Senior writer jclombardi reviews Packers headlines.
Distant replay–Packers, Steelers differ from ’09 editions: The biggest reason the Green Bay Packers coach – and, most likely, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin – won’t cull much from the Steelers’ 37-36 victory at Heinz Field on Dec. 20, 2009 in the teams’ last meeting is that both clubs are vastly different from what they were the last time they saw each other. “It’s something that will be part of our preparation. But they were a different team last year,” McCarthy said. “They had some injuries last year when we played in Pittsburgh. We also had some injuries going into that game. This will be on a different surface. “So we’ll look at that game, and there will be a lot of carry over. … (But) this is going to be a game that’s going to come down to one team (having) to play at a very high level to win the football game.” The two offenses played at incredibly high levels in that meeting. The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers completed 26 of 48 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns for a 101.3 rating. But the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was even better, setting a Steelers single-game record with 503 passing yards while completing 29 of 46 passes with three TD passes, including the game-winning 19-yard strike to Mike Wallace as time expired. Jeff Reed’s ensuing extra point was the winning margin. Of course, it could easily be argued that the Packers’ defense on that day bears little resemblance to the one that will take the field in suburban Dallas. “We’re a totally different team,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. Not only are the Packers in Year 2 of their 3-4 defense under Capers, but their secondary configuration is vastly different from a year ago. Having lost two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris to a devastating knee injury less than a month earlier, the Packers were starting Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. While Williams was a starting-caliber player – although not the breakout star he’s turned into this season – the trickle-down from Harris’ injury left the Packers with special-teams ace Jarrett Bush, street free agent Josh Bell and then-rookie Brandon Underwood to play in the nickel and dime defenses. Bush, playing the nickel that day, gave up a 60-yard bomb from Roethlisberger to Wallace on the Steelers’ first offensive play, while Bell, playing in the dime, gave up the game-winning TD when Wallace beat him on a comeback route on a third-and-10 Roethlisberger pass. Today, Bell is on season-ending injured reserve with a right foot injury suffered in training camp, and Bush is back to playing where he’s best – on the special-teams units, although he is the fourth cornerback on those rare occasions that Capers uses the dime. Undrafted rookie Sam Shields has been a godsend to the defense, giving the unit three solid cover guys. The Packers also remember their biggest problem defensively in that game – tackling Roethlisberger. While they registered five sacks on Big Ben, they probably could’ve had twice that had they managed to get the behemoth 6-foot-5, 241-pound quarterback to the ground instead of allowing him to shed would-be sacks and turn them into big plays. “I counted, we had five sacks and a legitimate chance at five other sacks,” Capers said. “He launched a ball up the field for big plays against us. We gave up by far the most big plays there than we did of any game last season.”
Wolf’s view: If there’s one guy who knows talent, it is former Packers GM Wolf, the architect of two Super Bowl teams and an era that featured 10 straight non-losing seasons. During his tenure, Wolf drafted, traded for, signed and picked up off waivers the likes of Favre, White, Freeman, Brooks, Jackson, Chmura, Timmerman, Hasselbeck, Brunell, Dotson, Levens and Brown. And that’s not close to being the entire list. Looking back on those years, Wolf said the general rule was that at least a third of your team had to be impact players to reach the Super Bowl. “In the system we used, we felt that we had to have 18 to 20 of those players to win a Super Bowl,” he said in a phone interview Thursday from his vacation home in Florida. “You should be able to go to the Super Bowl with that team.” Wolf used a color system to identify talent and was most concerned with acquiring what he labeled “blue,” “red” and “gold-plus” players. Blues are Hall of Fame-type players, reds are perennial Pro Bowl players and gold-pluses are starters with Pro Bowl potential. “Adding Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett (in free agency) improved his defense at least three-fold,” Wolf said. “I don’t think Pickett gets near the due he deserves for the overall impact he has had on that team. In the most current edition of Pro Football Weekly, a panel of coaches and personnel evaluators helped create a list of the top 50 players of 2010. Of those players, five are Packers, including No. 2, Rodgers, and No. 6, linebacker Clay Matthews. The others were receiver Greg Jennings (35th), cornerback Tramon Williams (38th) and Woodson (39th). The Packers tied the Baltimore Ravens with the most players in the top 50 with five, and no other team had four. Those that had three were the Steelers, Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and Kansas City. In Wolf’s mind, the talent goes deeper than the five listed in the top 50, but he wasn’t ready to start handing out blue chips to everyone on the roster. He said Rodgers and Matthews have a chance to get there, but longevity and consistency will determine their place in history. Wolf, who said he plans to attend the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas, identified others like guard Josh Sitton, cornerback Sam Shields, end Cullen Jenkins and nose tackle B.J. Raji as players who have pushed the talent level over the top. He compared them to players like Timmerman, Dotson and linebacker Brian Williams, who were solid starters and core players for the Super Bowl XXXI team. And, he said, the most promising player of the entire bunch might be a guy who won’t even be on the field in this Super Bowl, tight end Jermichael Finley.