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Super Bowl XLV Preview

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The old adage, that “defense wins championships,” appears to ring true once again. The Steelers and Packers were first and second, respectively, in points allowed during the regular season (14.5 and 15.0) and sacks (48 and 47).

Both teams are ranked in the top-five in yards allowed and interceptions. The primary difference between the two units is their respective strengths. Pittsburgh features a dynamic front seven that was the key behind the team’s league-best run defense. Green Bay is much better against the pass, thanks to a pair of Pro Bowl corners in Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams (who has three picks in the postseason). And as both New York and Chicago saw in the conference championships, each team’s defense is capable to taking a turnover and turning it into points.

Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers are both mobile enough to deal with the opponent’s pass rush. As stated before, these two teams were tops in the league at getting to the quarterback during the regular season. However, each group will have their hands full chasing down passers that have no issues leaving the pocket, extending plays, and gashing defenses with their legs. Rodgers and Roethlisberger had five carries each in their conference championship games, with each man contributing three first downs and a touchdown to the cause.

Pittsburgh’s much-maligned and injury-devastated offensive line comes into this game following its best performance of the season. Even without rookie wonder Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers offensive line overpowered New York’s defense in the first half of the AFC Championship game, allowing Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman to run wild and keeping Big Ben off the turf. That dominance in running the ball allowed the Steelers to possess the ball for more than two-thirds of the first half, leaving little time for the Jets offense to build any momentum. If Pittsburgh can get that ground game moving again, they’ll draw shorter third downs, which will prevent a pass rusher like Clay Matthews (14 sacks in the regular season) from pinning his ears back and going after Big Ben.

This year’s Super Bowl will feature a reunion between two defensive masterminds. Before Dick LeBeau began his first stint as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator in 1995, he served as the team’s defensive backs coach under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Capers currently fills that same role for the Green Bay Packers. Each man will have his hands full deploying a variety of weapons and looks to confuse the opposing offense.

Both defensive lines should play an important role in the success or failure of their team. The Packers defensive front is an underrated unit led by B.J. Raji, who plays the gaps as well as anyone in the league. Pittsburgh defensive ends Nick Eason, Brett Keisel and sophomore Ziggy Hood will rotate, keeping them fresh and productive. If that trio (as well as nose tackle Casey Hampton) can find their game early, they can eliminate Green Bay’s rushing attack, forcing them to be one-dimensional on offense.

The Packers will be happy to see Maurkice Pouncey on the sidelines on Sunday. With Pouncey out, backup Doug Legursky would be charged with stopping all 340 pounds of defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who pulled off an 18-yard pick-six against the Bears. Of course, the Packers also have Cullen Jenkins (300+) and Ryan Pickett (330+) to deploy against Pittsburgh’s starting five.

Despite the defensive billing, both the Packers and Steelers are capable of putting points on the board, as witnessed in the 37-36 shootout between the two before the end of last season. Each offense features a mobile quarterback with a big arm, a physical veteran possession receiver (Hines Ward and Donald Driver) and a young pass catcher capable of stretching the field vertically (Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings). A few big plays by any of those players could turn a defensive slugfest into a scoring race.

Keep an eye on the punters. In fact, Green Bay has already received big contributions from its punter, Tim Masthay. He put five of his eight punts inside of the 20-yard line during the NFC title bout, limiting Chicago’s return game and forcing the Bears offense into a hole before it took the field. Pittsburgh’s Jeremy Kapinos, signed after the season-ending injury to Daniel Sepulveda, has been solid, but not spectacular. The Steelers might need a little more than solid, though, if the defenses clog up the game, putting field position at a premium.

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