Archive for Super Bowl 45

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2011 by Joe

Uggggggh. Now that I have had an entire day to process the events of Sunday night, I’m still upset. I had originally planned on writing a review of the game yesterday but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. If you live under a rock and don’t know, the Packers won, the Steelers lost , and Aaron Rodgers was the Super Bowl 45 MVP.

It was a game that was full of up and downs. One minute I would think the Packers were going to run away with it and the next, the Steelers would come storming back to make a game of it.

Ben Roethlisberger helped the Packers jump out to a 21-3 lead late into the 2nd quarter after throwing 2 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. When it looked as if all hope was lost, Ben guided the Steelers down the field and made it a 21-10 game with 39 seconds left after a touchdown pass to Hines Ward. It looked as if the momentum had changed. Not only did the Steelers make it a 11 point game, the Packers also lost Sam Shields, Nick Collins, and most importantly for the Steelers offense, Charles Woodson. Of the three, only Collins would come back in the second half.

Like I said, the momentum was on the Steelers side. Rashard Mendenhall made it a 4 point game five minutes into the third with a 8 yard touchdown run. The Steelers looked dominate. After a defensive stop, the Steelers got the ball back in great field position and moved down to the Packers 33. The Steelers were driving, had all the momentum, and looked as if they were going to take their first lead of the game. Then it all changed. Clay Matthews stripped Mendenhall of the ball. Turnover. Packers ball. Game.

I know it was still a four point game in the third quarter when Mendenhall fumbled the ball, but it didn’t matter. Aaron Rodgers was just to good. He capped off one of the best postseason a quarterback has ever had with a 24/39, 309 yard, 3 touchdown game. He was just tremendous.

My post last week broke down each team position by position. I said that the biggest liability of the Steelers was the secondary. Rodgers exploited the Steelers weakness to perfection. You really couldn’t have asked for a better game from the quarterback. Even though his receivers tried to let him down by dropping some big passes, Rodgers never wavered and made every big throw he needed to. With the Packers leading the Steelers 21-17 and Mendenhall turning the ball over, Rodgers led the Pack down the field and completed a 8 yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. The Steelers wouldn’t recover.

You couldn’t expect the Steelers to recover. You cannot turn the ball over three times against a team of Green Bay’s caliber and expect to win. You just can’t. Not when Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback and has picked apart the defense all game long.

Not only do you have to give Rodgers a ton of credit, but you have to give the Packer’s offensive line a ton of credit to. They kept the pressure off him most of the game, allowing only 3 sacks. Rodgers had time to stand in the pocket and find the open receiver.

It was admirable that the Steelers kept fighting. They just wouldn’t give up. Considering they were down 21-3 at one point in the first half of the game, it was actually pretty impressive that they still had a chance to win the game at the end. Big Ben was solid in the second half. He completed a 25 yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace to close the gap. After converting the two point conversion, the Steelers were actually only down 3 points.

The Packers got a field goal with a little over 2 minutes remaining the game to make it a 31-25 game and the Steelers would get the ball back to win another Super Bowl on a last-minute drive. I was confidant once again. We had seen this movie before. The ball was in Ben’s hands and he was more than capable of driving the Steelers down the field and throwing the game ending touchdown.

The 4th down pass to Wallace fell to the ground incomplete. It was over. The Packers celebrated and hoisted the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time in franchise history. The nightmares from the Steelers Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys came flooding back

We can sit here and talk about how good Aaron Rodgers was. Or how good the Packers offensive line played. Or the great game plan that Mike McCarthy put together. However, for me, it all comes back to 21 points off of 3 turnovers. You just can’t win a game when you play like that.

The Steelers did a lot of good things on that Sunday. The line, especially Doug Legursky, played very well. Mendenhall did make some nice runs. Wallace played great and Hines Ward made another strong case for being considered a Hall of Famer. But Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu were invisible. Mike Tomlin’s decision to try that field goal was just down right dumb. And two interceptions and a fumble, all of which ended up turning into points for the Packers made the difference. On this particular Sunday, the Packers deserved to win the game.

This loss will brew for a while, especially if there is a labor stoppage and we don’t have football to look forward to. It just something we Steelers fans are going to have to live with. It hurts now, and the pain will eventually go away, just not anytime soon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14eFtsB0mYo

Super Bowl 45 (XLV)

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , on February 3, 2011 by Joe

It’s that time of year again. When the two best teams in the NFL square off to determine who is number 1. My hometown and beloved Pittsburgh Steelers go up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Dallas. The Super Bowl is one of the greatest events in sports and I get to watch MY team play in it for the fourth time now. I’ve only had to sit through one loss in my lifetime to the hated Cowboys and have gotten to see two wins. The game against the Arizona Cardinals was one of the most agonizing yet joyful games I’ve watched as a Steelers fan.  

I was pretty young when the Steelers played the Cowboys so I don’t remember the run up to that game very well but I do remember the last two like they happened yesterday and I didn’t feel all that nervous for either of them. However, I do feel really nervous about this one. I really like the Packers. In fact, I actually picked them to win the Super Bowl before the season started. Now I have to watch them play the Steelers. The Packers are a great team and they scare me.

I think that I can maybe quell that fear a little by breaking down each position group against position group. Here is a shot in the dark.

Quarterback

I will start at the most important position in football. Ben Roethlisberger vs Aaron Rodgers. This is a tough one to judge. Both are top five quarterbacks in the league.

Aaron Rodgers has been a fast riser. Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for the first three seasons of his career. Since Brett Favre “retired” then went on to play for the Jets, Rodgers has come off the bench and has never looked back. Aaron Rodgers is 27-20 over the last three seasons and has managed to put up huge numbers including 12,723 yards passing, 87 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 98.4. I think it’s safe to say that you want the guy on your fantasy football team. The Green Bay Packers have a great team and it all starts at the top with Rodgers.

Say what you want about Big Ben the person (trust me when I say that I hate the person but cheer for the jersey), but you can’t deny what the guy does on the football field. He knows how to win games and if you need a scoring drive in the last two minutes, you want the ball in his hands. Ben doesn’t necessarily have the big passing numbers that Rodgers does, but it doesn’t really matter when the game is on the line. As a starter, Roethlisberger is 69-29 in the regular season and 8-2 in the playoffs. He also has those two Super Bowl rings to show for himself. Ben is the toughest quarterback in the NFL to bring down and he has frustrated so many opposing defenses when it looks as if he is going to be sacked and gets out of it and makes a huge completion. While he hasn’t had the most dominating of games in these playoffs, he has come through every time the Steelers desperately needed a big play.

Rodgers is one of the best in the game. He has a big arm, can make every throw a quarterback needs to make and can get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet. The Packers would not have gotten this far without him and he should be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the game. With that said, I have to give the nod to Big Ben here. Only because he has been here before. Roethlisberger had one of his best games as a professional in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals. He has shown the big game and the spotlight doesn’t affect his game and he won’t shrink from the pressure. The countless big wins and two Super Bowl rings give the Steelers the advantage at the top position.

Advantage: Steelers

Running Back

Packers fans breathed a sigh of relief when James Starks, the 6th round pick out of the University of Buffalo, had the game of his career in the wild card game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a much-needed improvement in the running game that relied pretty heavily on fullback John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson who had 3.3 and 3.7 yards per rush respectively. Considering Aaron Rodgers had the second most rushing yards on the team, it’s safe to say that the Green Bay rushing game was pretty bad. In fact, Green Bay was 24th the league with only 100.4 rushing yards per game. The Packers running game suffered tremendously when the starting running back, Ryan Grant, when down for the season in the first game with an injury. They just couldn’t get anything going all year until Starks blew up for over 140 yards rushing in that game against the Eagles. However, since that game, Starks has come back down to earth and once again the Pack have had to rely, like all season, on Rodgers arm.

For the Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall had the best season of his young career. Mendenhall rushed for 1273 yards and 13 touchdowns this season behind a suspect offensive line. The one knock on Rashard is that at times he looks tentative running through the hole. Instead of just seeing the hole and exploding through it (get your mind out of the gutter), he will take a step to the left or right before going up field. This most likely has something to do with his pedestrian, 3.9 yards per attempt. The Steelers have had success running the football this year as they have ranked 11th in the NFL in running yards per game with 120.3. The Steelers running game is not what it once was, but is still effective when it needs to be.

The lack of running game for the Packers is troublesome as it makes their team a bit one-dimensional. They will have to rely heavily on Rodgers making plays which can be an issue against a tough Steelers defense that is hard to run against in the first place. The Packers have proven that they are up to task though. In the NFC Championship game, the Chicago Bears did a great job of shutting down the running game and limiting what Rodgers could do but they still came out victorious. The Steelers showed the strength of their running game in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens with Mendenhall breaking the 100 yard mark in the first half of the game, leading the Steelers to 24-3 halftime lead. The weakness in the running game is the Steelers offensive line. They are a make shift unit at this point and with a tough Green Bay run defense, the Steelers running game may have trouble getting traction. When comparing the two units, you just can’t throw out that Green Bay was 24th in rushing, while the Steelers were 11th.

Advantage: Steelers

Wide Receivers:

Green Bay may have one of the best receiving groups in the NFL. There isn’t really anything not to like. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson are all receivers that can come up big and make plays when needed. They are just so difficult to defend against. If you take one receiver out of the game, Rodgers can pick apart the secondary with another. Driver and Nelson are great possession receivers who can catch the underneath route, get yards after the catch and move the chains. Jennings and Jones are the deep threats that can beat a defense over the top. Just think how much better this already great receiving group would be if they hadn’t loss Jermichael Finley for the season. It’s no surprise that the Packers hung 48 points on the Falcons and Rodgers threw for 3 touchdown passes.

The Steelers have trusted wide receiver Hines Ward, who at 35 is still capable of playing quality football. It’s true that he has lost a step, but he is still a punishing blocker that is great at moving the chains and hanging on to a tough catch, smiling all the while. On the other side of the field is the speedster, Mike Wallace. Wallace had his first 1000 yard season and his 21 yards per catch is near the top of the NFL. Wallace has proven difficult to defend against this season and forces opposing defenses to keep a safety deep which helps open up the underneath routes and running game. At the tight end position, the under the radar Heath Miller is another solid target for Ben. He is sure handed an another weapon at the Steelers disposal that is great in the red zone and it a tough matchup for an opposing defense. Then there are the rookies, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. They have both turned out to be solid draft picks, especially Sanders. Brown came up with that huge catch against the Ravens on 4th down which helped to send the Steelers to the AFC Championship game where Sanders came up with the game icing reception against the Jets.

The Steelers receivers have shown that they can hang with the best of them and should be a threat for years to come. Wallace has done a great job at replacing Santonio Holmes (who was traded to the Jets in the off-season) and it looks as if the Steelers finally have a replacement in place for Ward when he finally decides to retire. They don’t drop many balls and Ben has shown complete trust in them over the course of the season. Outside of Ward and Miller though, they are pretty unexperienced and young and it’s going to be interesting to see if playing in a game of this caliber is going to affect them. The Packers receivers have proven that they are some of the best in football and are a big reason they are playing in the Super Bowl. It is so hard to defend against them as anyone of them can come with a play when needed. Jennings could be a number 1 receiver for any team in the league and the rest of those guys could start at the number 2 spot for any team as well.

Advantage: Packers

Offensive Line

Next to the running back position, this is the one of the biggest question marks for the Green Bay Packers. They were 11th in the league in sacks allowed with 38 and according to Football Outsiders (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol), they were ranked 23rd in run blocking and 21st in pass blocking. Even though they lost Ryan Grant during the first game of the season, a part of the reason they have trouble running the ball is because of their line. If the Packers are going to have success moving the ball, their offensive line is going to have to step up. The line is rather young and inexperienced and for the Packers to succeed, they are going to have to hold off a tough Steelers defense.

The same goes for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose offensive line is just as bad. With the loss of surprising rookie center, Maurkice Pouncey, the offensive line took yet another step backwards. Injury as decimated an already questionable line throughout the season. Not only will Pouncey most likely miss the Super Bowl, so will left tackle Max Starks and Willie Colon. Having to put my trust in Doug Legursky at center makes me nervous. The Steelers offensive line allowed 43 sacks during the regular season, good for 8th in the league. Football Outsiders has them ranked 19th in run blocking and 29th in pass blocking.

Both offensive lines are a concern and both will most likely have the biggest impact on this game. Which offensive line holds up against a tough defense will be a big key to this game and will help to determine who wins Super Bowl 45. In this category, it’s not necessarily about who is better but about which one is worse. There is such a fine line between the two teams, it’s nearly impossible to tell.

Advantage: Push

Defensive Line

 Just like the Steelers, the Packers run a traditional 3-4 defense the majority of the time that includes massive nose tackle, BJ Raji. Raji made the key play in the win over the Bears with his interception returned for a touchdown which proved to be the winning points. The Green Bay defensive line was terrific against the pass this year. As a team they recorded 47 sacks and were ranked 4th by Football Outsiders against the pass. They were great against the pass but struggled with run defense. They were 18th in the league against the run, allowing 114.9 yards per game. Green Bay’s defense should be able to get plenty of pressure on Roethlisberger but will need to shut down the Steelers running game to be successful. The matchup that may work in the Packers favor is Raji against Legursky.

The Steelers had the best defense is the league this year and it all starts with their line. Big Casey Hampton anchors the defensive line and forces two offensive lineman to block him. Brett Keisel’s beard plays the end and he is one of the most underappreciated defensive ends in the game. On the other side is Ziggy Hood. It looked like trouble when Aaron Smith went down early in the season like last year, when the defense struggled, especially closing out games. Ziggy Hood stepped in and has been terrific for the Steelers defense all season and has come up big so far in the postseason. Like the Packers, the defensive line is not expected to get much pressure on the quarterback. They are mostly asked to take up blockers, allowing the linebackers to get into the backfield. The Steelers had the best run defense in football, and like I said earlier, it all starts up front.

Advantage: Steelers (only slightly)

Linebackers

This is where the true strength of both of these defenses lie. The Packers have one of the best linebackers in football in Clay Matthews. Matthews has been an absolute machine this year, recording 13.5 sacks, and was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers offense will need to know where he is on every play. He is a game changer. Losing Nick Barnett certainly hurt the defense, but A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, and Erik Walden have picked up the slack created by Barnett’s absence. These are two of the top defenses in the league and part of that is because the linebackers are able to create so much pressure on the quarterback. Blocking this linebacker core is going to be a challenge for the Steelers.

It seems that every year, we are talking about the Steelers linebackers. Going all the way back to Jack Lambert and Gregg Lloyd, the Steelers linebackers are usually some of the best in the business. This year is no different. LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, and James Harrison are a formidable foursome. The Steelers linebackers have accounted for 29.5 sacks of the Steelers 48 sacks this season. Because of Dick Lebeau’s creative defensive schemes, the opposing offensive has no idea where the rush is coming from. All four of these linebackers are great at confusing the offensive line and getting after the quarterback as well as dropping into coverage.

Both defenses have a great linebacker unit, but it’s hard not to give the Steelers the nod here. The Steelers allowed only 62.8 rushing yards per game and 14.5 points per game. They also had one more sack in the regular season than the Packers did and it’s because of front seven. Both of these defenses are difficult to play against.

Advantage: Steelers

Secondary

The Packers secondary is one of the team’s biggest strengths. They are 1st in opposing passer rating at 67.2 and 5th in the league with 194 passing yards allowed per game. Their previously unknown corners, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have really stepped up this season. Add in Pro Bowl cornerback, Charles Woodson and this team is extremely difficult to throw against. The Packers defensive front is so good at getting pressure on the opposing quarterback that Green Bay can go to a nickel or dime formation and confuse the opposing team.

While the Packers secondary is a strength, outside of Troy Polamalu, the Steelers secondary is a liability. Ryan Clark is a solid free safety but he sometimes goes for the big hit instead of the smart play and gets caught out of position. Bryan McFadden is easy to beat, especially deep and I anticipate Rodgers attacking him and William Gay all game long. Ike Taylor is definitely capable of making big plays but is prone to making stupid mistakes. As mentioned, Polamalu can make up for the weakness in the other members of the secondary. Rodgers is going to have to know where he is on every single play. He had 7 interceptions this season, even though he missed 2 games, and can also come up and play the run. If the Packers can neutralize Troy, then I think Rodgers can have a solid game against the Steelers secondary.

While Green Bay may not have had a great season stopping the run, they were fantastic against the pass. They are capable of making that big play and changing the course of the game. The Steelers are going to have to run to set up the pass and Big Ben is going to have to protect the football and not making any mistakes.

Advantage: Packers

Special Teams

I’m not going to go into much detail other than to say I trust Mason Crosby, especially in-doors, more than Shaun Suisham. Suisham has been actually pretty good since the Steelers signed him after cutting Jeff Reed but I still can’t get watching him kick for the Redskins out of my mind. The Steelers have also be known to blow assignments on punt and kick return coverage as evidenced by almost allowing that punt return touchdown by the Ravens which would have put them right back in the game and could easily have changed the course of that game.

Advantage: Packers

Coaching

Mike McCarthy deserves to a lot of credit for guiding his team to the Super Bowl with all the injuries and setbacks the Packers have had this season. He was a career record of 48-32 in the five seasons he has coached the Packers including a 4-2 park in the playoffs.

Mike Tomlin is making his second Super Bowl appearance for the Steelers and he is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. He has benefited from having a great scouting department and front office but has still proven to be an excellent coach. Since taking over the Steelers after Bill Cowher retired, he has coached the Steelers to a 43-21 regular season record and is an impressive 5-1 in the playoffs.

I have to go with experience here and considering this is Tomlin’s second appearance in the big game and only McCarthy’s first, the edge goes to Tomlin. Add in the better regular season record and the horrible time management that McCarthy has shown over the years, it makes it even easier of  a decision.

Advantage: Steelers

So after breaking down the positions groups against one another, do I feel better about this game? Absolutely not. I think this Steelers team plays right into the hands of the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has the ability to pick apart the Steelers secondary and the Packer secondary has the ability to force Roethlisberger to make mistakes. I don’t think Green Bay will be able to run on the Steelers so that will force them to win the game on Rodgers arms. The Packers wide receivers should be able to get open against the Steelers corner’s and Jennings and Jones are going to have opportunities to beat them deep. One of my biggest concerns is the Steelers offense performing against Green Bay’s defense. Steelers offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians has been very unimaginative in his play calling this season. On top of that, I fear that Green Bay’s pass rush to going to terrorize Big Ben all game long. I fear that this game is going to play out the same way that the Packers-Bears game did. The Steelers defense will be able to keep the Packers offense in check for most of the game but Rodgers will make plays and Green Bay will put points on the board. I’m just not so sure that the Steelers will be able answer enough to win the game.

So who do I think will win? I’m afraid to say and quite honestly I’m not really sure. All I am sure of is that this is going to be a close, hard-fought game. I’m going to steal a cliché from John Madden and say whoever makes more plays is going to win. This game will come down to the defense. Who can force more turnovers and commit less penalties. No matter what, we should be in for an entertaining Super Bowl 45.