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Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Preview: When Pittsburgh has the Ball

The Super Bowl XLV Preview will come in three parts.  The first two will detail the individual match-ups when either team has the ball while the third part of this series will give my overall assessment on who wins those battles and ultimately who will win the Super Bowl.  This edition will cover what you need to know when the Steelers are on offense.

When Pittsburgh has the ball this Sunday most eyeballs will be on Big Ben Roethlisberger.  That might be stating the obvious but there has been nobody better when it comes to crunch time Quarterbacking this season than black and yellow's #7.  Roethlisberger ranked tops in the league in clutch passing situations, as evaluated in Football Outsider's ranking of completion percentage (49%) on 3rd and 8 or more.  He is definitely a guy you want to have leading your team when you absolutely NEED to get a first down, which is so often a determining factor in tight elimination games.  He is going to be tested by lots of pressure coming from all over the field on Sunday by the Packers blitzers and it's not going to help that he is playing behind a very weak offensive line.  

That line is further depleted by the injury to the Steelers' starting Rookie Center, Maurkice Pouncey.  Pouncey has a severe high ankle sprain and is very questionable for Sunday's game.  His backup, Doug Legursky filled in admirably well in the AFC Championship game.  In fact the Steelers' Offensive Line paved the way that day for their Running Back, Rashard Mendenhall's 3rd best rushing performance of the year with 121 yards on the ground.  Whoever ends up playing, either Legursky or a less than 100% Pouncey, will have their work cut out for them as they'll be tasked with keeping Green Bay's Nose Tackle, B.J. "The Freezer" Raji away from Roethlisberger.  Raji has shown a knack for getting to the football this year with 6.5 sacks, 2 of them against the Patriots who were recently ranked as the top Offensive Line in the League.  His ability to collapse a pass pocket will give Green Bay's speedy perimeter defenders, most notably Clay Matthews, more time to reach Big Ben as he is forced to escape Raji's pressure up the middle.  Matthews, who has 13.5 sacks of his own this year, was mistakenly introduced as the AP Defensive Player of the Year by several media outlets earlier this week before it was given to Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu.  While Raji might get all the attention, his fellow Defensive Lineman, Cullen Jenkins had exactly 1/2 more sacks on the year to give him 7 total.
The Packers Defense is going to be tasked with shutting down what has become a much more balanced and versitile Pittsburgh Offense.  Roethlisberger has utilized a number of receiving options this season but speedy 2nd year WR, Mike Wallace had a break-out year finishing 5th in the League in receiving yards.  Look for the Packers to try to lock him up with their own break-out star in this year's playoffs, Corner Back Tramon Williams who is the fastest man in Green Bay's Defensive backfield.  Although he finished tied for 3rd in the League with 6 interceptions during the regular season, his 3 in the post season have put him in a class of his own.  Roethlsburger has a great deep ball, but he is going to have to be perfect to get it past Williams on Sunday.  Ben will also have trusty old Hines Ward lurking underneath for quick slants and crackback blocks but he'll be matched up against last year's Defensive Player of the Year winner, CB Charles Woodson.  Ben has also turned to unheralded WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown at huge points throughout their post season run.  Despite all those talented WRs, the secret weapon of the day might be Tight End Heath Miller who has been somewhat quiet lately and could have a huge game if the Packers overlook him.

Hey Tramon!  That's Tim Tebow's old roommate Riley Cooper, you can't do that to him!
The Steelers running game had somewhat of a dissapointing season but really came to life in the AFC Championship game against the Jets, who by the way have the League's top Run Defense.  Steeler RB, Rashard Mendenhall showed why the Steelers chose him with their first overall draft pick 2 years ago by hitting the hole hard and bouncing it outside with speed to get the edge when the opportunity arose. He could have a very big game in the Super Bowl because while the Packers have a very good Pass Defense, their Run D leaves a little to be desired.  The Packers were 18th in yards allowed this season.  Clay Matthews' fellow long tressed Linebacker, AJ Hawk will be relied upon to shut down Mendenhall.  Hawk led the Packers in tackles this season and they are going to need a great game from this former 1st Round pick, if they hope to keep the Steelers Offense in check.

Part 2 in the Super Bowl XLV Preview Series is coming out later today and will focus on the players and match-ups that will be key when Green Bay has the ball.

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