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Fearless Rick's NFL Super Bowl XLV Picks

Rick Gagliano | February 6, 2011

All times Eastern


Special Teams, Coaching, Intangibles

Final Analysis, Picks and Props

Super Bowl XLV



This is the first of three pages devoted to analysis of Super Bowl XLV, beetween the Pittsburgh Steelers of the AFC and the Green Bay Packers, from the NFC. This page will focus on Offense, Defense and Stats. The segments on Special Teams, Coaching and Intangibles will be available on Sunday, January 30, and the Final Analysis, Picks and Props segment on Monday, January 31.

Pittsburgh Offense - As much as most analysts would have you believe that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the key to the Steelers' offense, the entire scheme is predicated on the running of Rashard Mendenhall, the Pittsburgh back who gets almost all of the first and second down carries.

The run-first strategy was nowhere more evident than in the NFC championship game in which Mendenhall gashed the Jets' defensive front for 7, 8, 10 yards or more routinely in the first half, until New York began to commit an extra safety to defending the run. The result of Mendenhall's hard running was 121 yards on 27 carries, most of that in the first half, as Pittsburgh built an impregnable 24-0 lead.

While Mendenhall routinely set up Roethlisberger with third down and short situations, the Steeler offensive line provided protection, converting 6 of 11 third down opportunities and generated 23 first downs in the game. In third down situations, the Steelers will bring in Isaac Redman or Mewelde Moore for additional blocking or the occasional draw or trap play. Redman is especially effective in short yardage situations, along with Mendenhall and the bulky Roethlisberger.

When the Steelers are successful in the running game, they can control the pace of the game and open up the passing attack in a variety of ways. Short yardage situations usually call for the ball to go to sure-handed Heath Miller or Hines Ward. When Pittsburgh looks deep, they have a trio of speedsters in Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.

Pittsburgh doesn't need to use everybody, and they seldom screen to running backs. In their textbook win over the Jets, Roethlisberger only had to throw 19 passes, completing 10 of them. With their big lead at the half, the Steelers were content to run the clock and play defense, allowing the Jets to nibble away at the yardage and the lead, though in the end, the clock became the Steelers' friend and Pittsburgh's offense finished the game on the field.

If Pittsburgh is able to run effectively on first and second down, there are few teams that can beat them.

Green Bay Offense - The Packers would love to be able to run the ball as effectively as Pittsburgh, but injuries have reduced their options over the course of the season to the point that their main back is rookie James Starks, who has performed admirably in Green Bay's three playoff wins. The first-year back out of Buffalo rushed for 263 yards on 70 carries as the Packers rolled from #6 seed to Super Bowl contestant.

Green Bay's running game isn't going to carry them all the way, however. In playoff wins over Atlanta and Chicago, Starks was held to 2.6 and 3.4 yards per carry, leaving the offense in the capable hands of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose finest moments were in the 48-21 rout of Atlanta in the divisional round.

Rodgers has a lightning-quick release and is deadly accurate most of the time. During the regular season, he hit on 65% of his throws and tossed 28 TDs and just 11 picks. He was rolling along in the playoffs, with 6 TDs and no picks through the first two games, but was nabbed twice in the 21-14 win over the Bears, even though one of those was a flukey interception and not his fault.

He's also quite mobile and quick on his feet, capable of making good decisions and throws on the run to as solid a fleet of receivers since the days of Kurt Warner and the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf.

Those receivers include Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Donald Lee, who may see more playing time than normal tight end Andrew Quarless. The Packers rely on throwing the ball and throwing it deeper than just about any team in the league.

In order to be successful, the Packers need to complete passes from any position on the field, and with Rodgers and five big, fast targets, they have the weaponry to do so.

--- Story continues below ---

Pittsburgh Defense: Nothing says defense any more than Pittsburgh's 3-4 alignment. The Packers were #1 in scoring defense (14.5 ppg) and rushing yards allowed (62.8). It's almost impossible to run against this unit as the entire NFL is now well aware. Their plan is always to stuff the run and make their opponents one-dimensional, leaving the secondary to cover, free-lance and make plays while the front linemen and linebackers go for the QB.

Pittsburgh led the league in sacks with 48 with the bulk of them coming from outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Up front, Ziggy Hood, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel form an impregnable wall worthy of being called the second Steel Curtain. Hampton is especially skilled at nose tackle, fending off blocks and holding the middle.

In the secondary, Troy Polamalu trolls the open field looking for errant throws or receivers from which he can dislodge balls. Corners Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden are great in man coverage, and expect to see plenty of William Gay, who has thrived this season in nickel situations.

In general, the Packers will be facing the most formidable force in the league. The Steelers are a defense that will contain and demolish anything or anyone that attempts to penetrate it. The middle of the field is their ground and teams usually abandon the inside rushing game before the opening kickoff.


Green Bay Defense: If Pittsburgh's defense is built around stopping the run, then Green Bay's is designed to squelch the passing game. The Packers were fifth in the league in passing yards allowed, at 194.2, second in interceptions with 24 (New England had 25) and tied for second with 47 sacks.

The key element to their pass defense is at the cornerback positions where Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams have shut down opposing receivers throughout the season. Woodson is legendary, but Williams has emerged as the next All-Star shutdown-style corner. Passes in his direction generally end in disaster, as he picked six this season and knocked down many more than were completed against him.

Complementing the secondary is the offensive line, which has become adept at pressuring quarterbacks into mistakes or throw-aways, especially nose tackle B.J. Raji, who is a force of unknown quantity in the middle. Most teams need to double on him, which then frees up either Cullen Jenkins from the right side or outside linebacker Clay Matthews from the left.

The Packers' defensive scheme involves a lot of blitzing and they are well designed and equally well-disguised. Free runners can come from anywhere on the field, though the majority come from the left side, with A.J. Hawk and Woodson complementing Matthews and his non-stop style.

Though not great at stopping the run, the Packers will not be run over and will commit to shutting down backs on early downs. Their forte is against the pass, however, so they will try to force, second and third down and long yardage situations, and they will blitz more often than not.

Stats (regular season):
Offense Packers Steelers
Points/Game 24.3 23.4
Yards/Game 358.1 345.3
Rush yds/Game 114.9 120.3
Pass yds/Game 194.2 214.1
1st Downs/Game 19.5 18.4
3rd Down % 41.5 43.1
Time of Poss. 32:01 32.24

Defense Packers Steelers
Points/Game 15.0 14.5
Yards/Game 309.1 276.8
Rush yds/Game 114.9 62.8
Pass yds/Game 194.2 214.1
Interceptions 24 21
Forced Fumbles 14 20
Sacks 47 48

All times Eastern

Offense/Defense/Stats | Special Teams, Coaching, Intangibles | Final Analysis, Picks and Props

Copyright 2010, 2011, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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