As part of my preparation for Super Bowl XLV, I decided to take another look back at last year’s game between the Packers and Steelers. Ah, memories… I’m sure everyone remembers how the game ended, but do you remember how it started?
It was week 15 of the 2009 season. The 9-4 Packers with a red-hot Aaron Rodgers came riding into Pittsburgh with a 5-game win streak following their incredulous loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the now-famous Monday morning “Come to Jesus” meeting. The Packers’ secondary, however, was missing Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee, forcing the likes of Jarret Bush and Josh Bell into emergency duty.
The Steelers, on the other hand, had lost five games in a row, and at 6-7, their chances of making the playoffs were in sure-fire jeopardy. The defense was giving up too many big plays and the turnovers were not coming as was the norm.
Based on all of these facts, the game started just as you would have expected. The Packers came out throwing and the Steelers, knowing they would, went right after Rodgers with an obvious attempt to intimidate him and cover up for their under-performing secondary.
In just the first minute of the game, the Steelers blitzed Rodgers 4 times and on their first and only offensive play of the first minute, the Steelers victimized the decimated Packers secondary and Jarret Bush in particular.
Lets relive that first minute:
Play 1: Packers 1st and 10 Steelers Blitz:
Steelers show blitz, Rodgers sets the protection, Korey Hall moves into position to take a fake handoff and is just barely able to pick up James Farrior who is in the backfield and almost on top of Rodgers before he can take his drop. Lawrence Timmons also blitzes and is slowed down enough to give Rodgers time to side-step the rush and stay upright. This is the classic inside cross-over blitz you saw the Packers use quite a bit that season. Also notice Ryan Grant’s lack of effort to help out with slowing down Farrior.
Play 2: Packers 2nd and 10 Steelers Blitz:
Farrior and Timmons switch positions, but again come with a cross-over blitz. Farrior is slowed just enough by a Grant shoulder bump this time, but Scott Wells is slow to react to Timmons who is blitzing right in front of him. Wells is only able to graze Timmons, who takes Rodgers to the turf just after the throw. Totally Scot Wells fault on this play.
Play 3: Packers 3rd and 10 Steelers Blitz:
On this play, the Steelers blitz again, but this time from their right side. James Harrison takes an inside rush, trying to occupy 2 Packers offensive lineman while they bring Timmons and CB Ike Taylor off the edge. The Packers play this one perfectly. Rodgers says something to Brandon Jackson and you can see him looking to the Packers left, anticipating a blitzer. As soon as the ball is snapped, Jackson hustles over and pickes up the blitzing Taylor, showing Ryan Grant how it’s done. In addition, Daryn Colledge smartly lets Clifton take Harrison inside, and kicks out behind him to pick up Timmons. This is how you draw it up and it’s a play I’ve seen Colledge miss way too often. Here, he was perfect. Oh, and by the way, in a scene that has since been repeated quite often, James Jones has the ball go through his hands.
Play 4: Steelers 1st and 10 Touchdown:
After the Packers punt, The Steelers immediately go after the matchup they want; the speedy Mike Wallace vs. the recently inserted into the lineup Jarret Bush. It was no contest. Bush is seen performing his patented flailing of the arms move, as he once again can’t locate the ball and then can’t locate Wallace either, whiffing on his attempted tackle. In another replay not shown here, Nick Collins is seen looking back disgustedly at Bush after the play and Mike McCarthy has some words for him when he gets back to the sideline.
Play 5: Packers 1st and 10 Driver Near Miss:
The Packers get the ball back after the Pittsburgh kickoff, but as was the Packers’ way last season, there’s a penalty on the return, moving the ball back to the twenty. The Packers execute a perfect play action, which freezes the Pitt linebackers and CB Ike Taylor, who was probably coming on a blitz again. Rodgers takes a shot down field to an open Donald Driver, who just doesn’t have enough burst to catch up with the ball, as it goes off of his fingertips.
Play 6: Packers 2nd and 15 Steelers Blitz:
On 2nd and 10, the Packers have their second penalty of the first minute, as Josh Sitton is called for a false start. On the ensuing play, Scott Wells goes out of his way to go after Josh Sitton’s man, leaving a huge gap for both Farrior and Timmons to come through. Ryan Grant does his best imitation of a Spanish bullfighter and Aaron Rodgers is absolutely rocked with a quasi helmet-to-helmet hit that does not draw a flag. It’s hard to figure what Wells and Grant were thinking here, other than if you look at how they finish off their plays, it appears like they were playing for a screen. Grant turns and looks for the ball and Wells turns upfield as if ready to lead a screen. the only thing is, the other linemen don’t appear to be running a screen, so it’s hard to tell. Perhaps the Steelers were in there so fast they just completely blew up everyone’s assignments. In any case, the Steelers continue to come at Rodgers hard. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say they were doing some head hunting, here.
All of what you see above took place in the very first minute of the game. Talk about setting a tone. I point all of this out because I feel we are going to see a lot of the same tactics employed by Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. They know that the best chance they have to not get burned deep is to give Rodgers no time and if possible, knock him silly. Especially now with Rodgers’ history of concussions.
From the Packers’ perspective, some semblance of a running game will be important, so they can then employ some play action passes to give Rodgers more time, like on the pass attempt to Driver above. More importantly, there can be no protection mistakes by the Packers. Their execution HAS to resemble play #3, not # 1, 2 or 4.
On the other side of the ball, Jarret Bush or Josh Bell will not be on the field for the Steelers to exploit. Bush may seem some time in the dime, but he certainly won’t be asked to cover Mike Wallace on-on-one. the Packers have new weapons to handle that job; Tramon Williams or Sam Shields, the Florida Flash.
It will be interesting to see who Capers chooses for the task of covering Wallace. Only one thing is certain; as fast as Wallace is, he’s not going to outrun Sam Shields. No one is.
So as we look back at that game, sure, there are significant differences in both teams since that cold December day in 2009. It may not be possible to draw parallels between that game and this one. But the differences favor the Packers. The Steelers will struggle to score more 21 points against the Packers’ defense. So the question is, can the Packers protect Rodgers enough to let him torch the Steelers secondary? As of this writing, this is my key to the game. More on this later in the week.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.