|Ardent Packer fan and Black Eyed Peas front-woman, Fergie.|
In the flurry of asinine media coverage spewing from North Texas this week, one has to remind oneself that there is, at the end of this arduous journey of journalistic one-upsmanship, a football game to be played. After the shrill circus on media row finishes blabbing about Cutler’s injury, egotistical owners, and Packer player tweets, there will actually be two teams who take the field – one of whom, if I remember correctly from what seems like months ago, is the Packers.
That means that, like all sports media covering this over-hyped affair, I need to eventually provide some modicum of value in the form of a pre-game analysis, and not just speculate what outfit Fergie will come out in for the Black Eyed Peas' half-time show (though, by all accounts, she’s a die-hard Packers fan, so I expect something green and gold). So enough of the escapade, it’s time for the serious-ish football breakdown you’ve come to expect from TriggPack.
As any good Super Bowl coach can tell you, you need to ride the horse that got you there. And for me, the good luck formula that has worked in both the Atlanta and Chicago games is my three keys to the a victory on Sunday. So here goes:
- Exploit Maurkice Pouncey’s absence – although the Steelers still refuse to declare him out, the injury to Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey could prove pivotal. Initially reported as a “high ankle sprain,” it turns out the guy has a broken bone. Although he is talking tough, claiming he’s 75% likely to start Sunday, anyone with a medical degree has to be skeptical. Behind him is the not-often-heralded veteran Doug Legursky. Regardless of who starts, the Steelers will be vulnerable at this critical position. B.J. Raji should be able to exploit Legursky or Pouncy and his hard cast and command a double team, which will mean fewer blockers for Jenkins, Pickett and Matthews, and a tougher time picking up the Packers’ blitzes. The Steelers offensive line wasn’t particularly good to start with, but Green Bay needs to exploit this situation fully to stuff the run and get pressure on Roethlisberger.
- Return to the short passing game – the Steelers had the #1 run defense in the regular season, allowing just 62.8 rushing yards per game (the Packers were #18 at 114.9 yard/game, by the way). So even though James Starks has come on of late, it is going to be hard to run the ball against the Steelers’ front seven. It will also be hard to connect on the 20+ yard passing game that was such a key part of the win against the Bears. The Steelers’ blitz schemes and complex coverages will make those long plays difficult to complete. I think the Packers will need to dig out the West Coast offense playbook that McCarthy hopefully has stashed someplace and run more screens, slants and other quick release formations to slow down the pass rush and open up the running game. The receivers will have to be sharp. Finley would be so nice to have on the active roster right now. Quarless and Crabtree will need to step up – as will Starks and Jackson out of the backfield.
- Don’t get intimidated by the stage – If there’s one area the Steelers have a decided advantage, it’s that they’ve been here before. Even with Roger Goodell stirring up the Roethlisberger sexual harassment controversy again, the Steelers know what to expect this week – the hard questions, the scrutiny, the parties, the fans, the half-time festivities, all the go-to-your-head pomp and circumstance that is the Super Bowl. Rodgers and Roethlisberger were interviewed during halftime of the Pro Bowl, and I thought Rodgers seemed a little more tense and reserved than usual. The Packers have done a good job playing through hype and drama this year, particularly during this playoff run. And who they are as individuals as well as their chemistry as a team suggest they will remain focused on the task at-hand and not get overly distracted. But they need to play calm, play within themselves, do what they do well, and not make mental mistakes if they’re going to win this game. If you see any Packers players getting autographs from Will.i.am before the game, you'll know we're in trouble.
Overall, this is a great match-up on paper – two very similar teams, two storied franchises, two organizations trying to make history. Even though the media mayhem is getting tiresome, I will continue to lap up every bit of news leading up to the big game. Can’t wait.