those packages to try and get a mismatch on the dime or nickel corner.

  2. I am not scared of PIT’s passing offense so much – even in 5 wides. If they do that then CM3, Raji and Jenkins should be able to put some heat on Ben right away. Ben is not too good with the quick hitters and reading defenses.. that’s AR’s game.

      1. Kevin Seifert had a good inside-the-stats article about how the Steelers had been particularly good and the Packers bad at stopping runs to the right side of the offense, behind Flozell Adams. Something to watch for.

  3. russ, i see the same thing,if pitt can run its going to be tough.i like this matchup much better than if baltimore was playin.i thought the ravens were a much worse matchup then pittsburg pack 31-17. this is so much fun,cant beleive were here.the craziest packer year in my 50 years on the planet

    1. Man, I’d hate to be a Ravens fan these days. They always look so good in the regular season, even into the playoffs… and then their hated rival blows them out of the water.

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