Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Preview & Prediction

..........#6 Packers (10-6, 3-0) vs. #2 Steelers (12-4, 2-0)

Finally, we’re down to the last two teams standing in the 2010 NFL season. Super Bowl XLV will feature two fairly similar clubs who took quite different routes to reach Dallas.

In the AFC you have the Steelers, recipients of two of the last five Lombardi trophies. To get this far they won two hard fought contests against strong defensive teams at home by a total of 12 points. Pittsburgh needed a couple of miscues by #5 seed Baltimore to overcome a 14 point halftime deficit and move on to the Conference Championship game. Tied with just over two minutes to play, the Ravens inexcusably let Antonio Brown get lose for 58 yards on a 3rd and 19 to keep Pittsburgh from having to punt it back to them. Five plays later Rashard Mendenhall scored the go ahead TD. The following week Pittsburgh got out to a huge 21 point lead at the break against the #6 seed Jets only to total a whopping 75 yards and 0 points in the second half. They were one goal line series of questionable calls from Jets OC Brian Schottenheimer away from losing that lead. In the end, it was another big play from Brown, this time converting a 3rd and 6 for 14 yards, that got them to the final round of the playoffs.

Representing the NFC are the Green Bay Packers, a team that hasn’t sniffed the biggest of all stages in 13 seasons. After winning the last two games of the regular season (playoff games essentially) against the Giants and Bears, Green Bay traveled to Philadelphia where they defeated the high powered #3 seed Eagles behind three Aaron Rodgers TDs and 123 yards by rookie rusher James Starks. They topped that feat the following week when they spanked the #1 seed Falcons in the Georgia Dome on the strength of four second quarter TDs. Green Bay capped off their march to Dallas by beating the #2 seed Bears in a game that drew more attention for the opposing QBs inability to finish the contest rather than its result. That gave them three victories against the top three seeds in the conference, all contests in which Green Bay controlled the temp and was clearly the better team.

Pittsburgh – 2 wins, both at home, against the #5 and #6 seeds
Green Bay – 3 wins, all on the road, against the #1, #2, and #3 seeds

With the Cowboys making an early exit from the playoff picture this season, the Super Bowl will once again be a road game for both teams. Pittsburgh won 7 of 8 away from home this year, while the Packers were an unflattering 3-5 away from Green Bay. While Pittsburgh has the Super Bowl experience I believe ignorance could be bliss for these Packers. Pittsburgh will be the best team they’ve faced thus far, but approaching this matchup as business as usual and focusing as much as possible on schemes and assignments rather than media and drama would be the wise way to go. It could work in Green Bay’s favor that they’ve had to fight for their lives away from home for the last three contests. Playing under ideal conditions inside Jerry Jones’ house will benefit both offenses, but one could say Green Bay has the bigger advantage seeing as how a lot of their passing game consists of Rodgers hitting receivers in stride so that they can maximize yard after catch opportunities.

If this one is anything like the last time these two teams hooked up, it’s going to be one hell of a Super Sunday. In week 15 of last season, Pittsburgh responded to a Green Bay score just before the two minute mark in the fourth quarter with a 19 yard TD from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace on the game’s final play. That 37-36 thriller featured 94 QB passes, 973 combined total yards, four fourth quarter lead changes, and surprisingly, 0 turnovers. Both Rodgers and Roethlisberger threw for three scores, but Pittsburgh’s passer lit up the Packers’ secondary for an astounding 503 yards passing, the highest yardage total in Roethlisberger’s 111 games (including the playoffs) as a professional.

While expecting a repeat of that high scoring affair may be asking a bit much, I think we’re going to see a few crooked numbers on the scoreboard. After all, three of the last four Super Bowls have had their point total exceed 45. Yes, this game will feature a Pittsburgh defense that ranks first in yards allowed per play, sacks, rushing yards allowed per game and per play, and rushing TDs allowed. It will also include a Green Bay unit that was first in opposing QB passer rating and second in interceptions and sacks. As good as these defenses are, I believe it would be foolish to expect them to shut down an on fire Aaron Rodgers and super clutch Ben Roethlisberger.

A couple of guys who will be shut down for the big one are Maurkice Pouncey and Aaron Smith. Pouncey is the biggest injury story line of the Super Bowl, having sprained and/or broken his left ankle last week against the Jets. Second year backup Doug Legursky came on and, fourth quarter safety aside, held up well against Sione Pouha. No offense to Pouha, but he’s no BJ Raji. In addition to his pick six of a Caleb Hanie last week against the Bears, Raji has been absolutely dominant in shutting down the opposition’s run game this postseason. He’s the main reason they held Philly to 81, Atlanta to 45, and Chicago to 83. This aspect of the game, even possibly this one matchup, will determine the outcome of the Super Bowl in my opinion. I believe that for the Steelers to succeed, they will need to do so on the shoulders and legs of Rashard Mendenhall. Green Bay ranked 17th in the league this season in rushing yards allowed per game at 114.9. With Green Bay being so solid against the pass and with Tramon Williams being a one man field flipper this postseason, you know Pittsburgh is going to want to establish that run game. They’re going to hand it to Mendenhall early and often, and how Green Bay, specifically Raji, responds should determine who wins.

If you’ve been paying attention, you shouldn’t be surprised by who I’m picking. Might as well say it now. I expect the Packers to win this one. Pittsburgh has trouble with teams that spread it out, as evidenced by their outings against New Orleans (Brees 305 yd, 2 TD) and New England (Brady 350 yd, 3 TD). Just as Pittsburgh will look to establish Mendenhall and the run game, Green Bay will want to unleash Rodgers on a vulnerable Steelers secondary. I expect James Starks to get some courtesy, timely carries, but make no mistake. If the Packers are to produce multiple scoring drives, it’s going to happen on the arm of Rodgers. Also, watch out for Rodgers to make a few plays with his legs, escaping after Harrison and Woodley go or are taken beyond the pocket. Something tells me he’s going to pick up more than one key first down by taking off for the sticks. As impressive as Rodgers has performed, Green Bay’s defense is the reason they’re playing this Sunday. A healthy Cullen Jenkins lining up next to Raji is almost unfair to the opposition. Everybody knows what Clay Matthews brings, and Desmond Bishop is still under the radar despite filling in fabulously since Nick Burnett went on IR. Last but not least is Charles Woodson, the 13 year veteran still seeking his first NFL championship. I don’t believe there will be a hungrier player in Cowboys Stadium this Sunday than him.

Both teams face similar questions. Will Troy Polamalu make a big play on an errant Rodgers pass? Will Williams get his fourth playoff interception at Roethlisberger’s expense? Will James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, or Clay Matthews come up with the key sack?

Again, I’m going with the Packers, but this should be a close competitive contest one way or the other. I believe that in the end, Raji will overmatch and overwhelm Legursky, Green Bay’s offensive line will do a better job of protecting the passer than Pittsburgh, and Rodgers will be the one making the clutch play in the end this time around.

Go crazy Packer fans!

Green Bay 31 – Pittsburgh 27

Super Bowl XLV MVP – Aaron Rodgers

Key team stats (regular season):

Yards per game
PIT – 276.8 (2nd)
GB – 309.1 (5th)

Yards per play
PIT – 4.5 (1st)
GB – 5.1 (9th)

Passing yards per game
PIT – 214.1 (12th)
GB – 194.2 (5th)

Passing TD allowed:
PIT – 15 (3rd)
GB – 16 (4th)

40+ yd pass plays allowed
PIT – 7 (10th)
GB – 8 (16th)

PIT – 21 (5th)
GB – 24 (2nd)

PIT – 48 (1st)
GB – 47 (2nd)

QB Rating
PIT – 73.1 (2nd)
GB – 67.2 (1st)

Rushing yards per game
PIT – 62.8 (1st)
GB – 114.9 (17th)

Rushing yards per play
PIT – 3.0 (1st)
GB – 4.7 (28th)

Rushing TD allowed
PIT – 5 (1st)
GB – 6 (3rd)

20+ yd rushes allowed
PIT – 1 (1st)
GB – 10 (10th)

Yards per game
PIT – 345.3 (14th)
GB – 358.1 (9th)

Yards per play
PIT – 5.6 (11th)
GB – 5.7 (6th)

Passing yards per game
PIT – 225.1 (14th)
GB – 257.8 (5th)

Passing TD
PIT – 22 (21st)
GB – 31 (4th)

Sacks allowed
PIT – 43 (25th)
GB – 38 (19th)

40+ yd pass plays
PIT – 11 (6th)
GB – 11 (6th)

Rushing yards per game
PIT – 120.2 (11th)
GB – 100.4 (24th)
(for the playoffs, PIT 3rd at 118.5 and GB 4th at 118)

Rushing yards per carry
PIT – 4.1 (17th)
GB – 3.8 (25th)

Rushing TDs
PIT – 15 (8th)
GB – 11 (18th)

20+ yd rushes
PIT – 16 (4th)
GB – 3 (31st)


  1. Excellent analysis. Best as I can tell, yours might be the only exercise in the written word that seems to bring up that New England (and New Orleans) handled the Steelers with relative ease. Pittsburgh got a real break in the AFC championship game matchup; against teams with quarterbacks that can scan the field quickly and make good reads, their back 4 tends to get exposed some.

    For some reason, the media seem to have decided the Steelers have some sort of 1970s Steel Curtain pass rush. Maybe I'm nuts, but I simply didnt see it, and if I were Dick Lebeau, I would be very concerned as to how long both Flacco and Sanchez got to sit in the cradle. It looked like the kid had a bum wing in the AFC final, because he certainly didnt hit on some throws I saw him make earlier in the year. If Rodgers is healthy, I expect the Packers to put the pressure on the Steelers to keep up. That's a tall order when you're without your best offensive lineman.

    But of course, nothing means anything if one team is determined to put the ball on the carpet or throw interceptions. All bets are off then, and even the 1976 Bucs could have beat the 1976 Raiders if the Silver and Black had turned the ball over....oh...say...12 times.


  2. Thanks TPE. Pittsburgh’s games against New Orleans and New England showed me that if you have a QB who can read coverages quickly (such as Brees, Brady, or Rodgers) you’ll have sufficient chances to make big plays against this defense. Granted, the Packers OL surrendered more sacks than either the Saints or Patriots, but the combination of Rodgers’ mobility, vision, and quick strike ability along with the tremendous route running by his entire set of receivers (Jennings, Jones, Driver, Nelson) is lethal. Like the Saints without Pierre Thomas, the Packers ended up running the ball when they wanted to, not because they had to. You can’t stop them. You can only hope to contain them.

    Brady and Brees combined for 64 completions on this secondary, so I’m pretty confident in Rodgers’ ability to make plays tomorrow. Throw in, as I mentioned before, his ability to create with his legs when Pittsburgh overpursues. Look for Rodgers to get a big gainer with his legs early (possibly by design) as Green Bay looks to take advantage of an amped up Pittsburgh pass rusher at the outset of the game. I certainly don’t expect Green Bay to score every time they have the ball, but the longer Rodgers can go without making a turnover, the better the Packers’ chances of winning.

    Yeah, it’s going to be quite the difference going from defending Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez to Aaron Rodgers. In those matchups, more so against New York, Pittsburgh’s defense was able to dictate the majority of the action. They won’t be able to bully the Packers.

    As a Packers supporter, the main thing that “worries” me is that Pittsburgh, specifically Roethlisberger, doesn’t lose big games. Harrison and Woodley are two of the game’s better pass rushers, but other than that, there isn’t an individual front seven threat that gets to the passer with regularity. Timmons makes his plays, but he’s doing most of that running laterally. You always have to worry about Polamalu but not as much when he’s banged up. I didn’t go into detail about it, but the Steelers aren’t trotting out a 100% healthy SS tomorrow. Sure at 75% or whatever he is he’s still better than most of the other players at his position, but I don’t think he’ll be the guy to beat the Packers’ passing game if it indeed happens.

    Yeah, Raji vs. Legursky is going to be the spotlight matchup all night. How many snaps will Raji disrupt, and how many times will he force Roethlisberger outside into the arms of Clay Matthews? Green Bay gave up too many sack opportunities the last time these two teams faced each other. They’ll have to finish plays better if they want to win this time.

    Turnovers are always key, but I think more so in Green Bay’s corner tomorrow. I believe they’re the better team, and as long as they protect the football, I don’t see them losing. Get loose with the football, and you’re giving an opposition made up of a bunch of winners the opportunity to take home another title.

  3. outstanding call on the score.

    i dont know if the team with the best 22 on the field last night won once shields, driver AND woodson had to stand on the sidelines, but i am sure that when teams give up a touchdown on an int-return, those teams are 0-10 in super bowls.

    the packers lost pro bowl caliber players early in the season. they are going to certainly be a lot better next year, assuming such an absurd number of personnel are not lost to injury again. so while i realize that green bay is not gonig to win the super bowl every year, i am pretty sure they are going to be in everbody elses way for the better part of this decade.

    you know how everyone talks about how fast rodger's release is? yeah, of course it is, but what i am more impressed with is how damn accurate he is independent of his release position. over the top, 3/4 motion and almost sidearm sometimes, his ability to fit it in a window no matter his arm angle is almost...well..FARVEAN.


  4. Thank you sir!
    What’s more impressive? That prediction or this one?
    “Super Bowl XLV
    Packers beat Colts 34-24
    (MVP - Aaron Rodgers)”

    Green Bay losing Woodson was key to the Steelers getting back in the game in my opinion. There’s quite a drop off to Jarrett Bush, and Roethlisberger took advantage of him a couple of times. If Woodson doesn’t break his collarbone, the Packers win by double digits.

    Like the game against Chicago, the Packers jumped out to an early two score lead, and while they looked to be the better team all night, their opponent had a chance to win in the final minutes. If James Jones catches that ball in stride at the start of the third quarter instead of having his all too common drop, Green Bay has a 28-10 lead, and Pittsburgh is in a huge hole. If Jordy Nelson catches that last attempt to the endzone, they don’t settle for a FG, and the game is over sooner. I point this out just to mention how scary it is that the Packers continue to win despite leaving a ton of points on the field.

    You mention their injuries. Here are the guys they placed on IR this year:
    Nick Barnett
    Josh Bell
    Morgan Burnett
    Jermichael Finley
    Ryan Grant
    Justin Harrell
    Spencer Havner
    Brad Jones
    Anthony Levine
    Derrick Martin
    Mike Neal
    Marshall Newhouse
    Brady Poppinga
    Anthony Smith
    Mark Tauscher

    Included in that list are:
    Finley – 55 receptions and 5 TD in ’09; played only 5 games in ‘10
    Grant – coming off two 1,200 yard seasons; 11 TD in ’09; 8 carries in ‘10
    Barnett – veteran ILB replaced after 4 games by Desmond Bishop who had a breakout season
    Neal & Burnett – two guys expected to contribute as safeties; played in 6 games combined

    As long as you have an elite signal caller you’ve got a shot. That’s how New England and Indy continue chugging along despite players dropping off left and right. When you consider guys like Rodgers, Starks, Grant, Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Finley, Bulaga, Raji, Matthews, Bishop, Williams, Collins, and Shields, that’s one hell of a young nucleus. That doesn’t even consider Woodson who still has a couple good years in him. Rodgers is my favorite individual player, and I root for the Packers as long as they’re not playing the Bucs. They could be the team to beat for the rest of the decade.

    You bring up another good point about Rodgers’ ability to consistently accurate despite varying delivery points. Whether he’s in the pocket, moving laterally, or turned sideways, he puts the ball on a line on the money every time. He puts it exactly where he wants, regardless the receiver, regardless who’s covering him. That’s elite ability.

    What stands out most to me is how confident Rodgers became as a leader of the offense in the playoffs, hitting his peak in his dominance of the Falcons. He’s always had the skill, but when you develop that true/steady confidence in that role, your play gets elevated to a whole new level. It’s like always being in the zone. That’s the football I enjoy most; when a player at his position is able to exert his will on the opponent with ease and regularity. I believe that’s what awaits Aaron Rodgers.

  5. Remember this?
    “Rodgers owns a career 97.2 passer rating, and if he’s able to maintain his level of play for his next 364 passes, he’ll qualify as the all-time highest rated passer. Rivers’ 43-24 QB-INT ratio in his first two years as a starter is impressive, but Rodgers was able to put up a remarkable 58-20 in his first 32 games. Rodgers might have seemed like a waste of a first round pick sitting behind Brett Favre for those first few seasons, but the Packers certainly haven’t missed the silver fox on the field since he “retired”. Even behind an atrocious offensive line in ’09 which aided in him being sacked a league-high 50 times, Rodgers was able to throw for 4,434 yards, 30 TDs, and a 103.2 passer rating, all good for 4th best in their respective categories. He was unable to lead the Packers to a victory in his first playoff appearance, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort on his part. Rodgers threw 4 TDs, ran for another, completed 67% of his passes, and had an amazing 121.4 passer rating at Arizona. There’s not much to not like about Aaron Rodgers. He’s not as emotional on the field as Rivers, but he has a very calm, confident aura about him. He keeps his head downfield at all times and is capable of beating teams with both his arms and legs. No, he’s not going to outrun a lot of NFL defenders, but Rodgers has rushed for 9 TDs in his first two years as starter, best in the league among QBs during that span. He’s two years younger than Rivers and is supported by an already impressive defense that keeps adding solid talent at key positions. I look for Rodgers to continue his march towards history and gain at least one postseason win this upcoming season. That won’t be enough to vault him into the discussion of the all-time greats, but I’m predicting that in 5 years time, Aaron Rodgers will be the consensus #1 QB in the NFL. I love his future, and I believe that he’s the eventual torchbearer, not only for his position but for the league as a whole.”

  6. Not only do I remember it, I commented upon it thus:

    "Only Aaron Rodgers makes my cut (Brees would, but he's sort of a tweener in age). Whenever I read a quote like Antrell Rolle's, I am impressed: 'I don't ever want to face him again in my life. I am dead serious. I'll face Drew Brees any day of week before I face him again.' Pretty telling."

    I said this to my Minnesota in-laws the first week of the playoffs this year: If the Packers had had the guts to pull the trigger on Favre one year earlier, they might have a 5th Lombardi.

  7. It's scary to think how good he's going to be now that he has the confidence that comes with winning a championship.