Matchups for the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Arlington, Texas.
|When the Steelers have the ball|
Pittsburgh typically wants to do exactly what it did in the first half of the AFC championship game: ram the ball down an opponent's throat. Actually, RB Rashard Mendenhall (34) showed plenty of speed and some moves, too, against the Jets, and that's what the Steelers need to see against Green Bay's 18th-ranked rushing defense.
Of course, the Packers' defense isn't likely to consistently miss tackles and be out of position the way the Jets were for 30 decisive minutes. LBs Clay Matthews (52), A.J. Hawk (50) and Desmond Bishop (55) are major reasons Green Bay (13-6) has been stingy against the run in the playoffs, and defensive backs Charles Woodson (21), Tramon Williams (38) and Nick Collins (36) are solid in support. They also excel in pass coverage, along with nickel back Sam Shields (37), a rookie who had two interceptions in the NFC title game.
If Mendenhall can find room to roam behind a depleted offensive line that has been steady but will be without rookie C Maurkice Pouncey (53), who is out with an ankle sprain, the Steelers will keep pounding. But there's vulnerability in their blocking unit, particularly declining RT Flozell Adams (71), and the Packers have been getting production from NT B.J. Raji (90) and DE Cullen Jenkins (77) in all areas. Raji even had a pick for a touchdown against the Bears.
If Pittsburgh (14-4) isn't effective with the run early on, it will keep trying. But there are excellent options in the passing game, which will need to deal with a fair share of blitzing.
QB Ben Roethlisberger (7) has won two Super Bowls in his seven pro seasons. Despite a four-game suspension at the outset of this season for violating the league's personal conduct policy, he guided the Steelers to the NFC North title, a first-round bye, then to a comeback victory over divisional rival Baltimore in the playoffs. Roethlisberger hurt the Jets more with his feet than his arm, yet the Packers are very aware how dangerous he can be as a passer.
His targets, from longtime team leader Hines Ward (86) to speedy Mike Wallace (17) to solid tight end Heath Miller (83) to rising wideouts Antonio Brown (84) and Emmanuel Sanders (88), are formidable. Wallace is the game-breaker and will see lots of Williams or Woodson in coverage. Ward might operate a lot in the slot, which could make him Shields' responsibility.
Roethlisberger has rising confidence in the youngsters, and Ward and Miller provide comfort zones for him.
Two things the Packers must do if they get pressure on Roethlisberger: keep him from escaping for damaging scrambles, and bring him down when they get their hands on him. Both proved too difficult for the Jets.
|When the Packers have the ball|
Until RB James Starks (44) emerged in the playoffs, the Packers had virtually no running game. Starks, Brandon Jackson (32) and John Kuhn (30) aren't likely to get far against the league's top-rated run defense, but the Packers certainly should try to find a ground game.
Green Bay's offensive line doesn't get deserved credit. Anchored by RG Josh Sitton (71) and C Scott Wells (63), it's far more suited for pass protection, but has opened enough holes for Starks to break out, and for the other running backs to contribute. They haven't faced a defense like this in the playoffs, though, and Pittsburgh will try to set an early, physical — some say over-the-top dirty — tone with LBs James Harrison (92), LaMarr Woodley (56) and James Farrior (51), All-Pro S Troy Polamalu (43), and DE Brett Keisel (99).
The Steelers will send defenders from everywhere at QB Aaron Rodgers (12); CB Ike Taylor (24) made a huge hit on Mark Sanchez that caused a fumble leading to the winning points in the AFC title game. Rodgers has been spectacular for more than a month now after a strong regular season, and he uses his legs nearly as well as Roethlisberger — not as powerful, but quicker.
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