The Lineup #4: Top 10 Super Bowl X-Factors

Posted: February 3, 2011 by Matt Whitener of CSP in NFL
Tags: , , , ,

So far this week, I’ve recapped the where the Super Bowl has been, but now it’s time to turn to where it is going. Super Bowl week is in full swing in Dallas and the attention is on which club will be the 46th champion of the Big Game. The Green Bay Packers are currently favored to take down the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in their first appearance in the game in 13 years, despite the Steelers being the more proven of the two franchises in recent times, as they are seeking their 3rd Super Bowl in six years.

Each club has a lot of similarities in their structures. They each have big player receivers that can get behind any secondary for the score. They have tough defenses that have play makers at every level, with an X-Factor defender that can make back-breaking hits. Last but definitely not least, they each have quarterbacks that can make plays only a handful would even attempt to try, let alone actually make.

 

Polamalu landed the League's top defender honors, but will he be the most critical player on the field come Sunday?

 

However, of all of these units, which of these players will make the biggest difference in the game? Who has the biggest responsibility and has the biggest chance to send their club to adding another Lombardi Trophy to their historic legacy? Here are the 10 players who have to carry the most weight in around 72 hours in Big D.

10. Mason Crosby: The Packers kicker has one the biggest legs in the league, capable to nailing the 50 yard out bomb, and the Pack have no apprehension about deploying him from far out. His career long kicks of 53 (twice) and 56 yards show his ability, however it doesn’t show that for all of his range, his accuracy is prone to stay home as well. In his four-year career, Crosby has never landed 80% of his kicks in a season, making him far from a sure thing. With two strong defenses at work here, scoring opportunities could be at a premium, and Crosby’s leg could be a deciding factor, Truly a gift or a curse for Green Bay.

 

Having a dependable Crosby could make a big difference for GB against the stingy Steelers defense.

 

9. Maurkice Pouncey: The 2nd year center is the lynchpin of the Pittsburgh offensive front, and when he went down with a knee injury in the AFC Championship game, the entire offense fell off beat. His status has been one of the most watched pre-game stories of Super Bowl week, and with the tough interior Green Bay defensive his presence will make a marked difference in how Pittsburgh can attack. Details such as this can go a long way in determining the game of inches that make up the big picture of the game.

8. B.J. Raji: Speaking of the frontline wars , Raji is Green Bay biggest soldier. How he freely he can move about will plays a big difference in how Pittsburgh establishes themselves. He was in the spotlight for running in an interception in for a touchdown in the NFC Championship game, but what he does outside the highlights makes the biggest difference, where his (conservatively listed) 340 pound frame not only creates pressure by pushing back the pocket, but also closes down the inside running game, which is what the Steelers may have to lean on heavily again if Pouncey is a no-go.

7. Ike Taylor: the Green Bay passing game will be on display early and often as usual and Pitt corners have perhaps the biggest burden to carry of any unit in the game. Taylor is the best corner the Black and Yellow has to deploy, and will most likely be assigned speedster Greg Jennings, Aaron Rodger’s favorite deep threat. How closely he stays on Jennings will make a huge difference in how far Rodgers can look downfield, and what is open underneath the secondary as well. Pass coverage has been the one blemish on the Steeler defense this year, and Taylor must have an effective day all over the field to not have a relapse of these problems.

 

How Taylor and the Pitt secondary performs will make the biggest difference in the outcome in Dallas.

 

6. Flozell Adams: Usually the quarterback’s blindside tackle is the most critical lineman to his success, but there is an exception to that rule when his opposite mate on the line is assigned to Clay Matthews, as Adams will be on Sunday. While stopping Matthews completely isn’t going to happen, Adams has to dig down and make every play one that the Packers pass rush terror has to work for. If Big Ben has pressure coming from inside AND Matthews consistently besting Adams on the other end, it could be a short, yet long day for the Steeler offense, with Roethlisberger spending more time looking at the sky than at the coverage.

5. Clay Matthews: Speaking of Matthews, there is far more to his impact on the game than just how many sacks he racks up. While he will without a doubt be deployed to attack the pocket frequently, the result of the attention he commands is just as important as the result he brings himself. Despite being assigned as Adams’ responsibility, it will take more than just him to hold off Matthews, which could mean that Heath Miller or Matt Spaeth is devoted to watching him as well, and therefore take a target away from Roethlisberger. Also the attention on Matthews gives more freedom to Ryan Pickett or A.J. Hawk to attack more freely. Less can still be more as far as Matthews’ stat line goes, and Pittsburgh may have to accept not picking their poison, but just how much of it they are willing to take.

4. Greg Jennings: One of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL, Jennings could have a big day on Sunday on just a few catches. The Steeler secondary has had issues with stopping the outside pass all year, and Jennings is one of the craftier receivers in the game at finding open space and getting deep for the long score. His career long distance scores of 75, 82, 83 and his record long of 86 this season prove that in a blink of the eye he could make all of the difference in close game and give a quick lead to the Pack.

 

If Jennings gets too open even a few times it could spell quick doom for Pittsburgh's hopes.

 

3. Ben Roethlisberger: He’s been here before, and he knows what it takes to get the job done. Big Ben will be ready to play, and he is the perfect QB to take on the Packer defense, which is tough at every level and requires a high level of adaptation to beat repeatedly over four quarters. Considering he’s facing a team that hasn’t trailed by more than seven points at anytime during the season, he will have to lead a constant onslaught to bring home his third Super Bowl in his young career. The key for him will be not making bad passes into a Green Bay secondary that is the 5th in pass yardage against and forced the second most interceptions in 2010. Despite Green Bay’s prowess in coverage, no quarterback can stay alive in the pocket longer and wait for an opening better than Ben, an ability that will make it as tough an adjustment for the Packers defense to face him as it is for him versus them.

1. Troy Polamalu & Aaron Rodgers: Did you miss something? No, because both of these guys are one in the same. They have identical effects on both their own team and their opponents, in both preparation and in-game adjustment. Games like this are where Polamalu’s knack for being everywhere pays off the most. Whether it is cutting off the entire middle of the field against the pass, or coming up making the crucial hit, he is the single most difficult player to account for in the NFL. The same goes for Rodgers, just substitute the hits for passes and scrambles. No QB in the league creates more passing opportunities after the ball is snapped than Rodgers, and he has played like a man possessed in the Playoffs thus far, using both his feet and arm to paralyze defenses. Now he’ll face the best unit the League has to offer, and his uncanny playmaking ability will be matched by every bit his improvisational equal on the other side of the ball.

 

Rodgers' 109.2 QB rating is tops among playoff passers, and no opponent has had an answer for him completely.

 

The single most interesting feature of the Super Bowl will be how Polamalu plays off of and adjusts to Rodgers’ multi-layered passing attack, which deploys as many as seven different receivers in every area of the field. This is the perfect matchup of two diverse and unpredictable players on each side of the ball. Whichever one converts not the most, but the timeliest play, could decide which team takes home the Lombardi. They are tied here, but whoever ends up #1 will take home the hardware on Sunday, and will have to climb over the other to get there.

 

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