It’s Superbowl time in Arlington Texas at the home of the famous Dallas Cowboys franchise. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had dreams of seeing his team being crowned NFL Champions in their new state of the art stadium but their dismal season never really got off the ground and the debacle ultimately cost head coach Wade Philips his job.
This year two of the pre season favourites have weathered their own early season storms to come through one of the most unpredictable and closely fought NFL seasons in years. The Pittsburgh Steelers come in as AFC champions and are one of the most successful franchises in NFL history with Six Superbowl titles. This group has been very successful over the past number of years and they will be going for their third Superbowl title in five years. The only other team to rival their recent dominance is the New England Patriots and it is no surprise to see them back competing for a seventh title this Sunday. Their opponents the Green Bay Packers are another of the most successful franchises in the NFL. The Pack have won three Superbowls and nine further NFL titles in the pre-superbowl era.
The Steelers turned over the Jets in AFC Championship game to get here but they looked anything but convincing in doing so. They blitzed the notoriously slow starting Jets in the first half but almost threw away a 20 point lead in the second half by taking their feet off the gas and attmepting to cruise to Texas and the Superbowl. Once they lost the momentum they simply couldn’t get started again and were holding on desparately against the fast finishing Jets offence. If they struggled so badly to contain Mark Sanchez then they will not be looking forward to facing Arron Rodgers if he is in the same form as he was in during the early part of the playoffs this year. The Packers also struggled in their Championship game against the Chicago Bears. The Bears defence showed up as expected but yet again they were let down by their impotent offence. Jay Cutler has come in for sustained criticism from all quarters for sitting out the second half of that game citing a knee strain as the reason he could not continue. When you saw him walking up and down the sideline and even exercising on the stationary bike it is no surprise that the backlash has been so severe in a sport where guys play hard with serious injuries week in week out. For some reason Rodgers and the Green Bay offence couldn’t string much together after an imperious first scoring drive and they looked worryingly out of sync all evening. Both teams will be viewing their last performance as a means to an end and will look to regain the form that saw them light up the post season this year.
If Green Bay are going to have a chance they must find some way to run against the best run defence in the league. The Steelers only give up a miniscule average of 62 running yards per game and if the Packers are held to somewhere around this then they will not be striking the right run / throw balance that they have done so effectively in the post season. The problem with a restriced running game is that it will place far too much emphasis on Rodgers and the passing game. For a passing game to be effective there must exist the threat of a run to keep the defence honest, reduce the amount of blitzing and make the play action much more effective and easier to sell. Green Bay have improved this aspect of their game with the emergence of James Starks in the latter half of the season. He is raw but undoubtedly talented and not only makes good yardage but crucially is able to hold onto the football when hit hard (as he undubtedly will be on Sunday by Polamalu and co.). Add to this the efficiency of John Kuhn punching it in on the ground in short yardage situations and the Packers look well equipped to give the Steelers something to think about with their ground game. I really feel this is going to be the deciding factor in this game. They don’t have to do anything miraculous running the ball….just do enough to make them think about it and that should give Rogers the opportunity to cut loose and punish Pittsburgh.
The Steelers need two guys to have huge games to win this one. Ben Rothlesberger is going for his third Superbowl and will match Tom Brady as the only active QB with three Superbowl rings if he can pull this one off in Texas on Sunday night.He is the undoubted talisman of this franchise and is without doubt a big game player. When it really matters he always seems to get it done. While it might not be pretty it sure is effective and he is nearly impossible to intimidate and sack due to his freakish size and strength. The one intriguing aspect of this game is that Green Bay, in the form of linebacker and defensive player of the year, Clay Matthews have a player capable of not only getting to Big Ben but also of putting him on his ass. If this happens I think it will be a long night for the Steelers who have shown they can be rattled by a defence who comes out as agressive as their own. The other Pittsburgh talisman that has to have a big game for them to win is Troy Palomalu. This guy is simply a freak of nature and is one of the most gifted athletes to ever play the game. He is fast, very intelligent and hits with a ferocity that makes the eyes water. The problem he has faced this year is that teams are just not taking the chance by throwing in his direction so he has been somewhat quiter this year through no fault of his own. I don’t see Rodgers shirking this challenge though and ironically the more confident the QB the more chances Polamalu has of getting into the game. If he gets the opportunity he will cause turnovers and as usual whoever wins the turnover battle should go on to claim the prize.
Al the ingredients are there for Sunday night to produce a classic showdown between two powehouses of the NFL. I think Pittsburgh will struggle to contain a Green Bay side that could be on the cusp of a period of dominance just like the Steelers have enjoyed in recent years. Green Bay to win this one going away and Rodgers to confirm himself as being worthy of a seat at the top table alonside Manning, Brady and Brees.