The Super Bowl is upon us. We have watched our beloved Steelers win six Lombardi trophies in the past 36 years. In some cases, the Steelers were favorites to win the big game. This Super Bowl trip, Green Bay is the oddsmakers choice to take the title and understandably so. The Packers come into this game hot, hot, hot. Aaron Rodgers is a man on fire. He’s thrown for 790 yards, completed 71% of his passes and touts a passer rating for 109.2 during the 2010 playoffs. Gaudy numbers for sure, as each is tops in its category.
The Packers have a defense that’s as stingy as a miser who clings to his gold. They are led by Clay Matthews, the NFL’s runner up for defensive player of the year. The Pack’s secondary is led by a pair of young guns in Tramon Williams and Sam Shields who have combined to pick of five post season passes and is giving up just an average of 17 points per game.
Rookie Running back James Starks has come off the bench and has run wild on teams, gaining 263 rushing yards in the playoffs. His hard, down field running style can batter defenders who may be on their heels. At 6′ 2″ and 220 pounds, he’s hard to bring down.
But all is not lost. In the face of such adversity, most teams would buckle and fall. But this version of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers has been here before. Facing insurmountable odds to win is nothing new. As head coach Mike Tomlin has said before, who cares about style points or how you win. As long as you get that ‘W’ next to your name when the clock strikes zero, that’s all that matters.
With that in mind, here are the three keys to victory on Super Sunday for the Steelers to once again hoist another Sterling Silver trophy inside Cowboys Stadium.
1. Blitz Rodgers often, with Polamalu in coverage.
Now this is a tricky one because when we talk blitz, Troy Polamalu does come to mind. I think the conventional wisdom is to let him loose and allow Troy to roam the field to pick his spots when it comes to this. I’m not so sure he needs to be the one doing the blitzing on Sunday.
With Aaron Rodgers being so effective in short, mid range and the deep ball passing game, it’s important to keep #43 back to protect against the pass. Our linebackers and corners can be very effective in the zone-blitz packages that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau cooks up.
Look back to the 2008 AFC Championship game when the game was on the line against the Ravens. With under five minutes to play and the Baltimore Ravens down by two, Joe Flacco was leading a comeback drive that ended with a Polamalu pick and return to seal the win. Playing back in coverage is where he is most effective.
Don’t forget that the Steelers did some different things against the Jets two weeks ago in blitz situations that were quite successful. That sack, strip and fumble return late in the 2nd quarter delivered by Ike Taylor and Willie Gay on Mark Sanchez was a new wrinkle dreamed up that week by LeBeau. It’s that type of pressure the defense needs to come up with to keep our best player on defense free to do what he does best. Read the quarterback and react.
2. Run Rashard Mendenhall.
Now I’m one of those guys who believes in allowing your best players to control your destiny. Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger is hands down your best player. But in this chess match, I do belive that in an effort to keep the Packers offense at bay, you need to control the ball and here is an opportunity for the Steelers to do so.
Mendenhall is coming of age. In his 3rd season, he has taken command of the Steelers vaunted running game. He ran for a career high 1,273 yards in 2010. He was tied for 1st in rushing touchdowns (13) and was 5th in runs of 20 yards or more (11) during the regular season. His 121 yard effort against the Jets was a bit surprising, given the fact that Gang Green was 3rd during the regular season against the run.
Plagued by fumbles in his rookie season, Mendenhall has corrected that problem and faces a Packers rush D that was very middle of the road this season against the run, allowing an average of 115 yards to rank 18th in the NFL. Keep in mind that the Packers led the NFL in the most drives of 5 minutes or longer this season, (30) you get the feeling that the longer we keep the ball, the more we can limit their chances of scoring. Mendenhall needs to have a big game for the Steelers to accomplish this.
3. When in doubt, trust Ben.
I firmly believe that when the game is on the line, your best players shine. With all the talk this week surrounding the play of Aaron Rodgers, I think some people have forgotten about who really is the best player on the field come Super Sunday.
2010 has not been kind to Ben Roethlisberger, much of his own doing. His Milledgeville ‘moment’ aside, coupled with the four game suspension to start the season, Ben has taken a beating both off and on the field. But when you look at the numbers, he’s had one of his best seasons statistically.
The talk out of Dallas this week has been mixed regarding Ben’s legacy. Is he a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback? Does he deserve to be regarded among the games best signal callers? Why is he hanging out in Piano Bars til 1am with teammates? If there was any player built to handle the white-hot spotlight, it’s the kid from Findlay, Ohio.
Come Sunday I belive that the final possession of the game will determine the winner. Given that, I also feel it will be Ben who leads his team down field to victory. Look at his overall track record. His ability to extend plays. Go for big yards in short spurts. His poise in the face of adversity. I want that gunslinger on my side. The man with a smile on his face as he stares impending doom squarely in its eye. Come Sunday, Ben will be the difference when the game is on the line.
Steelers 30. Packers 27 in the greatest Super Bowl to date.
John Phillips is the author of this article and a man who loves sports and food. When he’s not anchoring sports updates or hosting weekend shows on 93.7 The Fan, he finds time to blog about his two favorite subjects. Check out www.foodandgamestv.ning.com for a new blog about his trip to Nashville this week.