Senior writer Jclombardi previews Super Bowl game day & predictions.
Packers have the horses to exploit Steelers’ weaknesses: Other than a mediocre half here or there, the Green Bay Packers have been the epitome of consistent excellence since their defeat in Detroit almost two months ago. Now that the Super Bowl is upon us, there’s no compelling reason to think that the Packers can’t sustain almost that same level of performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously, Mike McCarthy is feeling it. I ran into him Friday morning as he bounced between interviews at the Downtown Sheraton. When a team has played as well over time as the Packers, its coach can be as loose as McCarthy appeared to be. “The players totally believe what’s in front of them,” McCarthy said with confidence and just the right touch of bravado at his final press briefing. “We respect Pittsburgh, but we feel that this is our time and Sunday will be our night.” Still, the more one analyzes the two teams, the Packers have a better chance to counter the Steelers’ strengths than the Steelers do to counter the Packers’ strengths. In other words, Pittsburgh has more holes to hide than Green Bay, and that doesn’t bode well for the Steelers if the Packers keep doing what they’ve been doing. For two weeks, the Steelers undoubtedly have been trying to figure out ways to help right tackle Flozell Adams against Clay Matthews. As uncanny as Roethlisberger might be escaping the rush, they know that not even Roethlisberger is physical enough to avoid the relentless surges of Matthews. The best way to slow Matthews would be an effective running game. One of the biggest men I’ve ever seen, “Flozell the Hotel” can toss Matthews around in close quarters and maybe wear him down physically. Center Doug Legursky, will need help from a guard in pass protection. In the run game, the guard that doubles Raji with Legursky will have to linger longer than usual and figures to be late getting off to the inside linebacker. What this scenario really does is throw open the door for Cullen Jenkins to have an MVP-type performance. For Green Bay, it’s a terrific three-pronged rush that, barring a rash of turnovers, will make it difficult for the Steelers to score more than 20 points. Not only will Roethlisberger be confronted inside and outside, he will find conventional completions much harder to come by than a season ago. The Steelers always find ways to spring receivers from their bunch sets, but unless Roethlisberger can get outside consistently he probably won’t have time to go deep. “It’s almost like getting ready for a different defense,” offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “They’re more man-to-man press coverage than they played last year, especially on early downs.” But Capers will have more than a four-man rush ready. He has been blitzing more and more with each passing week, a direct result of Sam Shields’ ability to man cover. In order, coordinator Joe Philbin listed pass protection, turnover avoidance and balance as the main objectives for the offense. He said the Packers had no interest in asking Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga to block Harrison and Woodley snap after snap without the threat of a running play. Based on coaches who have played the Steelers, the best way to run on them is from spread sets. No one really has run on their base 3-4. LeBeau must play zone because his three cornerbacks generally can’t hold up without a rush. If LeBeau does play man-to-man or run overload blitzes, Rodgers could kill him with his scrambles. McCarthy said he expects Polamalu to be LeBeau’s key pressure player. LeBeau does a great job on third down bringing a safety from out of his walk-around defense. If Rodgers spends too much time making dummy calls at the line in a game of cat and mouse, the Steelers are masters at timing their blitzes off the 40-second clock and the quarterback’s cadence. Let’s say neither team can run the ball. Then it becomes a game of who can protect and which quarterback can figure out the blitzes. The Packers have the better offensive line plus they have a blitz-pickup ace in Brandon Jackson. Pittsburgh’s linemen might have to use their hands illegally to slow the rush down, and if the game is closely officiated the Packers should be the beneficiary. And Rodgers should win the cerebral game every time against Roethlisberger. The Packers would seem to have better players at more important positions, and consistency is their trademark. Those are two powerful forces in their favor. What will matter most, of course, is which team plays better under the bright lights of Cowboys Stadium.