I’m not a NFL coordinator and therefore won’t act like I hold the secrets on how either team can win Super Bowl XLV. (Wait a minute – I don’t hold any secrets? What the fu…)
When it comes down to it, putting together a solid game plan is only half the battle. The players still have to execute and avoid mistakes and a great scheme won’t save a team that turns the ball over and commits penalties. But here are five ways the Packers can get the upper hand on the Steelers and take home the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. (Don’t worry Pittsburgh fan, I’ll do one for the Steelers, too.)
1. Get the Steelers’ base defense off the field.
Mike McCarthy is a smart guy but he’s not going to throw anything at Dick LeBeau that the defensive coordinator hasn’t already seen in his 35-plus years of coaching. That’s why it’s important that McCarthy doesn’t overthink things. Yes, James Starks gives Green Bay’s offense more balance. But James Starks isn’t going to win Super Bowl XLV – not when Pittsburgh is allowing just 61.6 yards per game. The strength of the Steelers’ defense is its front seven. When LeBeau can keep his base on the field, he can disguise his pressure and be as aggressive as he wants to be. When opposing teams have had success against Pittsburgh, they’ve forced the Steelers into their nickel package early. That’s why the use of three-and-four receiver sets is vital for the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has an outstanding release and he knows how to get the ball out of his hand quickly. Keeping a running back in to block will be key, as LeBeau will probably drum up pressure in efforts to keep Rodgers out of rhythm. But if the Packers can keep nickel back William Gay on the field and successfully attack Bryant McFadden (who was burned by Braylon Edwards earlier this season and who also has been dealing with an abdominal injury), then Green Bay should have plenty of success offensively. They certainly have the weapons to attack Pittsburgh’s secondary.
2. Shut down Mendenhall.
Excuse the simplicity of this point but it’s important: the Packers must stop Rashard Mendenhall because quite frankly, he may be the key to whether or not Pittsburgh wins on Sunday. When Mendenhall rushed for over 80 yards this season, the Steelers were 6-1 (which includes their win over the Jets in the AFC title game). In their four losses this year, Mendenhall rushed for only 79 (vs. Ravens), 71 (Saints), 50 (Patriots) and 99 yards (Jets). And in those losses, only once did he carry the ball over 20 times (against Baltimore in Week 4). Everyone saw what happened when the Packers took a two-touchdown lead against the Falcons in the Divisional Round: Michael Turner was rendered useless and Atlanta’s offense became one-dimensional. Green Bay’s run defense ranks a respectable 11th, but they’re allowing 107.7 yards per game this season. If Mendenhall rushes for a C-note, then the Packers could be in trouble because that could mean that the Steelers have control of the tempo. But take Mendenhall out (either with good offensive play or stout run defense) and Green Bay may win easily.
3. Win the line of scrimmage defensively.
The main reason the Ravens built a 21-7 halftime lead in the Divisional Round is because their defensive line was beating Pittsburgh’s O-line like a rusted, old Chevy. Cory Redding’s 13-yard fumble return for a touchdown at the end of the first quarter was set up when Terrell Suggs beat Flozell Adams around the edge. (It also helped that nobody thought to jump on the loose ball, even though no whistle had been blown.) Ben Roethlisberger is skilled at buying himself more time by moving around the pocket but if he constantly has to do it because Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji are in his face, then he’ll eventually make a mistake. The Packers have a serious advantage in the trenches now that Maurkice Pouncey isn’t playing. Doug Legursky is a fine backup, but that’s a matchup that Raji has to win. Likewise for Matthews, who provides a mismatch against either Adams or Jonathan Scott, who are below average pass blockers. It’s important that the Packers’ rushers don’t bite on Big Ben’s pump fakes. He’ll use them to buy himself extra time and hang defenders out to dry.
4. Stay Aggressive.
As John Paulsen pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Mike McCarthy has a tendency to take his foot off the gas when his team takes a lead. He did against the Eagles and kept Philadelphia in the game, although he learned his lesson the following week and Green Bay cruised to any easy win over the Falcons. He tried to stay aggressive against Chicago, even though the Bears’ defense played well after the first quarter. The bottom line is that McCarthy can’t rest on his laurels if the Packers build a lead. I can see him trying to force the running game in the third or fourth quarter when he should be keeping the game in the hands of Aaron Rodgers. Even though James Starks has provided their offense with more balance, McCarthy can’t forget what brought him to the dance: Rodgers and his passing game.
5. Continue to play well along the O-line.
The Packers’ offensive line has its hands full with the likes of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, but they’re no pushovers either. Josh Sitton was one of the best guards in the league this season and didn’t allow a single sack. Rookie Bryan Bulaga was beaten badly by Miami’s Cameron Wake earlier in the year, but he’s been solid ever since. Perhaps Green Bay’s biggest concern is that Chad Clifton doesn’t get injured. When he was replaced by T.J. Lang for a couple of series in the NFC title game, Julius Peppers took over. But all things considered, Clifton is healthy and should be rested after not playing for two weeks. As mentioned in point No. 1, McCarthy would also be wise to leave a running back in for protection, especially when the Packers use three-and-four receiver sets.
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Tags: 2011 Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Dick Lebeau, Doug Legursky, Flozell Adams, Green Bay Packers, James Starks, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike McCarthy, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall, Super Bowl Predictions, Super Bowl XLV, Super Bowl XLV Preview