Football fans rejoice. Our time has come once again.
While the Packers may have been a more accurate Super Bowl prediction in the pre-season, the fact that these two teams meet on Sunday for pro football’s biggest prize is not only fitting, but it offers the Pack a shot at some revenge. While this Sunday’s game will in no way resemble last year’s shootout between these two teams, it was that game—with Roethlisberger’s TD pass at the gun winning it for Pittsburgh—that has gotten a lot of play and a lot of attention. Again, it’s fun for taking up time on SportsCenter, but as far as Sunday goes, this game will be the polar opposite of what we get inside Jerry Jones’ one billion dollar baby.
With that out of the way, the indoor element plays to both quarterbacks airing it up. Rodgers is the best indoor QB in pro football and Big Ben’s “sandlot” approach to certain situations is even more dangerous with ideal conditions and 72 degree weather. Unfortunately for both men, their want (and maybe need) to air the ball out could come back to bite them. Both men showed in their respective title games that they are not invincible when letting the ball fly, especially when playing against a talented and capable defense.
And therein lies the rub to this game, and the reason this will not be a shootout: defense. Last year, when these teams met, the word had no meaning and seemed to be almost a joke when uttered in reference to any moment of that game. However, this year these are two of the best defenses in pro football, have the top two defensive players in football (according to the votes), and are the top scoring defenses in pro football—something that hasn’t happened in a Super Bowl with a full regular season behind it in 37 years.
The other defensive factor to consider in this game is that these are the two most physical defenses in pro football. The Jets and Bears and Ravens may try to make a case for themselves, but James Harrison’s fines, Troy Polamalu’s big plays, Clay Matthews’ domination of the NFC, and the fact that a 100-yard rushing game on either of these defenses was rare this season, all point to the better defense providing its team with a path to victory. I am not dismissing the accomplishments, talent, and playmaking ability of either quarterback. And a bad game from either quarterback will mean defeat for his team. But this game will be about which defense is able to make more third down stops, hard hits on the opposing quarterback, and simply making those big plays that defenses tend to make in the big games.
Both QB’s can be described as “tough as nails” and will need to be as both can expect to do a fair amount of scrambling and to be hurried and hit often. The reason for this is because both offensive lines are suspect for differing reasons. While injuries have been prevalent on both sides when it comes to the O-line, that will mainly be a factor for Pittsburgh with their banged up line’s effectiveness under duress will be key to how well Big Ben is protected and how much he will have to deal with Matthews and Co. With the Pack, it’s more about talent on the line, not health. The Packers’ offensive line and its reserves are mostly a group of young guys still making the transition to the pro game. Unnecessary penalties and a large amount of little mistakes through the season and playoffs may not have hurt the Pack irreparably during that period, but could prove problematic on Sunday if the mistakes pile up. And the veterans aren’t immune to this either, by the way. All this adds up to a line that over the last few years has to be one of the worst (if not the worst) among teams that finish with more than five wins every season.
At the end of the day, these two teams are very much alike creating the most similar looking of Super Bowl match-ups in recent time when looking at these teams and how they play side-by-side. There aren’t many differences between the two, but there are a couple.
The main difference in favor of Pittsburgh is Rashard Mendenhall and the fact that Pittsburgh has an effective and reliable running game. James Starks has come on in the playoffs, but failing to gain 100 yards in over 20 carries against Atlanta and Chicago fills me with worry about how he’ll be able to handle Pittsburgh’s D on the biggest stage of them all. And a 20-some carry, eighty yard game would be acceptable under any other circumstance with Rodgers and the passing game behind him. However, and most importantly in regards to Sunday, it would take so much more pressure off of the Packer D—due to the time of possession battle that rushing plays a central role in—as well as Rodgers if Starks or the Packer running game as a whole put up more yards than we’re accustomed to seeing out of them.
In the Packers favor, and the key to their victory on Sunday, is that they have more playmaking receivers and have an offense that can score quicker than Pittsburgh’s. If it comes down to a last-minute drive to the game-winning score (as is the most likely scenario for Sunday), I’d have to go with the green and gold for that reason; Pittsburgh’s offense can score quick when they want to, but they function more on a much more methodical approach (due to them having a running game) than Green Bay.
And even it weren’t a last-minute finish, the Packers seem to be functioning much better as a unit than Pittsburgh and have only had to rely on turnovers and their opponents’ mistakes in the win over Chicago—a game they were winning the whole time—while Pittsburgh’s defense had to bail them out in both of their playoff wins.
Green Bay 24, Pittsburgh 20
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XLV, Troy Polamalu