Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tx. is soon to be flooded with cheese heads and terrible towels, as two of the most historic NFL teams square off in Super Bowl XLV. With the biggest game of America’s most popular sport now just days away, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers prepare to battle for the coveted Lombardi Trophy.
Both teams have superb quarterbacks that lead strong offenses, and each team has a dominant defense anchored by an elite playmaker. But while these teams appear evenly matched on a basic level, the deeper I look the more confident I am that Pittsburgh will win the title and, in the process, push Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” song to a sickeningly overplayed level.
Despite Green Bay having a higher-ranked offense in the regular season in terms of total yards and points scored, I’d much prefer to have Pittsburgh’s balanced offensive attack come Sunday then the Packers one-dimensional offense. The Steelers’ passing numbers on the year were knocked down some due to the four-game suspension of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, so in reality they have a passing attack near the top-10 to go along with their ground game that ranked 11th in the league. Meanwhile, the Packers success all comes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as they ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game, but just 24th in terms of rushing yards.
Roethlisberger threw for 3,200 yards, 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions in his 12 starts this year, while running back Rashard Mendenhall did most of the damage running the ball, finishing the season with 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Green Bay run defense ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (114.9) and gave up the second most yards per carry to opposing rushers (4.7), which means Mendenhall should be able to have a good day. Success in the ground game should allow the Steelers to control the ball and keep the vaunted Packers passing attack on the sidelines.
For Green Bay, Rodgers had an absolutely stellar year, throwing for 3,922 yards, 28 passing touchdowns and also 4 rushing scores. But though running back James Starks has been a nice story to end the season, I think he’ll find it hard to gain an inch against a Steelers defense that was tops in the league in rushing yards allowed (62.8), rushing touchdowns surrendered (5) and yards per carry (3.0). That means Pittsburgh’s legendary defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, has had the last two weeks to strategize only for Rodgers, while Packers defensive coordinator, Don Capers, has had to come up with a way to slow down both Roethlisberger and Mendenhall.
That transitions to the next reason why I’ve warmed up to Pittsburgh in Sunday’s game, as the coaching edge greatly favors the Steelers. The renowned LeBeau was already mentioned and Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin has taken the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowls now in just four years at the helm. Tomlin isn’t afraid to take risks, and he makes some of the best quick decisions of any NFL coach, which is much more impressive than it sounds when looking at the idiocy of some coaches around the league.
On the other hand, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy appears to be an offensive-version of former Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, and that’s in no way a compliment. I don’t like coaches who play not to lose, and that’s precisely what McCarthy does. McCarthy gets too conservative much too quickly on the offensive end, shutting things down in the passing game and relying on a weak rushing attack to keep the clock running when his team gets a lead. That strategy nearly allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to come back against Green Bay in the Wild Card Round and gave Chicago Bears third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie a chance to tie the game with under a minute to play in the NFC Championship Game.
While a lot is always made about a team’s offensive and defensive numbers when analyzing a game, a critical aspect of football is often overlooked: special teams. The website FootballOutsiders.com uses a formula that has gained respect and credibility in recent years that weighs the different aspects of special teams (field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts and punt returns) and ranks teams on their overall number. By those rankings, Pittsburgh finished the regular season with an average special teams unit (16th), but was still much better than the poor special teams play of the Packers (27th). While the average fan may discount such information, it’s important to note how games between teams that are as evenly matched as these could easily come down to field position.
The final reason I like the team that hails from the Steel City is experience. This is another thing that is constantly coined as overrated, but nothing really compares to the pressure of playing in front of such a large audience and dealing with the entire experience leading up to the game. According to Neilson Co., in last year’s Super Bowl a record of over 106 million people watched the New Orleans Saints topple the Indianapolis Colts, making it the most watched television telecast of all time.
With this year’s NFL ratings the highest ever, this year’s Super Bowl has a legitimate shot to surpass last year’s massive rating. The added pressure could effect a Green Bay team who hardly has any players with Super Bowl experience, but a large chunk of this Pittsburgh team has been through this before and one shouldn’t discount that advantage.
Regardless of who you are rooting for in Super Bowl XLV, take the time on Super Sunday to appreciate the sport that has become a national phenomenon. With the labor unrest still at full blaze, no resolution in sight, and a lockout apparently imminent, it could be the last NFL game in some time. If that worst-case scenario does indeed occur, hopefully the Steelers and Packers can at least send us out with a memorable game.