Witness Rodgers' Rise: Pack Will Bring Home the LombardiPosted:Feb 4th, 2011 3:58 pm
OK, here we go. The wait has been interminable. But we're getting closer. Time to break it down and try to predict how it's all going to go down. Hoping the snow is done falling in Dallas and my flight leaves, as scheduled, on Saturday. I'm heading to the airport right after my radio show.
By now, you've considered all the matchups. You've heard all of the talking heads weigh in. Most predict a close, high scoring game. Here's how I see it:
When the Packers have the ball: Go back to Super Bowl XLVIII. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and company couldn't move the ball for most of the first half. Then they tried something different: they put four receivers on the field and forced the Steelers into nickel and dime packages. It worked like a charm and the Cardinals raced up and down the field.
Not every team has the tools to do this, but the Packers do. I wouldn't be surprised if they went to it on their second play from scrimmage and if they get a first down on their first series they might even go in to no-huddle mode to cause some confusion and maybe put some quick points on the board.
The Packers have four top flight receivers and at least one of them will have a favorable matchup every time. What this also does is make Dick LeBeau decide if he wants to go to his dime package, something he doesn't like to do. It puts corner Anthony Madison on the field, replacing linebacker Lawrence Timmons. I like that trade-off; you can bet Mike McCarthy does too. It also forces Troy Polamalu into coverage, and out of pass rush mode. That's preferable, too. Rodgers will be dealing with keeping away from linebackers James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley. That's enough to deal with.
I expect Rodgers to do what he does on fast, indoor tracks. Move the ball efficiently and effectively--hitting eight or nine different receivers throughout the game. It feels like a big night for James Jones: after a big night in Atlanta, he was quiet against the Bears. I get the feeling he will post the best numbers among the receivers. Don't be surprised if you see the Pack use the screen game, too. Jackson and/or Starks will hit on a couple big plays here, to counter the over-pursuit of the Steelers' pass rush.
As for the running game, I don't expect much here. The formula in the first three playoff games was a balanced attack, with enough attempts to keep the defense guessing. I'm not sure that's a necessity in the Super Bowl. The Steelers allowed just three yards per carry this season and they've been even better in the playoffs. They'll use the run occasionally--I expect Starks to get 10-15 carries, but they will spend most of the game in three-four even five receiver sets (provided Driver's quad permits), spread out that LeBeau defense and pick them apart.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Packers have been much tougher to run against since Howard Green entered the picture, allowing Cullen Jenkins to come in on passing downs. The 1,000 pounds that Green, Raji and Pickett bring to the buffet table have been nearly impassible for the Giants, Bears, Eagles and Falcons to run against. I expect the Steelers to rely on the arm of Big Ben and his ability to extend plays. While future Hall of Famer Hines Ward is being de-emphasized in the offense (except in the red zone), the Steelers have a nice group of receivers in Wallace, Sanders, Brown and the veteran Randle-El. They never stop working to get open because Roethlisberger loves to hang on to the ball, extend plays and find someone to get open.
The Pack will have to keep an eye on tight end Heath Miller, who had a monster game in the '09 meeting and has been huge in these playoffs. I think Woodson will pay some attention to him. He's a big target and steps up in big moments.
The Packers' biggest edge here is the makeshift offensive line that the Steelers offer. Without rookie Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, they lose the leader of the line. Doug Legursky should be reliable, but doesn't have the athleticism of Pouncey and Raji should be able to expose him. At right tackle, Flozell Adams was cut by the Cowboys and now finds himself in the Super Bowl. He gets the task of keeping Clay Matthews away from Big Ben. I like #52 in this matchup.
Special Teams/Coaching: I don't see any huge advantage on special teams. Antonio Brown has had a couple key returns, but the Packers have faced better returners in each playoff round and for the most part, have handled them well. The Packers' return game has pretty much been a disaster. I don't think we'll have a Desmond Howard moment in this game. I also don't see a big edge with kickers. The Steelers replaced veteran Jeff Reed with Suisham earlier this year and he's been pretty solid. Mason Crosby may be counted on to win this thing. I think I speak for everyone when I say, I hope he doesn't have to.
I see this game coming down to Aaron Rodger and I think he's ready for this moment. His passer rating in domes is 111 and his most recent Dome effort was perfection. Yes, this is a tougher defense, but with two weeks to prepare and facing a mediocre secondary, I expect a 300 yard passing day and a couple of big plays with his feet.
For some reason, I have a feeling this one might go to overtime--that might be too much to take, especially if you consider the Pack's recent record in overtime games. But ultimately it feels like it's the Packers' time. They've got more momentum and they're battle-tested.
The Pack brings home the Lombardi and wins its 4th Super Bowl title and 13th NFL title. In come-from-behind fashion, a late touchdown wins it: Packers 27 Steelers 21
I'll post one final pre-game blog, from Dallas on Sunday morning. GO PACK!