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Super Bowl XLV Preview
by Al McMordie - 01/31/2011
Everyone's looking at the matchups on the field for the Super Bowl as the Packers battle the underdog Steelers, but let's start with the key guys carrying the clipboards on the sidelines. Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin has been here before, just two years ago guiding the Steelers to a victory over Arizona, 27-23. So has his starting quarterback, with Ben Roethlisberger going for his third Super Bowl title here.
Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy is in his first Super Bowl, but he’s no one-shot wonder. He has led the Packers to a top-10 ranking in total offense each of his five seasons, joining New Orleans as the only teams to accomplish that from 2006-10 and was honored as 2007 ‘NFL Coach of the Year’ by Motorola and NFL Alumni. So both coaches are young, but getting the job done over several years.
Green Bay will be trying to win its 13th NFL championship and its fourth Super Bowl. The Packers won Super Bowls I, II and XXXI and lost Super Bowl XXXII. The Packers became the first No. 6-seeded team in the NFC to advance to the Super Bowl since the league went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990. The Steelers did it in the AFC in 2005.
The Packers (13-6 SU/12-7 ATS) have a deadly passing offense behind 26-year-old QB Aaron Rodgers (34 TDs, 13 INTs) and an outstanding defense, on a 5-0 SU, 4-1 ATS run, winning twice as a dog in the postseason. The offense is 8th in yards, No. 5 in passing with 260 yards in the air per game with WRs Greg Jennings and James Jones. The defense held Atlanta to 194 total yards and forced 4 turnovers, then forced 3 more by the Bears.
The Steelers (14-4 SU/12-6 ATS) started 3-1 without their starting QB, but Roethlisberger (19 TDs, 5 INTs) has led them to an 11-3 SU/9-5 ATS run in his 14 starts. They’ve developed a decent ground game (120 yds pg) ranked 11th in the NFL behind RB Rashard Mendenhall (1,273 yards, 3.9 ypc), but the apparent loss of standout rookie center Maurkice Pouncey is one of the biggest stories. He was the No. 19 pick in the first round and has been an exceptional blocker, solidifying an offensive line that was below average a year ago. Remember, Pittsburgh didn’t even make the playoffs last season as defending champ.
The Steelers are going to try to run, just as they did so effectively against the New York Jets. In that game, they frequently ran out of multiple-tight-end formations. The more tight ends you have on the line of scrimmage, the more gaps you've added for a defense to contain. Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, whom offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called "a freak" because of how well he has played, is unlikely to play because of a high ankle sprain. Doug Legursky probably will start in his place, the latest in a long string of offensive line reshuffles this season.
That tends to calm an aggressive, risk-taking defense such as Green Bay's. If the Packers are poised to stop the run in a 3-4 formation — as opposed to bracing for the pass with a 2-4-5 — the Steelers will look to throw. Watch for Pittsburgh to look for a matchup of tight end Heath Miller covered by Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Big Ben has been sacked 26 times in the past 8 games (5 to the Bills, 3 to Ravens, 4 to the Bengals, 3 to Jets, 3 to Carolina, 6 against the Ravens in the playoffs), so Green Bay will unleash the blitz -- though the Jets did in the AFC Championship game and had minimal (2 sacks) success.
Look for the Steelers to throw a deep pass to speedy receiver Mike Wallace, probably early in the game. He led the Steelers with 1,257 yards receiving, 10 TDs, and averaged an astonishing 21 yards per reception! They threw deep to him on their first play from scrimmage when they played the Packers in 2009. Against the Jets, Wallace ran right past cornerback Darrelle Revis and might have scored had the ball not been underthrown. Like the Jets, the Packers have exceptional talent in the secondary.
The Packer secondary is largely unchanged from the regular-season game 14 months ago, won by the Steelers, 37-36, over the Packers. Ben Roethlisberger became only the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 500 yards in that game, three touchdowns and no interceptions, beating the Packers on the final play in December 2009 -- one of the most exciting games played at Heinz Field. Think he can do it again?
Three of the four Green Bay starters remain from that game -- cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams (9 picks) and safety Nick Collins. The Packers defense led the NFL with the lowest opponent passer rating (67.2) and was second with 24 interceptions, one of the reasons they allowed an NFC-low 240 points. After a string of blowouts in the 1990s, we’ve had a nice run of exciting Super Bowls and let’s hope that continues – as well as being profitable! Good luck, as always....Al McMordie. And don't miss my Super Bowl Winner out of a 13-0 ATS Situation. It's available right now.