Our fearless CBCSports.ca writers break down this Sunday's clash between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. Plus, the boys give their predictions for Super Bowl XLV.
Fellas, the last time these two teams met was back in 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Both clubs combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offence before the Steelers walked away with a wild 37-36 victory on the last play of the game. Can we expect to see any where near the offensive explosion this Sunday in Dallas?
Jesse Campigotto: First off, how dare you take my attention away from the Pro Bowl. When I want an offensive explosion, I know what to watch: an all-star game that, as far as I can tell, is played on an all-inclusive resort between barely interested players who may or may not be hung over, with game plans designed by guys wearing Hawaiian shirts. As for Steelers-Packers, I'd be surprised to see another shootout like that 2009 game. Troy Polamalu didn't play in that one, and Pittsburgh is clearly a different (worse) team without him. On the Green Bay side, everyone is talking about Aaron Rodgers, and with good reason. But the Packers' defence has been almost as vital to their Super Bowl run.
Brandon Hicks: Absolutely not. I'm not saying it's going to be a 7-6 game (man, that would be terrible), but all you need to do is remember which units came up the biggest during championship week: the Steelers' defence, and the Packers' defence. For all their mistakes in the second half, the Steelers pulled off that huge goal-line stand which ended up being the difference in the game, while the Packers' defence scored what ended up being the game-winning touchdown (thank you…B.J. Raji? Still shaking my head at the physics of what happened there). These units are both playing well, and they also have two weeks to prepare.
Chris Iorfida: I do think we're going to see a fair amount of points, despite the defensive prowess of both teams (plus I'm figuring at least one of the D's will score six). Turf won't be an issue, nor weather, and it's two teams who don't often dink and dunk their way to the end zone; they like the long pass. Whether it's a razor-thin as last time they met, I'm not so sure.
Tony Care: I'm not expecting them to put up that ridiculous amount of yards again, but I say they score points more than what some may think. Both offences can exploit some areas that play to their strengths. For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers and his receiving core should take full advantage of a Steelers' secondary that's not nearly as good as the team's front seven. On the flip side, Pittsburgh has a chance to attack the middle of the field, a strategy that could see tight end Heath Miller have a bigger role. I don't anticipate both defences missing the same amount of tackles that resulted in the shootout two years ago.
For one half, anyway, we saw the Steelers return to the Bill Cowher days as they effectively pounded the ball right through the Jets in the AFC title game. Do the Steelers need to stick with the running game in order to knock off the Packers or can they rely on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger to get them a seventh Super Bowl championship?
Tony Care: I just don't think they have the horses up front to pull it off, especially now that they lost centre Maurkice Pouncey — their best offensive lineman — for the Super Bowl. One of the big misconceptions is that the Packers are weak against the run. While they struggled in the regular season, the playoffs have been a total reversal. B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett have all done a nice job up front. Look, the Steelers will try to run the ball, but don't expect Rashard Mendenhall to have much success.
Chris Iorfida: It seems like it's going to be the key to the game, and it's why they're here — both teams discovered more than a semblance of a running game in the playoffs. Just for the preservation of their wounded line the Steelers will have to pay heed to balance, but fending off the pass rush of B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews all day could get wearisome.
Brandon Hicks: Can't stick with their running game here, not with Big Ben back there looking for his third ring. The Steelers showed they have their running game churning to perfection against the Jets, but they have one of the best clutch quarterbacks ever in their backfield. Balanced attack will work well here, considering the Packers' success against the run in the post-season (second in yards per-game, behind Pittsburgh).
Jesse Campigotto: The Jets are a good run-stuffing team, and Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall killed them on the ground. Green Bay tied for 22nd in the league this season at 4.5 yards allowed per rush in the regular season, so that seems like the way to attack them. Of course, Philly had the most efficient rushing attack in the league, and Green Bay neutralized them in the wild-card round. But Roethlisberger is a much better passer than Michael Vick, so the Packers can't afford to load up against the run like they could against the Eagles. That might open things up for Mendenhall, making him good value for Super Bowl MVP at 15/2 odds.
When you look at how the sixth-seeded Packers got to this point, they used a very aggressive defence, as much as a potent offence, to get through three tough roads games and make it to the Super Bowl. There's no denying defensive co-ordinator Dom Capers won't call off the dogs, but is this best approach to beating the Steelers?
Brandon Hicks: On the contrary, I think this may be the perfect time for Capers to really DO call off the dogs. The Steelers are likely expecting the Packers to blitz and continue to stay aggressive, so it could be the perfect opportunity for the Green Bay "D" to complicate the situation by going with a coverage and zone-blitz heavy package — and hey, isn't that how they got their game-winning TD against the Bears?
Tony Care: Let's put it this way: Dom Capers is secretly chuckling at the thought of his defensive front attacking Pittsburgh's shaky line. I mean, who's going to block linebacker Clay Matthews one-on-one? If the Steelers double Matthews, Capers has the luxury of sending defensive back Charles Woodson, who has the versatility to rush the passer, cover and help out in run support.
Jesse Campigotto: Roethlisberger's passing numbers were not good against the Jets, but he made some key scrambles to compliment the work of Mendenhall, and the Jets seemed caught off guard. It's almost like they put everything they had into shutting down the Steelers' passing game and hoped the run defence would take care of itself. Not a bad strategy against a Steelers team that wasn't great this season running the ball but was superb in the passing game (especially if you consider their season stats include four weeks without Roethlisberger). The strategy didn't work for New York, but that doesn't mean it's not worth considering for Green Bay.
Ok, it's prediction time. Who wins Super Bowl XLV and why?
Brandon Hicks: Even though neither team looked impressive for long stretches of their title games, I'm still going with the Packers. They have a defence that comes up big and a quarterback who is taking over games by himself in the playoffs. And they look like the hungrier of the two teams. I like the Steelers, I really do, but they've only played solid for two of four halves in the past two games. If they can put together a full 60-minute performance in Dallas, Green Bay's going to have a knockdown drag-out fight on its hands.
Jesse Campigotto: I was afraid you would ask that. This game is a real toss-up between two excellent teams who are both on a roll. The betting man in me says put your money on whatever team is getting the points, and right now that's Pittsburgh. I was surprised to see the spread come out at 2.5 in favour of Green Bay when these teams appear to me more or less dead even. Seeing as how the spread hasn't factored into a single playoff game this year (the outright winner has covered every time), I guess I'll go with Pittsburgh to win. Maybe that sounds like a shaky reason, but to me it's as good as any you'll hear this week by pundits claiming they know who'll win a matchup this close.
Chris Iorfida: As much as I hate to say this, I'm going to have to go with my head and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I know that Pittsburgh's line is banged up and they ostensibly don't have as many weapons as the Pack, who are on quite the roll, but I'm just getting that sense from Green Bay that they're a little too amped up, that they're going through the yips that we've seen other first time Super Bowl teams experience. Also, I'm not sure Mike Tomlin-Mike McCarthy is a fair coaching fight and I worry about Green Bay's special teams.
Tony Care: I'm sticking with my pre-season pick of Green Bay winning it all. I agree with Chris that the Packers' special teams are a concern, but I think Green Bay holds an advantage in the offensive and defensive areas. There are certain teams that show no fear playing in their first Super Bowl — the 1993 Dallas Cowboys come to mind — and I believe the Packers will come through. Aaron Rodgers isn't wet behind the ears, either. This post-season run has given him the confidence that trumps any jitters he'll have prior to Sunday's game. The Steelers are a little too banged up for my liking. Mark it down: the Packers will win their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.