Know Thy Enemy: Green Bay Packers

And so, the time has come at last…

For the past two weeks, you’ve no doubt heard an endless parade of “experts” analyze the match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers from any number of angles.  From Ron Jaworski and his 172 hours of tape study to Shannon Sharpe mumbling something in his mush-mouth assassination of the English language, everybody has an opinion.  It’s paralysis of analysis to the nth degree.  When it comes time to determining the deciding factor in Super Bowl XLV, it comes down to one simple thing.

Slippery balls.

No, I’m not speaking of Ben Roethlisberger‘s unbreakable pair.  I’m referring to John Clayton’s assertion that Super Bowl balls are slippier than regular game balls because they have extra logos painted on them.  The Professor, you see, believes Aaron Rodgers‘ inexperience with gripping the special Super Bowl edition may lead to an unfortunate accident or two.  Makes sense as that tends to happen when squeezing strange and unfamiliar balls.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs. PACKERS OFFENSE

GM Ted Thompson looks like a genius for jettisoning Brett Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers.  He’s the modern-day gunslinger without the phony drama, overpriced Wranglers, and pictures of his junk floating around the internet.  Rodgers has the rifle-arm and quick release to be a clear heir apparent to the Brady/Manning duo as best pure passing quarterback in the league.  Working without benefit of a running game, Rodgers was a one-man show most of the season and rose to the challenge time and time again.

When he was healthy that is.  See, the story the media has sadly missed out on because they were too busy analyzing videos of Big Ben singing “Piano Man” is that it is very likely Rodgers suffered a concussion in the NFC Championship game.  If you watched his performance, there was a clear drop off in his timing and accuracy after the helmet-to-helmet hit by Julius Peppers.  Being the man he is, and not a rifle-armed vagina like Jay Cutler, I have no doubt he told whatever lie he had to tell in order to stay in the game.

Rodgers has been concussed before.  Twice this season alone to be exact.  If he did indeed suffer a third in less than six months, well, I wouldn’t expect to see him at Mensa meetings during the off-season.  And Steeler Nation no doubt remembers how poorly Ben played post-motorcycle accident when it was whispered the head trauma left him in a perpetual fog.

James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley must hit Rodgers early and often.  I’m not advocating anything dirty nor would I expect anything of that nature seeing as the Steelers play a clean but hard-hitting brand of football everybody but the Ginger Dictator loves.   But the Steelers D have long boasted the reputation of the biggest baddest bullies on the block.  On Sunday, the bullies have to rough up that goofy looking beanpole at every opportunity.

Rookie running back James Starks is a nice story but the Steelers historically dominant run defense shut down All-Pro caliber backs with ease so if they run, he’ll be the bug and they’ll be the windshield.  The game comes down to Rodgers and his cadre of excellent receivers against Dick LeBeau‘s creative blitz schemes and suspect secondary.  One factor in Blitzburgh’s favor is the shaky line of the Pack.  They surrendered 38 sacks a year after giving up a league leading 51 and now play a team who can bring pressure from unexpected places.

On the flip side, this will be the best passing attack the Steelers have faced all year.  The Patriots have a great quarterback but sub-par receivers.  The Ravens have great receivers but a sub-par quarterback.  The Pack have great talent on both ends of the equation.  Donald Driver is the dependable veteran.  Greg Jennings is a big play threat.  Slot men James Jones and Jordy Nelson cause all kind of match-up problems in four-wide sets.

Bryant McFadden practiced this week and appears to be ready to play his regular role after seeing limited action in our previous two playoff games.  A nickel of him, Ike Taylor, and Willie Gay is much preferable to seeing Anthony Madison or Ryan Mundy out there.  Troy Polamalu also practiced a lot more than usual this week which is a positive sign he may return to being the sideline to sideline demon which won him Defensive Player of the Year.  In last year’s Steelers-Packers shootout, the defense got to Rodgers five times without bringing him down.   Convert those opportunities to sacks and I like our chances.

STEELERS OFFENSE vs. PACKERS DEFENSE

What more can be said about Ben Roethlisberger?  The man is simply the best big game quarterback in football.  His numbers haven’t been spectacular this post-season but he has an uncanny knack for making a play when one needs to be made.  There is a fire which burns inside him, an indomitable desire to win, which transcends any statistical measure of greatness.

He’s going to need every ounce of his legendary courage when facing a swarming defense coached by former Steelers defensive coordinator Dom Capers.  Capers has built a defense in Green Bay that is almost the mirror image of what we have here in Pittsburgh although their unit averages only 27 years of age.  NT B.J. Raji is a load in the middle much like our Big Snack.  OLB Clay Matthews is a relentless pass-rusher who can also drop back into coverage not unlike our Silverback.  Last year’s DPOY CB Charles Woodson is the rover, the piece who must be accounted for on every play because you never know where he’ll line up.  Doesn’t have the magnificent flowing locks, though.

Unlike the Steelers, the Packers strength would seem to be in the secondary.  In addition to Woodson, CB Tramon Williams is having a fantastic playoffs.  He’s the best cover corner on the team.  Rookie corner Sam Shields is the unit’s unsung hero, a speedster who can run with anybody.  Altogether, they make up the 5th best pass defense in football.

However, the unit is not without their weaknesses.  The outside linebackers opposite Matthews have combined for only three sacks.  Woodson, while crafty with a nose for the ball, no longer has elite speed at 34 years of age.  And while Raji has emerged in the playoffs, the Pack has been inconsistent against the run.  They finished 18th in run defense allowing 115 yards per game.

When the Steelers won their last Super Bowl, they did so without much of a running game.  Willie Parker was nearing the end of his usefulness as a featured back and the offensive line was mediocre at all positions.  Enter Rashard Mendenhall.  His performance in the AFC Championship game was a defining moment in his young career.

Maurkice Pouncey is a no-go for Sunday.  He gave it a shot but Mike Tomlin wasn’t happy with what he saw.  It’s a major blow without a doubt.   But remember Mendy rushed for almost all of his 100 first half yards with Doug Legursky at center two weeks ago.  Legursky is a natural center with a mauler mentality suited to running the ball.  Pouncey’s mobility in pass protection and ability to recognize defensive shifts and make the appropriate line calls cannot be replaced.  Their ability to run should not be as adversely affected.

Some people are predicting a shootout similar to the epic 2009 meeting.  With these two elite quarterbacks who can blame them?  While I believe the Steelers would be well-served to employ a ground and pound game plan similar to what they used against the Jets, Ben will have to air it out eventually.  That’s when things get interesting.  Hines Ward and Heath Miller have had better statistical seasons but they remain Ben’s go-to guys.   Mike Wallace has been quiet during the postseason although all it takes is isolating him on Woodson one time and he’s off to the races.  Then we have the rooks, Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders, who continue to impress on a weekly basis and have seemingly saved their best football for the biggest games of the year.

Despite the good-natured ribbing between Pittsburgh and Green Bay these past couple weeks, I believe there is a genuine respect between both teams and both fanbases.  And why shouldn’t there be?  This is truly a clash of the titans.  Number two overall defense versus number five.  Best big game quarterback in the league versus brightest up-and-coming young quarterback.  Terrible Towels versus Cheeseheads.  The City of Champions versus Titletown USA.

To quote a certain maniacal clown from The Dark Knight Returns, “And here we go…”

Tags: 2009 Nfl Playoffs Aaron Rodgers Aaron Smith Baltimore Ravens Ben Roethlisberger Big Ben Big Ben Piano Bar Big Ben Piano Man Black And Gold Black And Gold Blog Charles Woodson Charlie Batch Cheeseheads City Of Champions Clay Matthews Dennis Dixon Doug Legursky Fast Willie Parker Flozell Adams Fwp Green Bay Packers Heath Miller Hines Ward James Harrision Lamarr Woodley Maurkice Pouncey Mike Tomlin Nfl Playoffs Nice Pick Cowher Nicepickcowher Nicepickcowher Blog Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers Blog Rashard Mendenhall Ratbirds Ravens-Steelers Roethlisberger Roethlisberger Concussion Santonio Holmes Steeler Nation Steelers Steelers Blog Steelers Nation Stillers Super Bowl Champions Super Bowl Xlv Terrible Towel The Terrible Towel Titletown USA

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