Big-play Packers to test Steelers' secondary
FORT WORTH, Texas — The Green Bay Packers have watched tape of Super Bowl XLIII.
And it will surprise no one, at least not the Steelers, if they employ the same strategy that the Arizona Cardinals did two years ago while nearly pulling an upset in Tampa.
The Packers figure to spread out the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV and let quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his talented receiving corps work on the NFL's top defense.
The outcome could come down to how well the defense that has prevented big passing plays stops an offense that has made a living off them. "If they play to their strengths," strong safety Troy Polamalu said, "they will do that."
The Steelers' strength is stopping the run, having allowed fewer than 63 rushing yards per game during the regular season.
Packers rookie James Starks has more rushing yards (263) than any player during the postseason. But the statistic that may be most pertinent to how Sunday's game unfolds: the 15 passing plays of 20 or more yards that Green Bay has cranked out during the postseason.
"This is the (Super Bowl) matchup I wanted to see because I think it's the best offense, by far, of the postseason going against the best defense," NFL Network analyst and former Steelers great Rod Woodson said.
The Steelers may be known for their run defense — and they were stingier in the playoffs, yielding just over 52 yards per game in two contests — but they aren't generous when it comes to the passing game.
They allowed 35 pass plays of at least 20 yards during the regular season, fewest in the NFL.
Woodson said the outcome Sunday could be determined by how the defensive backs who play primarily in passing situations perform.
"I think the impact comes from the third and fourth corners on both teams because those guys are going to be the difference-makers," Woodson said. "Can William Gay make some plays• Can (free safety) Ryan Clark cover, because he's going to have to cover somebody?"
Indeed, five Packers caught at least 40 passes during the regular season. Four of them, all wideouts, had more than 500 yards receiving, led by Greg Jennings (1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns).
"I've got five talented guys who I'd match up against any guy in the league," Rodgers said.
The Cardinals had a similar wealth of talent in the passing game two years ago, with Kurt Warner at quarterback and Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston split wide. Warner threw for 377 yards and three scores as the Cardinals erased a 10-point halftime deficit before Ben Roethlisberger beat them with a last-minute touchdown pass.
"You have to look at that," Rodgers said, "but also realize that was two years ago. The film we're going to focus on is more the film from this season."
The Packers have probably spent a lot of time studying film from the Steelers' 39-26 loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 14. Tom Brady passed for 350 yards and three touchdowns at Heinz Field. The Steelers did not sack Brady and rarely put pressure on him.
The Patriots spread out the Steelers, keeping nose tackle Casey Hampton on the sideline for extended stretches.
"We know that is something they could possibly present to us," Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "One thing about coach (Dick) LeBeau is he has more like a dictionary full of plays, coverages and blitzes. We have more than enough packages."
"If it's a shootout, you have to like Green Bay because they've done it all year," Woodson said. "But if it's a close game, you've got to like the Steelers because they win close games."
Media Events in Dallas
Reporters from around the world interview the Steelers during a Super Bowl XLV media sessions Wednesday and Thursday at Texas Christian University following Media Day Tuesday February 1, 2011 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Steelers' secondary vs. the Green Bay Packers' passing game will be a key matchup Sunday in Super Bowl XLV. But the Steelers' passing game could also give Green Bay problems. Here is a comparison between the teams in big passing plays during the regular season as well as the playoffs.
Pass plays 20+: 57; 6th (tied) in NFL
Pass plays 20+: 35; 1st in NFL
Pass plays 20+: 62; 2nd (tied) in NFL
Pass plays 20+: 44; 10th (tied) in NFL
Pass plays 20+: 15; 1st in NFL
Pass plays 20+: 3; 4th (tied) in NFL
Pass plays 20+: 4th 5th (tied) in NFL
Pass plays 20+: 10; 12th in NFL
*Postseason ranks out of 12 teams