Breaking down Super Bowl XLV
5 REASONS THE STEELERS WILL WIN
1) Defense — The Steelers' defense isn't as decorated as the one two years ago that nearly led the league in all statistical categories, but it is not far off. The Steelers led the league in rushing yards per game (62.8) and was second in total yards (276.8). They also ranked No. 1 in total points allowed (232), touchdowns allowed (22), sacks (48) and yards per play (4.5) during the regular season. But the Steelers has come up short defensively in Super Bowls recently. Largely with the same core group from 2005, the Steelers allowed 396 yards against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL and 407 yards to the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
2) Ben Roethlisberger — Roethlisberger may not have the big statistics, but one more Super Bowl victory would put him in the elite company of Troy Aikman and Tom Brady with three championship rings. Only Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana have more with four apiece. Roethlisberger has proven to come up big in big games. He is 10-2 in the postseason. He threw for 256 yards and a touchdown against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII and led the Steelers on a game-winning 78-yard scoring drive at the end of the game. Roethlisberger could take advantage of an aging veteran at one corner (Charles Woodson) and youngster (Tramon Williams) at the other.
3) Rashard Mendenhall — The Steelers are going to try to grind the ball on the Packers even though Green Bay is stout against the run, allowing an NFC-best 69.7 yards per game in the postseason. Even though the Jets were also good against the run, it didn't stop the Steelers from calling 43 run plays and gaining 166 yards during the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers have relied on Mendenhall more in the playoffs and had good results. In his first two career playoff games, he rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Only Merril Hoge in 1989 had a better first two playoff games in Steelers history.
4) Experience — Twenty-five of the 53 players on the Steelers roster have played in a Super Bowl, including nine of the 11 starters on defense and four more on the offense. The Packers have two — Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett. Both lost in their only Super Bowl appearances. With two teams being so evenly matched, something like Super Bowl experience may be the edge the Steelers need.
5) Antonio Brown/Emmanuel Sanders — The two rookie receivers have come up big in the playoffs for the Steelers, in large part because of the attention Hines Ward and Mike Wallace command. With Brown and/or Sanders usually lined up against a third- or fourth-string defensive back, big plays have resulted. Sanders had four catches against the Ravens in a divisional playoff game, and Brown made a key 58-yard catch on a third-and-19 that set up the game-winning score against the Ravens. He followed that up with a game-clinching catch late against the Jets.
5 REASONS WHY THE PACKERS WILL WIN
1) Aaron Rodgers — Make no mistake, if the Packers are going to beat the Steelers, it is going to be because of Rodgers. Rodgers has been as productive as any quarterback in the NFL since taking over for Brett Favre in 2008. He ranks in the top four in yards, touchdowns, passer rating, yards per attempt and 25-yard passes since being named the starter. In the playoffs, Rodgers has an NFL-record 10 touchdown passes in his first three starts before getting shut out against the Bears. In 47 career games, he has thrown for more than 300 yards 25 times, and if there is one way to beat the Steelers, it's by throwing the ball a lot.
2) Red zone efficiency — After strong showings the past two seasons, the Packers were even better this year inside the 20-yard line. They scored touchdowns on 32 of the 53 trips in the red zone. The 60.4 percent touchdown rate ranked sixth in the NFL and was the best since 2003, when the Packers finished second in the NFL with a 65.4 conversion rate. In the playoffs, the Packers have been even better, scoring touchdowns on nine of their 12 possessions inside the 20. Touchdowns rather than field goals in red zone situations can be a game-changer.
3) Time of possession — A good way to win a football game is to control the time of possession, and nobody did that better than the Packers last year. They did it pretty well this year, too. Green Bay finished the season eighth in the NFL in time of possession at 31:36. They averaged 33:03 last year. They had 30 10-play drives this year and have held the time of possession advantage in nine of their past 11 games, including the playoffs. If they do that against the Steelers, it means they are converting first downs and keep their defense fresh in the process.
4) Steelers offensive line — Doug Legursky will start for Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, who is nursing a high ankle sprain. The Packers are going to test the former undrafted free agent early with blitzes. Even if Legursky can handle the pressure and mammoth nose tackle B.J. Raji, the rest of the line has been suspect all season and is susceptible to outside speed rushers like Clay Matthews. The Packers had 47 sacks this year and 10 more in the playoffs. Matthews led the team with 13.5.
5) Packers offensive line — Protecting Rodgers against an onslaught expected by the Steelers' blitzing linebackers will be monumental. The Packers have had trouble protecting their quarterback. They surrendered 38 sacks this year, a significant drop from a year ago when they allowed 50, including 41 in the first nine games. Sixteen times during the past three seasons Rodgers has been sacked either once or not at all in a game. The Packers are 12-4 in those games.