It’s finally upon us, Super Sunday, and it has all the makings to live up to the title too. In many years, while being a great matchup, know who will win the Bowl isn’t particularly hard. There have only been a few times I’ve been generally shocked by an outcome, the Giants in ’08, the Patriots in ’02 to name the few instances. In other years, the way the score came to be was more shocking than the actual winner (word to the Buccaneers, Ravens and Cowboys). However, this year nothing besides a monumental blowout, 49ers/Chargers style, would shock me, because out of my 20 years of Super Bowl watching, I’ve never seen a matchup more balanced than this one coming into it.
The Packers have, from a seeding and injury perspective, been a group of overachievers on their drive to this point. But this is only due to them taking six losses this year, in the face of injuries and losses to some the League’s best. However, regular season records being what they are, no team that hasn’t been down by more than seven points all year (a crazy stat) can be considered a major overachiever. This team was built to get to this point all year, and it’s no major shock that they pulled out of the evenly yoked NFC.
The Steelers have been baptized through fire to get to this point. They came out of the AFC North, which is like fighting a war with your bare hands and a toothbrush as your only weapon. They bring both the league’s best defense and a durable, experienced roster that has been here before. However, they are still not considered the favorites, but once again, that is an exaggeration of what is at play. The intangibles of the game are in favor of the Steelers, and while that can’t be accounted for on paper, it has to be respected.
That’s what we’re looking at here in the CHEAP.SEATS today, where the divide comes in to play between these two clubs can be separated. Actually, a crack in between may be a more appropriate way to describe it, because this is going to be a close, fight to finish in my estimation. No more build up though, let’s get at it.
Quarterback: This is, as usual the headline matchup, and rightfully so, with both guys being among the handful of the best in the league at the position. Aaron Rodgers has been the best quarterback on any team in the playoffs this year, and has driven the Pack to the Bowl with his superb play. However, at this point in the year, experience under the spotlight is everything, and Ben Roethlisberger has not only been here before, he has conducted one of the great comebacks in the game’s history in last visit here two years ago versus the Cardinals. The talent divide between the two is so small, it can be decided based on that alone, so I give the edge to Roethlisberger due to his previous baptisms in Super Bowl fire. Advantage: Steelers.
Running Back: This is one of the clearest cut advantages for either team in the game, with Rashard Mendenhall being single handedly better than Green Bay’s three headed attack of Brandon Jackson, Max Starks and John Kuhn. Unleashing Mendenhall may be Pittsburgh’s best approach to taking this game, as stopping the run is Green Bay’s only weakness on defense and it keeps it away from throwing into the teeth of their dangerous secondary. The Pack has done a good job of compensating for the loss of Ryan Grant all year, but this is finally the point in the year where not having him gives them a great disadvantage, so….Advantage: Steelers.
Receiver/Tight End: Both teams have similar units in their weaponry at the top of their receiving troops. Each has a dangerous deep threat, in Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace, and two of the tough possession catchers that their quarterback trusts in Hines Ward and Donald Driver. The presence of Heath Miller at tight end gives Roethlisberger another dependable target over the middle, but the Packers have more threats on the outside and a deeper unit overall, with James Jones and Jordy Nelson in the mix as well, giving the Packers much more depth. Advantage: Packers.
Offensive Line: When center Maurkice Pouncey was ruled out of this game earlier this week, it was a major setback to the Steelers offense as a whole. He is their best offensive lineman and the axis that the entire group works off of. His absence makes them far more vulnerable to the blitz, and Green Bay can afford to come after Roethlisberger with far more recklessness, because their secondary is so good they afford the risk. While the Packer line isn’t the best, it is more intact at the moment, and takes the gets the nod due to being intact. Advantage: Packers
Defensive Line: A close matchup here has well, as both teams use their defensive lines mostly to open up holes for their linebackers to take control. The Steelers have gotten consistent solid performances out of Ziggy Hood on the outside, and Casey Hampton is an anchor in the middle, but the player to watch here is on the Packers side, and that’s their huge nose tackle B.J. Raji. Their 2008 first rounder will benefit the most from the absence of Pouncey, who he would have been matched up with all day. His pressure on his new matchup will benefit every area of the Green Bay defense, and is a crucial element of how the game will flow. Advantage: Packers.
Linebackers: Both teams base much of their attack from the linebacker position. Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk are killers for the Pack, and will be all over the field all day. However, when you think linebacker, you think Pittsburgh. James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons are the best starting group of LBs in the game, and they are just are just as devastating on attacking the pocket as they are at stone walling the run. Their high speed, yet disciplined approach will be essential to limiting Rodgers’ ability to create extra downfield chances with his feet, which much of the Packers danger comes from. Advantage: Steelers.
Defensive Backs: For as big of a threat as the Steeler linebackers are, the Green Bay secondary does the same thing for them. Charles Woodson leads a group that took the ball away the second most times in the league, and has enough guys to cover every Steeler threat tight enough to give their blitz a chance to harass Roethlisberger consistently. If the Packers are to win this game it will come down to this unit making the timely plays. The Steelers have Troy Polamalu in their secondary, and he is the biggest defensive play maker in the game. Without a doubt he’ll make a difference in the game several times, but their coverage is the weakest part of their team as group, and despite how it looks at times, Troy can’t cover everyone at once. Advantage: Packers
Special Teams: The Steelers have made changes at both kicker and punter this year, and for the better. Shaun Suisham has been consistent from everywhere as Jeff Reed replacement at kicker and that is huge in such a game. Return options are plentiful for the Steelers as well, with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are both threats to make a big return for Pittsburgh as well, and Antwan Randle-El is still dangerous as well. On the other sideline, Mason Crosby has one of the most powerful legs in the game, but is erratic at times and a badly timed miss in this game would make a fatal difference. For dependability’s sake, Pittsburgh has a much safer overall unit. Advantage: Steelers.
Coaching: Mike Tomlin’s place in the league’s hierarchy of coaches is severely underrated. He makes measured decisions, while still being deploying an aggressive scheme. He will rarely make an irrational decision, and his style shows through his team’s attitude and approach more than any other coach’s in the League. Mike McCarthy has done a great job in keeping the Packers on course, despite a constant string of injuries to critical pieces of the team. He will have them ready on Sunday to stare down the Steelers on all fronts. However, experience on this level means everything in blocking out everything else and managing just the game itself, and in that regard Tomlin has the edge. Advantage: Steelers.
In summary, by positional breakdowns favor the Steelers 5 to 4 and showcases just how tight of a match up this is. I’m with the intangibles today, the “It Factor”. The Steelers as a unit have had tough road this year & there is no team tougher than them in the League. In a matchup of two stingy defenses, Pitt has more game breaking; big play guys on their side, and those plays could make the entire difference in a close game. That combined with them having a better running game to control the clock with & the experience at this level previously will put them over the top & bring home the franchise’s record seventh Super Bowl title today.