Super Bowl Q&A: Powers of time
Packers-Steelers is a battle of historical heavyweights; here's an early look
PITTSBURGH -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, though disappointed his franchise isn't participating in Super Bowl XLV, couldn't have been any luckier with the Super Bowl draw.
The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers -- two of the game's best brand names with two of the best traveling fans in all of sports -- meet up in Arlington, Texas, for a chance to win the Lombardi Trophy.
The Steelers will be trying to take ownership of the Lombardi Trophy for the seventh time in franchise history. This will be their third trip in six years. The Packers are going for the fifth time (they've won three), but this is the first time they'll have a chance to claim the Lombardi Trophy, named after their legendary former coach, against the team that has won it the most. It should make for great theater.
Here is the first round of questions heading into two weeks of Super Bowl hype.
1. What is the historical perspective of this game?
The Packers will try to become the second No. 6 seed to win a Super Bowl. Who was the first? The Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 after the 2005 season. Since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002, wild-card teams have made a lot of noise. The New York Giants were a No. 5 seed in 2007 and they beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The reason for wild-card success? Quarterbacks -- more than anything else. Elite quarterbacks don't always win division titles. But an elite quarterback can carry a team through three road victories to get to the Super Bowl. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have done it. Aaron Rodgers of the Packers did it this season.
2. How does the QB matchup stack up?
At the age of 28, Roethlisberger will be on the cusp of Hall of Fame consideration if he can win a third Super Bowl. He's 10-2 in playoff games and has evolved into one of the league's all-time great clutch quarterbacks. He's one of the best in the league rolling out to the right and creating big plays on the run. He's also clutch in the fourth quarter. Both Super Bowl quarterbacks have strong arms and can make big plays. Both quarterbacks can make first downs with their feet. Rodgers heads to the Super Bowl the hotter quarterback. He has completed 71 percent of his passes (66 of 93) for 790 yards and six touchdowns in three playoff games. But there is a subtle difference that could give Roethlisberger a slight advantage. Super Bowl balls usually have a little more paint on them and are a little harder to handle. For Roethlisberger, it shouldn't be a problem. This will be his third game using Super Bowl balls. This is Rodgers' first experience.
3. What will other teams copy from this Super Bowl?
The Steelers' way of doing defense. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been credited with the zone blitz packages that neutralized the West Coast offenses created by Bill Walsh. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers learned the Steelers' defense when he was an assistant in Pittsburgh from 1992 to 1994. LeBeau was also there at the time. A couple teams with defensive coordinator openings are looking at defensive assistants from both staffs. The Cardinals would love to get LeBeau, whose contract expires after the Super Bowl. They are also considering Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton. The Panthers want defensive line coach Mike Trgovac of the Packers, and linebacker coach Winston Moss could be targeted. Capers has used a 2-4-5 scheme that has baffled offenses all season. LeBeau keeps quarterbacks guessing with his zone blitz.
4. Have these teams met enough to have a rivalry between them?
No. In 2005, the Steelers beat the Packers in Lambeau Field, 20-10. Last season, the Packers came to Heinz Field and the Steelers won 37-36 in a wild game. In that game, Rodgers threw for 383 yards. Roethlisberger completed 29 of 46 passes for 503 yards. A repeat of that type of game could create one of the greatest Super Bowls in history. From that game, Roethlisberger felt he could beat the Packers with passes in the middle of the field. The Packers have had problems covering tight ends, so expect the Steelers to target Heath Miller.
5. Which team has the most worries in the secondary?
Rodgers and Packers coach Mike McCarthy will be trying to target Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden, who was the league's most burned defender in 2010. He was targeted 116 times and gave up 77 completions for 870 yards and five touchdown passes. The Packers know McFadden well because they went at him in a playoff game last year when he was with the Arizona Cardinals. McFadden didn't fit in the Cardinals' scheme and was traded back to the Steelers during the offseason. The Steelers' best cornerback is Ike Taylor, who was beaten 54 times for 702 yards but only one touchdown. Those numbers can be a little misleading because teams don't run on the Steelers, so they are forced to throw more passes. The Packers have three Pro Bowlers -- cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams and safety Nick Collins.
6. What will be the main injuries to follow during the next two weeks?
Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high left ankle sprain and his status for the Super Bowl will be the most scrutinized during the next two weeks. Normally, a player with a high ankle sprain is written off because the injury usually takes four to six weeks to heal. Pouncey said after Sunday's 24-19 victory over the Jets not to count him out. He said he suffered a high ankle sprain at Ohio State to his right ankle and was able to come back in a week.
"I think to say anything at this point would be premature,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Of course, it was such that he couldn't go back in the game today. I am sure we will have more information that will be debated here in the next couple of weeks.''
Remember a couple years ago when Hines Ward fought back from a knee injury and was able to play in the Super Bowl when most people thought he couldn't? The extra time will give safety Troy Polamalu a chance to get healthier coming off his Achilles/ankle problem. Defensive end Aaron Smith will see if he can play after missing most of the season with a triceps tear. Safety Will Allen has a knee injury that caused him to miss Sunday's victory over the Jets. Roethlisberger took a shot to his leg but was able to play through it. He's fine. The Packers should be in good shape. Linebacker Frank Zombo, who's missed several weeks with a knee injury, could return. He was reasonably close to playing on Sunday.
Everyone will be trying to have Roethlisberger and his teammates relive the past offseason, when Roethlisberger received a six-game suspension (later reduced to four games) and nearly ruined his career with a sexual assault accusation (no charges were filed, but the NFL ruled that he violated its personal conduct policy). The Dallas media will be all over Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams, who was cut by the Cowboys but finally got to the Super Bowl by signing on with the Steelers. Plenty of people will be trying to write that Rodgers is the league's next superstar. Steelers linebacker James Harrison and his teammates will be deluged by questions about NFL fines for excessive hits. Packers coach McCarthy, a Pittsburgh native, will be a focus of stories about how he could keep a Super Bowl from his hometown. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who is likely to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, will be a hot item. Steelers receiver Hines Ward, a great talker, will be asked about his aggressive style of play and how long he wants to continue in the game. Packers rookie halfback James Starks will be a sidebar compared with Steelers halfback Rashard Mendenhall. There will be stories about the organizations and their fans. The Packers are a small-town, publicly owned team. The Steelers are one of the most popular franchises in football. There will be plenty of Hall of Famers from both organizations floating around the Dallas-Fort Worth area giving interviews and thoughts.
8. Where are the holes along the offensive line for both teams?
Both teams have issues with their tackles. Because of injuries, backup Jonathan Scott starts at left tackle for Pittsburgh. Pouncey suffered an ankle injury and might not be able to play in the Super Bowl. Green Bay's tackles have surrendered 19½ sacks this season. Rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga has given up 11 sacks in 12 starts. Left tackle Chad Clifton surrendered 8½ in 16 starts. Both quarterbacks tend to hold the ball long to make big plays, so there could be plenty of sacks in this Super Bowl. Roethlisberger was sacked 32 times in 12 regular-season games. Rodgers was sacked 31 times in 15. The Steelers have used more three-tight end sets to help on running plays and give extra protection in the past.
9. Will the teams preach power football or finesse?
The Packers lost their starting running back, Ryan Grant, in the season opener. Recently, they've manufactured some running with rookie Starks. They tried an inverted wishbone formation that has helped. Interestingly, the Steelers used their version of an inverted wishbone on some running plays in Sunday's victory over the New York Jets. The Steelers really don't have a fullback, so they use two tight ends in the backfield ahead of Mendenhall. The Packers have used a tight end and fullback John Kuhn as the lead blockers in their inverted wishbone. Both teams are creative with their schemes. The Packers and Steelers use some five-receiver sets to spread the field. Of the two, though, the Steelers can be more conventional when necessary because they have the best pure running back in the Super Bowl. Mendenhall had 121 yards on 27 carries against the Jets; he rushed for 1,273 yards during the regular season.
10. Is the Steelers' defense over the hill?
In 1971, the Washington Redskins and head coach George Allen assembled a group known as "The Over-the-Hill Gang." Many of the players were older veterans Allen brought over from the Los Angeles Rams. The average age of that defense -- in terms of starters -- was 28.7. Well, this Steelers defense is actually older. The average age of the Steelers' starters is 29.55. There are six starters in their 30s and two who are 29. The Steelers' defense shows no sign of slowing down. The unit had one of its best seasons for stopping the run and one of its best seasons tackling.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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