Senior writer jclombardi reviews & grades Packers win over Steelers.
Summary: QB Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to get MVP honors and to lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory. After a fast start building a 21-3 lead in the first half, the Packers offense imploded briefly against a tough Steelers defense allowing the Steelers back in the game at 28-25 late in the 4th quarter. The defense made the big plays creating 3 turnovers that the offense converted into 3 touchdowns for the final score 31-25. The biggest play was by LB Bishop who opened the fourth quarter by recovering a fumble jarred loose by LB Matthews from RB Mendenhall in Packer territory. Then, Rodgers led two fourth-quarter scoring drives: an 8-yard touchdown by WR Jennings and a field goal by K Crosby. These were game-preserving drives giving some breathing room for the defense. The Steelers had a final chance to score a touchdown to win, down by six points with two minutes left, but the defense held for the victory 31-25.
Game balls: QB Rodgers; WR Nelson; WR Jennings; P Masthay.
Report Card–Good, Bad, & Ugly: JC vs SE:
Pass Offense—B vs B. QB Rodgers had a stellar day completing 24-of-39 for 304 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 111.5 passer rating. QB Rodgers earned the MVP honors. The offensive line did an overall solid job, although they allowed 3 (2 were coverage sacks) sacks, 8 hits, and pressures throughout the game. Rodgers was very sharp with big plays including touchdown throws to WR Nelson (1) and WR Jennings (2). Although erratic with several dropped balls, WR Nelson led with 9 receptions for 140 yards and 1 touchdown. WR Jennings was extremely sharp with 4 receptions for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns. WR Jones had 5 big receptions for 50 yards, although he dropped a probable touchdown pass.
Rush Offense—C+ vs B-. The Packers rushed only 13 carries for 50 yards. Yet, RB Starks had 11 carries for 52 yards averaging a solid 4.7 yards making several big runs in the game.
Pass Defense—B vs B+. The front seven never got a strong consistent pass rush. In the second half, QB Roethlisberger was way too comfortable for many pass plays. Facing soft pass pressure, QB Roethlisberger had his moments completing 25 passes for 263 and 2 touchdowns. Yet, in the first half, he threw two big interceptions with one leading to safety Collins score. WR Wallace had 9 receptions for 89 yards and 1 touchdown. WR Ward had 7 receptions for 78 yards and 1 touchdown. In the second half, the Packers struggled with the loss of veteran CB Woodson and CB Shields to injuries. LB Matthews and LB Hawk made impressive athletic plays to tip Roethlisberger passes. Rookie LB Zombo made some good plays including a second-half coverage sack. DT Green got to Roethlisberger once to knock his arm leading to the interception touchdown. Finally, the reserves of Bush, Lee, and company did enough in zone coverage to win the game with time running out.
Rush Defense—C vs C+. The Packers’ front started out playing well, but they had trouble getting any penetration in the game. Although LB Matthews got no knockout plays, he caused a key fumble in the fourth quarter. Overall, this unit did not dominate like the previous games. They had trouble containing Steelers running backs. The Steelers rushed for 126 yards averaging a strong 5.5 yards with the Packers losing containment on many plays giving up some big runs. RB Mendenhall had 14 carries for 63 yards, RB Moore had 2 carries for 13 yards, and RB Redman had 3 carries for 19 yards. QB Roethlisberger added 4 scrambles for 31 yards. Sadly, in the third quarter, the Steelers’ 50-yard touchdown drive was completed entirely with running plays. Leading the team, safety Peprah had 10 tackles and LB Bishop had 8 tackles.
Special Teams–D vs D. The Packers managed to win a game in spite of horrid play again by their special-teams units. The game started inauspiciously with Antonio Brown’s 38-yard kickoff return out of the end zone, and things unraveled from there. Williams muffed the Pittsburgh punt four plays later when Shields ran into him but he fell on the football at the bottom of an ensuing pile-up. Williams later slapped Anthony Madison across the face mask after standing idly by on a rolling punt drawing one of three special-teams penalties by the Packers in the third quarter. Williams didn’t have any return yards on punts. The combination of Lee and Nelson averaged a measly 21 yards in three kickoff returns. Officials flagged Tom Crabtree for a sketchy facemask penalty during punt coverage. They flagged linebacker Diyral Briggs as an ineligible man downfield during another Packers punt. P Masthay had a so-so performance averaging just 40.5 gross yards and 36.3 net yards with one touchback.
Coaching—A- vs B+. McCarthy’s name is forever linked to Lambeau, Lombardi and Holmgren as the coaches who led the Packers to the top of the NFL mountain. The Packers, in arguably improbable fashion, ran the table of winning all four games in the playoffs away from Lambeau Field as a No. 6 seed. The play caller showed his hand with an aggressive plan of attack from the get-go and played to Rodgers’ strengths by spreading things out. The pass-run balance was out of whack, but the disparity was due more to Rodgers’ having the latitude to go with the effective pass in his pre-snap checks. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn’t blink when he lost Woodson for the last two-plus quarters and Shields for a short time. Capers adjusted by going with more zone coverage to limit how much havoc Roethlisberger could have wreaked against a shaky secondary. Capers’ gamble of not cranking up the pressure in Pittsburgh’s final drive paid off. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum endured what could have been a title-denying performance by his units.
Overall Game—A- vs. A+ (CBS Sportsline). Like the Packers have done all season long, they found a way to overcome injuries. Charles Woodson suffered a shoulder injury but his replacements played admirably. Donald Driver missed the entire second half with an ankle injury. No problem, as Jordy Nelson picked up the slack with nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Rodgers continued to prove he’s one of the NFL’s best QBs with 304 yards passing and three scores with no interceptions. What other grade could you give them?