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Super Bowl XLV Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers

First of all, congratulations to Mark Fleming, the winner in last night’s drawing of two tickets to Super Bowl XLV who will be joining me in Big ‘D’ for the game on Sunday.

As for the game and how I’m going to play it, one of the biggest issues teams have when facing the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is, among other things, accounting for and trying to neutralize the NFL’s defensive player of the year Steelers’ safety, Troy Polamalu. One of the most obvious ways to do this is to use a five-receiver set which in most instances will dictate forcing Polamalu into coverage, therefore preventing him from causing havoc with blitzes.

I know what you’re thinking. Ok smart guy, so why didn’t all Pittsburgh’s opponents just do this? Well there are a few reasons; the biggest reason teams often shy away from this approach against the Steelers is because it leaves the quarterback without any extra protection and surrenders even the possibility of a running play. Given the pass rushing prowess of Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison, without the personnel to be able to block the plays, without a quarterback to be able to get the ball out quickly and accurately, and without a quick receiving corps comfortable catching the ball over the middle (needing all three of those things) it just won’t work.

There just aren’t many teams in the league that have all of those elements as strengths of their offense. A team that does however is the New England Patriots, and if you recall, in Week 10 Tom Brady and his receivers torched the Steelers going 5 wide often using Danny Woodhead as the 5th guy and threw for 350 yards and 3TD’s with 0 INT’s putting up 39 points.

The Green Bay Packers have a more than capable quarterback with Aaron Rogers with the skills to deliver the ball to the best overall receiving corps in the league in Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Lee, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver. One look at the Packers successful utilization of this formation against the 13-3 NFC South Champion Atlanta Falcons this year shows you that they are more than capable of using this set in game situations against a quality defense.

The Steelers best defensive trait is stopping the run. Other than a few attempts to keep them honest, a short yardage attempt or two, or the Packers attempting to run out the clock however, the Steelers aren’t going to have an opportunity to display their run stopping ability. In Super Bowl XLV you can expect Aaron Rodgers to challenge the records of most pass attempts, completions, and if a few tackles are broken, the most yards passing by a quarterback in a Super Bowl game.

I’m not ignoring the capabilities of the Steelers offense here. While the Steelers certainly have an above average ability to ground and pound the ball, the loss of Steelers center Marquis Pouncey is huge. Even if he ends up playing, he can’t possibly be as effective as he was during the season. You may have notices that without Pouncy, the Steelers did virtually nothing in the second half against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, even though the goal was to run the ball and use the clock with the big lead they had built up.

Over all, the Packers ability to throw the ball on the Steelers defense is the biggest mismatch of the game. The Packers passing game is their biggest strength on offence and the Steelers ability to cover in the secondary is their biggest weakness on defense. With the loss of Ryan Grant, the Packers have been forced to play the majority of the season without a running game and understand how to play that way. The Steelers ability to stop the run simply should be a big factor in the game. Quite frankly, the Steelers know this too and I wouldn’t be surprised to actually see a big run or two from a Packers’ back as the Steelers will certainly be focusing on pass first.

One other thing I’d like to add about the Packers running game is with 5 guys in the pattern and the Steelers secondary down field chasing receivers, often having their backs to the quarterback, look for Aaron Rogers to pile up the rushing yards and convert third downs in the instances when the Steelers are able effectively pressure the quarterback as he’ll be able to tuck the ball and run. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger certainly has this ability too, and will no doubt create similar problems for the Packers defense, however he simply does not possess the speed and ability that Rodgers has of reeling off 20 yards at a clip.

One of the best quotes of the season I read came from the founder of this site, Mike Cardano in his January 7th interview with as he was awarded Contributer of the Year for 2010. With the Packers not yet having secured a playoff spot, when asked the question, “Who wins the Super Bowl”, his answer was this:

“If I had to choose today who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February, it would probably be a shock to most people. I would say the Green Bay Packers. The Packers may be the only team in the NFL that was literally in every single game. When you consider that their six losses were by a total of 20 points, you can see no team in the NFL was ever really able to get their number. There isn't any other team in the NFL we can say that about. And considering some of the injuries they dealt with during the season that was a remarkable feat. Even when their starting QB went down, they conceded nothing. I also think that the experience that Matt Flynn got against the Patriots (and the team with him) may prove valuable before this year is over as Aaron Rodgers has a tendency to take some hits. I would submit that if you gave Flynn another chance to play that last minute of the game over again, Pats fans might not be too happy about the outcome.”

I’ll say this. I believe that if the Steelers win this game, it will be a very close game with Ben Roethlisberger playing his best game of street football, not pretty to watch or on the stats sheet, yet effective in the clutch. I don’t think that will happen however and I think the Packers air attack will simply be too much for the Steelers to overcome. The Packers have quite a defense of their own with an elite pass rusher in Clay Matthews and an elite cover corner in Charles Woodson that should be able to take much of the Mike Wallace big play ability out of the equation. I don’t think the Steelers get a 7th ring on Sunday and I don’t think they cover the 2.5 points either. Barring an unexpected plethora of turnovers by the Packers or total breakdown on special teams, I think the Packers will cover this one fairly easily.

Enjoy the game folks, and remember, if you are piggybacking me it’s because you agree with my assessment of the risk / reward and have conviction yourself, not because I said so. There are no guarantees in this business and my suggestion is that no matter who you are wagering on, that you wager only an amount that you are comfortable with not ruining your enjoyment of the event itself should you lose.

Robert Fairchild is a professional sports gaming professional. He legally wages on professional and collegiate sporting events for a living. Robert is NOT suggesting that you quit your day job and try to wager on sports for a living. He is contributing his thoughts and experience to assist you in a recreational activity that you as an informed adult may choose to take part in.

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