Super Bowl 2011: A Guide to (Maybe) the Best NFL Game Ever
I had a meeting earlier this week with a woman who had one of the more bizarre conversation tics I've ever come across. Instead of asking questions, like "So what would make this situation better?" she would say, "Query what would make the situation better." After the first few times when I thought she was making statements instead of asking questions, I was actually fascinated by the college professor-esque speaking style.
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So: Query if from a historical perspective Steelers-Packers is the best possible Super Bowl matchup.
In other words, if you could pick any Super Bowl matchup in a vacuum that had the most franchise pedigree, would Steelers-Packers be the choice? From the AFC, it's no contest—the Steelers are lapping the field with six Super Bowl titles and have dominated the conference for 40 years. The NFC's a tougher question because the Packers, Cowboys and 49ers each have a legitimate claim. But even though Dallas and San Francisco have five Super Bowls each, I'd take Green Bay. The Cowboys and Niners can't compete with a history that includes Lambeau Field, wins in the first two Super Bowls, Vince Lombardi, mid-90s Brett Favre, the fact that the citizens of Green Bay actually own the team ...
So I'd argue that this year's Super Bowl matchup has the most history and pedigree of all time. Oh, and it should be a pretty good game too.
Let's break it down:
Super Bowl XLV: Packers vs. Steelers, Cowboys Stadium, 6:30 pm Sunday Feb. 6, FOX
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
I have a bottle of single-malt Scotch for anyone who predicted six months ago that Ben Roethlisberger would be one game away from entering the "Best Quarterback of This Generation" discussion. The Pittsburgh QB was suspended four games for alleged sexual assault (the second time sexual assault allegations have been levied against him), and the Steelers were considering trading the troubled gunslinger. Now he's a victory away from joining an elite group of quarterbacks with his third Super Bowl win (only Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady, and Troy Aikman have won three Super Bowls).
Big Ben is almost impossible to take down in the pocket and has a knack for making the big plays in the clutch. But in the AFC championship game, the Jets found a formula for slowing him down in the second half: blitz less, disguise coverages and force Roethlisberger to throw from the pocket into tight coverage. The Packers have shown they can change up their pass defenses (witness B.J. Raji in coverage) and if they can slow down running back Rashard Mendenhall they could stymie the Steelers offense. Sidenote: Expect a monster game from Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who lost out on Defensive Player of the Year honors by two votes to Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu. He's made a career of using slights as motivation.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Much has been made of Aaron Rodgers' last appearance in a dome. That would be three weeks ago in the divisional playoffs, when he delivered a titanic performance (31 completions in 36 pass attempts, 366 yards, 3 touchdowns) in a 48-21 rout of the Falcons. The roof of Cowboys Stadium will be closed for the Super Bowl, and the consensus is that Green Bay's pass-heavy offense is built for a dome.
To prove the masses right, Rodgers will need to throw up an even better game than he did against the Falcons. The Steelers have arguably the best defense in the league, led by Polamalu and linebacker and resident bad boy James Harrison, and they should be able to throttle the Packers' mediocre running game (sorry, James Starks). So the Green Bay attack rests squarely on Rodgers' right arm. The way he's played this postseason, it's tough to bet against him.
The story here is Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham, who was brought in midseason to replace Jeff Reed. On the one hand, Suisham has been cut by four teams and rejected by another in the last 14 months and is best known for "The Choke" last year against the Saints. On the other hand, he's made 15 of 16 field goal attempts since joining the Steelers. So which Suisham will show up, the guy who's been automatic for the last three months or the Choker?
Mike Tomlin has proven to be a worthy successor to Bill Cowher and has successfully managed a team of big egos and loose cannons (as in Roethlisberger and Harrison). Packers' head honcho Mike McCarthy has gotten the most out of his team when it counts and has facilitated Rodgers' development as well as a coach can.
But in key situations, Tomlin has shown a willingness to gamble, while McCarthy often displays Andy Reid-level clock management. The last time these teams met, Tomlin dialed up an onside kick with four minutes to go and the Steelers leading 30-28. The kick failed, but given Sean Payton's successful onside kick in last year's Super Bowl, Tomlin could have a little more trickery up his sleeve.
Green Bay hasn't trailed in the second half of any of its three playoff games. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has already shown it can play from behind, rallying from a 21-7 halftime deficit to beat the Ravens in the divisional round. If the Packers find themselves trailing in the fourth quarter, can Rodgers handle the same pressure that has felled the likes of Brady and Peyton Manning in the last few years?
Higher scoring than people expect. A close game throughout. And the lack of a running game will haunt Green Bay at some point.
Steelers 27, Packers 24