Senior writer jclombardi–Packers vs Steelers rematch in Super Bowl.
Defensive minded–Steelers’, Packers’ defenses are similar but different: The two Super Bowl defenses are like Earth, Wind and Fire and Chicago. Both bands have the same instruments, but they play different kinds of music. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers both use 3-4 schemes, but there are as many differences in them as there are similarities. With the insight and observations of Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, who faced the Packers once and the Steelers twice this season, here’s a breakdown of the two Super Ds. How they’re alike: Heavyweights in the middle. Both teams have big nose tackles who are hard to move. Casey Hampton (6-1, 325) has been a boulder in the Steelers’ defense for 10 seasons. Green Bay’s B.J. Raji (6-2, 337) is in his second season and his first as a full-time starter. “Casey obviously has been playing at a high level for a long time now, so he has the advantage over B.J.” Mangold said. “Casey plays with fantastic technique compared to B.J., who’s still mostly relying on his (physical) talent.” Stud pass rushers. Outside linebackers Harrison (Steelers) and Matthews (Packers) had a combined 24 sacks in the regular season. “James does a fantastic job of using his leverage and his power. He can get on the edge, but at the same time he’s very quick to come back inside,” Mangold said. “Clay has a little bit more active motor. He’s going to beat you by staying after you the whole time.” Playmakers in the secondary. Troy Polamalu is a strong safety by trade, but he’s versatile enough to play almost anywhere in the Steelers’ defense. He can cover, he can blitz, and he can tackle. Packers cornerback Charles Woodson also is a moveable chess piece. He can cover wide receivers, or he can move up to the linebacker level and tackle running backs. “They’re very similar in that they can be used anywhere on the field and still be effective, which is pretty impressive for a defensive back,” Mangold said. How they’re different–The use of personnel. The Steelers stay in their base 3-4 (three linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs) most of the time; their starters rarely come off the field. They switch to their nickel scheme only when they have to. Green Bay plays in a nickel so much that it is almost their base defense. The Packers substitute liberally and even have a package they call “Psycho,” which is comprised of one down lineman, five linebackers and five backs. “Green Bay seems to be a little bit more exotic on the pressure package out of the 3-4,” Mangold said. “The Steelers are still exotic, but it’s nothing too crazy.” Press or lay off. The Packers play a lot of press coverage with their defensive backs. The Steelers sometimes have cornerback Ike Taylor pressing a receiver, but Bryan McFadden, the other corner, usually plays several yards off the line. A matter of health. Except for end Aaron Smith, who has been out with a torn triceps since late October, and Polamalu, who has been in and out of the lineup with ankle and hamstring injuries, the Steelers’ defense has been healthy. By contrast, the Packers have had to rely on their depth and some free-agent additions to stitch and mend their unit since the beginning of the season. Among the 16 players on Green Bay’s injured reserve list are four starting players. “Green Bay has done a fantastic job of trying to piece it together because of injuries and having to deal with different guys out,” Mangold said. “They’ve taken a beating, but they’re still able to utilize their system pretty well.”
Packers prepared to match physical Steelers: Going back to former coach Bill Cowher’s teams in the 1990s, and really to their “Steel Curtain” defenses of the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers year-in and year-out carry the reputation among NFL lifers as one of the toughest and most physical teams in a tough and physical league. And it’s justified regarding this year’s Steelers, according to Mike Holmgren, the former Green Bay Packers coach who just finished his first season as president of the Steelers’ AFC North Division-rival Cleveland Browns. “Physically, yeah, they get after it pretty good,” Holmgren said. “And they tackle. It’s a physical group. Now Green Bay strikes me as the same type of team. They tackle, and they’re good at creating turnovers.” Meeting and winning that physical challenge, then, will be paramount for the Packers in their matchup against the Steelers in the Super Bowl next week. Offensively, the Packers are a passing team, and the Steelers have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, so it’s hard to see the Packers winning there. But if the Packers prove unable to push around the Steelers’ front seven, they at least must handle the pass rush. Defensively, though, the Packers think they can match any team in the NFL in tough, physical play. Their 3-4 scheme includes a personnel group they use against run-oriented teams on early downs and that features three huge defensive linemen. “We love it, we get after people pretty good,” Pickett said of that grouping. “Pittsburgh deserves it, and that’s what we’re looking for, a reputation for rough, tough guys.” The Packers also have two midseason replacements in their starting lineup in linebacker Desmond Bishop and safety Charlie Peprah who are more physical in defending the run, where the Steelers try to establish physical superiority. They also emphasize run blockers on the line. But the Steelers’ physical reputation on offense is enhanced by other positions as well notably quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Hines Ward. One of Roethlisberger’s greatest assets is keeping plays alive by shrugging off sacks that bring down most quarterbacks. On defense, the Steelers’ earned reputation for physical play comes from several places starting with the NFL’s top-ranked run defense in fewest yards allowed and yards allowed per carry. “We feel like we’re physical, teams that play us probably say the same thing,” Pickett said. “When you play physical, you play to our strength.”