— We’ve taken a look at the 11 reasons the Steelers can win Super Bowl XLV. Now it’s the Packers' turn:
1. Troy Polamalu is not playing like Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu last played like a Defensive Player of the Year winner in Week 14 of the regular season. In that game, he re-injured his Achilles while returning an interception for a touchdown. Those kind of big plays have been absent since.
Polamalu missed more tackles than he made against the Ravens. He wasn’t a huge factor against the Jets. It’s hard to overstate Polamalu’s singular importance to the Steelers. He needs to be healthy and back to his special self or Aaron Rodgers could carve up Pittsburgh.
2. Aaron Rodgers can beat good pass coverage
There is no defense for a perfect pass, and Rodgers has the confidence and accuracy to throw the ball into tight windows. He can throw an over-the-top fastball as well as touch passes. Over the past three seasons, his mental game has started to catch up with his physical skills.
Rodgers recognizes blitzes and coverage schemes better than he used to. That leads to smarter decisions and more big plays. There’s a reason why the Packers wideouts get so many yards after the catch; Rodgers throws with excellent timing. Even when receivers are well covered.
3. The Packers don’t need to run to win
Green Bay got this far without balance. James Starks opened eyes in the divisional round, but he hasn’t done much since. That’s just fine.
The Steelers were historically stingy against the run. They only gave up three yards per carry, half a yard better than the rest of the league. Pittsburgh has been even better against the playoffs.
The way to beat Pittsburgh is to throw 40+ times. It’s unconventional, but the short passing game can eventually set up the run like it did for New England and New Orleans this season. Packers coach Mike McCarthy understands this well; Rodgers threw the ball 48 times in Pittsburgh in 2009. That was when Ryan Grant was on the roster.
McCarthy won’t waste early downs on runs, and that’s the smart way to go against the Steelers.
4. The game is indoors
The Steelers and Packers can play in any conditions, but the indoor scene in Dallas favors the Packers. The Packers are younger and faster on defense. On offense, Green Bay is more reliant on the precise passing game that a closed roof stadium helps to improve.
The numbers don’t lie: The Packers really are more explosive on turf. There’s no doubt the Steelers would rather be on a sloppy field.
Many of Rodgers’ best games this season were indoors (Atlanta twice and Minnesota.) Green Bay’s ugliest Sunday was also in a dome (Ford Field), so the location isn’t everything. But it doesn’t hurt.
5. Deep receiver crew
The closest thing to a weakness on the Steelers defense — cornerback depth. Ike Taylor does a great job, but Bryant McFadden is a so-so starter at best and he’s not healthy. After that, Pittsburgh’s depth is shaky.
The Packers have an arsenal of quality route runners out wide who can exploit Pittsburgh by spreading out the defense. Taylor might slow down Greg Jennings and Donald Driver doesn’t have the same quickness he used to.
So don’t be surprised if James Jones or Jordy Nelson leads the team in receiving and creates a new Max McGee-like legend. (Without the busted curfew stories.)
6. Better offensive play-caller
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has taken a lot of slings and arrows over the years for his clock management and propensity to lose close games. He deserves a ton of credit for his playcalling, which has been on fire of late.
Few offensive minds are better suited to come up with the right gameplan to attack the Steelers. When Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau throws a few curveballs, McCarthy is one of the best coaches at making adjustments to get his talented players in the right position to succeed.
7. Steelers haven’t performed well against elite quarterbacks
Pittsburgh has the league's best overall defense. You can’t run on them, and their pass rush is fantastic. That’s a deadly combination, and the only way to beat it is with an elite quarterback.
Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez aren’t elite quarterbacks. Sorry. I’d argue that Pittsburgh has only faced two top-eight quarterbacks all season: Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
The Steelers went 0-2 in those games. Brady and Brees combined for 655 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. Rodgers is absolutely in the same class as those two champion passers.
8. Green Bay’s defensive line can win one-on-one battles
Pittsburgh’s offensive line was in trouble even before center Maurice Pouncey injured his ankle. Now backup center Doug Legursky will likely have to handle Green Bay’s peaking nose tackle B.J. Raji on the inside. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins has been one of the most underrated lineman in football for years. He showed he’s healthy again with a monster performance in the NFC Championship.
The Steelers have no easy solutions to block Green Bay. Both Steelers tackles are backups and often play like it. If Raji and Jenkins win their battles on the inside, Pittsburgh’s tackles could get exposed outside. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have a lot of options because he should be able to create pressure without having to blitz a lot.
9. Defensive players take turns as stars
Clay Matthews received the defensive MVP votes. Charles Woodson will get Hall of Fame consideration one day. In the playoffs, however, other Packers defenders have been the stars.
Cornerback Tramon Williams is one of the best at his position. Raji and Jenkins are capable of making huge plays on the defensive line. Erik Walden has been a revelation at linebacker, while Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk have proven to be a complementary duo on the inside.
Any Packers defender is liable to step up with a big performance on Super Bowl Sunday, which makes the defense as a whole almost as dangerous as the Green Bay offense.
10. Road warriors travel well
The Packers join the 2005 Steelers team as the only other six seed to make the Super Bowl. That game turned out well for Pittsburgh.
Only three teams in NFL history have won three straight road games to make the Super Bowl: The ’85 Patriots, the ’05 Steelers, and the ’07 Giants. Two won it all.
There’s a reason why road warrior teams fare well. Only an exceptional team can survive three straight road tests. The Packers have been playing do-or-die games for five weeks and they won them all.
After three straight road games, a neutral site game should feel like home.
11. They can win any type of game
Despite all the hype, the Packers actually may be underrated heading into the Super Bowl. They haven’t trailed by more than seven points all season; they are the first team since the ’62 Lions to pull that off.
The Packers didn’t really hit their stride until midseason, when they learned how to play without all their injured starters.
Since then, Green Bay has shown they can win defensive struggles (9-0 over the Jets, 10-3 over the Bears), or blow teams out (45-17 over Giants, 31-3 over Vikings, 48-21 over Falcons). They can make the plays necessary in the fourth quarter to win (31-28 over Vikings, 21-16 over Eagles, 21-14 over Bears).
One thing the Packers haven’t done is make a big comeback. History indicates they won’t have to.