Five ways the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers speaks to the media inside Cowboys Stadium for the Green Bay Packers session of Media Day ahead of Super Bowl XLV between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers in Arlington, Texas, USA, 01 February 2011. The Super Bowl XLV will be played on 06 February 20111 EPA/TANNEN MAURY fotoglif966652

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.

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Three keys for the Steelers to avoid another upset at the hands of the Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of their NFL AFC Divisional playoff game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 15 January 2011. The Steelers defeated the Ravens 31-24, and will advance to the AFC Championship game. EPA/DAVID MAXWELL fotoglif902601

One factor that the Jets have to their advantage this week is that they’ve already beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh once this season (22-17 in Week 15). But things could prove to be more difficult for New York this time around.

Below are three keys for the Steelers to avoid another upset.

1. The O-line must rebound.
The play of the O-line continues to be the biggest question mark surrounding this team. Flozell Adams was sick last week with the flu and could barely stand up, which is why he struggled so much against the Ravens. Ramon Foster deserves praise for moving to tackle when Adams left the game, but he continues to be a marginal blocker. Jonathan Scott gave up a handful of pressures and a sack against Baltimore and while Maurkice Pouncey played well overall, he had trouble moving the Ravens’ big defensive tackles at the goal line. In fact, the entire Steelers’ O-line had trouble at the goal line, which includes Chris Kemoeatu (who also made some stupid decisions after the whistle had been blown). What’s interesting is that the Steelers gained 377 total yards against the Jets in Week 15, which included 146 on the ground. They also had touchdown drives of 96 and 74 yards, so they’ve already proven that they can move the ball on Rex Ryan’s stingy defense. But can the O-line elevate their game after last week’s performance? They better, because Ryan has proved over the past two weeks that he can put together some of the best defensive game plans in the NFL.

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Felix Jones now the starter in Dallas

It appears that Marion Barber’s days as a starter are over in Dallas, as Chris Mortensen reports that Felix Jones will officially move to the top of the Cowboys’ depth chart at running back.

Barber finished with 214 rushing attempts last season, while Jones received 116. Those numbers will likely be reversed this season, with Jones getting the bulk of the carries. Tashard Choice is still expected to get some touches as well, seeing as how both Jones and Barber have issues staying healthy.

While this is certainly big news, the biggest question surrounding the Cowboys’ running game isn’t which back will start, but whether or not Doug Free can man the left tackle position now that Flozell Adams has been released. Dallas did not select an offensive tackle in last week’s draft, which was a huge vote of confidence for Free, who has very limited experience. Unless they re-sign Adams at some point, it looks like the 26-year-old Northern Illinois grad will start Week 1, because there is no depth behind him.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Will the Cowboys target Gaither after releasing Adams?

On Friday, the Cowboys released left tackle Flozell Adams and free safety Ken Hamlin and while the moves themselves aren’t surprising, the timing is a little strange.

The Cowboys weren’t up against any sort of deadline to release either player. Adams was due a $2.5 million roster bonus in June, but they could have allowed the draft to play out before releasing him. Hamlin was on his way out at some point, but Dallas doesn’t have a suitable replacement on the roster at this point.

If the season were to start today, Doug Free would protect Tony Romo’s blindside and Alan Ball would compete with Mike Hamlin at the free safety spot. It’s doubtful that the Cowboys would just hand the starting left tackle spot over to an inexperienced player such as Free, so don’t be surprised if they add an offensive tackle in one of the early rounds of the draft.

Another possibility is that Jerry Jones will target Ravens’ restricted free agent Jared Gaither, who wants to remain in Baltimore but also wants a long-term deal. The NFL Network’s Jason La Confora said in a recent episode of NFL Total Access that Gaither could be had for a second round pick. The problem that the Cowboys face in that scenario is that the Redskins are also interested in Gaither, so maybe Dallas will be willing to part with their first round pick (No. 27 overall) in order to get ahead of Washington, which selects at No. 37.

Of course, this is just speculation on my part but again, chances are the Cowboys aren’t going to hand the starting left tackle job over to Free after releasing Adams.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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