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Which wideouts had the worst hands in 2010?

Green Bay wide receiver James Jones catches an Aaron Rodgers pass in the endzone for the Packer’s third touchdown in the first half of their NFC divisional game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia January 15, 2011. Atlanta Falcon’s Brent Grimes is defending. UPI/Mark Wallheiser.

Certain players take a lot of criticism for dropped passes. James Jones was one of those guys in 2010, especially after he missed an opportunity for a huge gainer in Super Bowl XLV.

The Packers have to decide what to do with Jones this offseason. There was a report that they didn’t offer him a restricted free agent tender, but he says they did. This got me thinking — just how bad were Jones’ drops this year?

The number of passes that a WR drops is not a stat that is widely available. I found this table over at the Washington Post, which allowed me to calculate each player’s drops as a percentage of their targets:

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How will Driver’s quad injury affect the Steelers’ coverage units?

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings (L) and wide receiver Donald Driver play with a video camera prior to Media Day for Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas on February 1, 2011. The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Green Bay Packers on February 6, 2011. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

Donald Driver was added to the Packers’ injury report on Thursday due to a problem with his quad, but Mike McCarthy says he would be shocked if his starting receiver doesn’t play in the Super Bowl.

I’d also be shocked if Driver doesn’t play, as the injury doesn’t sound serious enough to hold him out. That said, how effective will he be? If he’s being held out of practice (even for precautionary measures), then it stands to reason that he’s not at full strength. Will his injury have an effect on the Packers’ passing game?

It’ll be interesting to see what coverages Dick LeBeau uses on Sunday. The Steelers run mostly a cover-2 like the Bears, although LeBeau knows that his corners will also have to man-up in certain situations, which may be a problem seeing as how Bryant McFadden is dealing with an abdominal injury.

With Driver hurt, will LeBeau use Ike Taylor on Greg Jennings and take his chances with McFadden on Driver? Or will he want Taylor to take away Driver and have McFadden cover Jennings with safety help over the top?

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh go to their nickel or even dime package plenty of times throughout the night. But LeBeau wants to avoid the dime as much as possible because that means Lawrence Timmons, a good cover linebacker, comes off the field in favor of Anthony Madison. That’s an advantage for the Packers, just as it was when the Patriots crushed Pittsburgh 39-26 back in November when the Steelers used a lot of dime.

Assuming Driver’s injury isn’t a major concern, the Packers must get the Steelers out of their base defense as much as possible. Again, it’s a major advantage to them to face Pittsburgh’s nickel and dime units because it limits what LeBeau can do with his front seven.

Four questions surrounding Super Bowl XLV

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In our final sponsored post for T.G.I. Friday’s, here are five questions surrounding the Packers and Steelers as they prepare for Super Bowl XLV.

1. Can the Steelers’ O-line hold up?
While the team hasn’t officially ruled him out, it appears as though center Maurkice Pouncey won’t play on Sunday. That means Doug Legursky will once again take his place, just as he did in the AFC title game when Pouncey first suffered the high ankle sprain. Legursky could probably start for many teams around the league, but he’s not the same player Pouncey is. He’s not as strong at the point of attack and he isn’t the mauler Pouncey is in the running game. There’s no doubt Legursky will have his hands full against Packers’ NT B.J. Raji, who has had quite the postseason so far. Of course, Legursky might not be the Steelers’ biggest problem along their offensive line. People forget that they’re starting two backup offensive tackles in Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott, and the latter could have a ton of problems with Clay Matthews. Granted, the Steelers have averaged nearly four touchdowns thus far in the postseason, so clearly they’ve been able to mask their weaknesses. That said, whether or not their O-line can hold up against the Packers’ stout pass-rush is arguably the biggest question surrounding their chances of winning.

2. Will the Packers be able to slow Mendenhall?
When Rashard Mendenhall rushed for over 80 yards this season (including in the playoffs), the Steelers were 6-1. The Packers had trouble this year with power rushing attacks. When teams were patient with the running game and kept pounding the edges of Green Bay’s defense, they had a fair amount of success. The Packers yielded 4.5 yards per carry this season, which was among the worst in the NFL in that category. If the Steelers can get Mendenhall going early, they’ll accomplish a couple of things in the process. For starters, they’ll leave Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s high-powered passing game on the sidelines. The Steelers will also be able to control the tempo of the game and if Green Bay’s safeties have to come up and play run support, then Pittsburgh could open up the play action pass. The Packers must stop Mendenhall.

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Super Bowl XLV Prediction: Steelers vs. Packers

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass against the New York Jets in the second quarter in week 8 of the NFL season at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 31, 2010. The Packers defeated the Jets 9-0. UPI /John Angelillo

When I saw that oddsmakers had made the Packers 2.5-point favorites for Super Bowl XLV, my immediate reaction was: “Pittsburgh’s an underdog? Ha! Give me the Steelers…you’re welcome.”

Why wouldn’t you take the Steelers on Sunday? They’ve played in two Super Bowls the past six years and won them both. They have a more experienced head coach who oversees a more experienced quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is 2-0 in the “big one” and thanks to Dick LeBeau’s guidance, Pittsburgh’s defense often resembles an immovable force.

But then I got to thinking: Tom Brady lost in the Super Bowl, as did Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. Bill Belichick has lost in the championship, as has Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher and even Tom Landry.

Experience flies out the window once that ball has been kicked off the tee at the start of the game. What football essentially comes down to is execution, avoiding mistakes and beating the guy across from you.

Both of these teams can execute. Both of these teams can limit mistakes and both of these teams have the players on each side of the ball that can win individual battles. Which team will accomplish those three feats on Sunday is anyone’s guess, and that’s the great thing about this particular matchup – it’s so even.

But when you get down to the brass tacks, the Steelers have a big problem along their offensive line. Losing Maurkice Pouncey hurts, but having two offensive tackles that are below average pass-blockers is a bigger problem when you consider the Packers finished second in the league in sacks. Granted, Pittsburgh finished first in that category but I have more faith in Green Bay’s O-line protecting Aaron Rodgers than I do the Steelers’ front five protecting Big Ben.

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Packers back in playoff hunt

Aaron Rodgers completed 28-of-39 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns as the Packers shredded the Lions 34-12 on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanks to a three-game winning streak, Green Bay is now 7-4 and if the playoffs were to start today, they’d be in as one of the Wild Card teams. They were helped last night when the Giants (a conference foe) lost to the Broncos in Denver.

The Packers have benefited from having one of the softest schedules in the league, although they do have to play the Ravens, Steelers and Cardinals before the season is finished. Still, if they can beat one of those teams and then handle their business against the Bears and Seahawks (two teams Green Bay should beat), then the Pack should make the playoffs.

One thing that was apparent yesterday is that Rodgers has more time to throw. Granted, the Lions don’t offer much of a pass rush but the Packers’ O-line is starting to protect Rodgers better and give him time to find stellar receivers Donald Driver and Aaron Rodgers.

The defense has also rebounded from its embarrassing effort against Tampa Bay a few weeks ago. The Packers held Dallas to only seven points three weeks ago and then forced five turnovers against Detroit yesterday.

If the offensive line can continue to play at a somewhat respectable level and the defense can resemble Hyde more than Jekyll, then the Packers could be a tough out come postseason time.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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