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Super Bowl XLV: Game Day Breakdown

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Two aggressive, blitzing defenses. Rodgers vs. Roethlisberger. Spread offenses and smashmouth football. After two weeks of hype and talk, the 2010 season comes down to 60 minutes of football on Sunday evening in Dallas. PSR's Tony DeFazio breaks it down.

Quarterbacks
Aaron Rodgers is 3-1 in his playoff career and owns a 109.0 career postseason passer rating – the best in NFL history for quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts.

Ben Rothlisberger is 10-2 in the playoffs—the second-best career winning percentage behind Bart Starr's 9-1 record—and is on the verge of joining Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Troy Aikman as the only quarterbacks to win at least three Super Bowls.

So there's no reason to continue with these two. Rodgers and Roethlisberger are the new Manning and Brady. Let's agree and move on to the rest of the personnel.

Green Bay's Vertical Attack
Ike Taylor is the Steelers best cornerback and is often deployed in press coverage on the opposing team's best receiver, meaning Taylor is likely to see a lot of the Packers' Greg Jennings. Green Bay likes to move  Jennings—an elite route-runner and one of the league's most underrated wideouts—around the formation. Taylor will follow him, leaving Bryant McFadden—and in the nickel, William Gay—in off-coverage on Donald Driver and James Jones. That's a big test for McFadden, who is regularly identified as the weak link in the Steelers secondary.

Green Bay will spread the field with Jordy Nelson and a tight end as well, and Pittsburgh doesn't want Ryan Clark to have to cover Nelson, so Troy Polamalu will likely get that responsibility. Polamalu is one of the few strong safeties in the league capable of standing up to that challenge, but it will limit his opportunities to blitz or simply freelance.

Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when it comes to reading defenses, and Polamalu is one of the most difficult defensive backs in the league in regards to diagnosing his intentions. That very element has been missing from the Steelers playoff run this season, as defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau played Polamalu in the deep middle of the field quite a bit in Pittsburgh's wins over the Ravens and the Jets. That positioning limited the reads Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez had to make; it's a safe bet that  Rodgers won't catch that same break on Sunday.

While Rodgers has a lightning-quick release and can make plays out of the pocket, don't expect the Steelers to back off. They'll bring pressure because that's what they do, and they'll roll the dice hoping that the pressure gets to Rodgers before No. 12 gets the ball downfield.

Steelers Offensive Line
Much has been made of the Steelers Doug Legursky replacing rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, and justifiably so. But the Steelers needn't worry about Legursky in the run game; he'll handle himself just fine when the Steelers wish to run the ball.

Even without Pouncey, Pittsburgh pushed the Jets formidable defensive line around Heinz Field two weeks ago, and the Jets were third in the NFL against the run this season. The Packers—despite a talented group that includes B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett—were just 18th. What's more, only the Denver Broncos allowed more yards per rushing attempt than the Packers. Opposing offensives averaged an astounding 4.7 yards per carry against the Packers this year.

The Pack has been much, much better in the playoffs, ranking second among all playoff teams against the run, behind only the Steelers. But the limited window has somewhat skewed those stats: Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid is notoriously hesitant to run the ball in the playoffs, so let's just throw the Eagles game out of the mix. Against the Falcons and Bears, much to their credit, the Packers jumped out to huge leads and neither offense tried to run much after that.

Obviously that's to Green Bay's credit, but if the Steelers quit trying to run the ball, shame on Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians. Run on the edge at the OLBs and the yards are there for the taking.

Back-up center Doug Legursky is stout (6-1, 325), extremely strong—he squats over 700 pounds—and won the back-up center job in August over veteran and Super Bowl starter Justin Hartwig. He's also athletic, having played center, guard, fullback and tight end this season.

That said, he's not Maurkice Pouncey, and where the Steelers will experience significant drop-off is in pass protection. Pouncey is so quick and would have been the perfect counter to the Packers' B.J. Raji. The 340-pound Raji is a behemoth and can be overpowering, but he also has a great first-step. Raji will stack at the line against the run, but Legursky can deal with that. What Legursky will struggle with is Raji's ability to move laterally, change directions and get outside. He's a solid pass-rusher but is even better during the play with his ability to turn and pursue.

Also, Raji often lines up in the gap—sometimes even over the guard—and forces the center to not only move but also to make additional reads at the line of scrimmage. That's a lot of learning to do in one week for Legursky. Ben Roethlisberger—and guard Ramon Foster—will have to help Legursky with blitz recognitions when the Packers come out in a 2-4-5 formation.

Rashard Mendenhall
If the Steelers can run the football even close to the way they did against the Jets, the Packers defense is in for a long evening. Pittsburgh tailback Rashard Mendenhall played possibly his best game as a professional against the Jets two weeks ago, and if Pittsburgh wins the game don't be surprised to see No. 34 receiving the MVP trophy.

Success for Mendenhall not only allows the Steelers to minimize their weaknesses (pass protection) by keeping their third downs manageable, but it takes away Green Bay's defensive advantage in blitzing situations.

Steelers third-down back Mewelde Moore is one of the best in the game at blitz pick-ups, and he'll get a lot of action if the Steelers have to play from behind.

The more the Steelers run the football, the more Mendenhall stays on the field, and the more valuable play-action becomes – preventing Green Bay's linebackers from coming at Ben Roethlisberger full-force.

Green Bay's Blitzes
The Packers have been extremely successful blitzing defensive backs, especially in the playoffs. The Jets and Patriots blitzed Roethlisberger with d-backs this season and had plenty of success doing so. The blitzes the Steelers will see most often, though, will involve Clay Matthews.

The Packers linebacker recorded 14 sacks this season, most of them a result of his incredible burst and non-stop motor. His quickness and explosiveness will be a problem for the Steelers Flozell Adams, who is massive, skilled and savvy. But at this stage of his career, he simply doesn't move his feet very well. Matthews is adept at using his hands, but Adams has great reach and if the smaller Matthews gets in that tight, Adams could swallow him. Additionally, Matthews is far and away the Packers best pass rusher, so Pittsburgh won't be risking too much by providing help to Adams in the form of a second tight end or even a back.

But even when you get to Roethlisberger, all bets are off. The Jets hit him twice, sacked him twice and turned him over twice; the Ravens sacked him six times and hit him eight more – and he still made every play he needed to on every third down that mattered, just as he has in virtually every playoff game he's played.

Also, expect Pittsburgh to challenge Matthews—and avoid B.J. Raji—by running outside. That's an area where the Steelers should be able to exploit the Green Bay D.

Steelers Receivers vs Packers Secondary
Pittsburgh survived one of the best corner tandems in the NFL in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie  of the Jets, but the Packers duo of Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams isn't far behind.

Steelers receiver Mike Wallace can run past any cornerback in the country, but he has struggled when challenged physically—whether it's body-contact or hand-fighting. Williams is faster than Woodson but not as physical, which makes him perfect to match up with Wallace. Expect to see Charles Woodson on Hines Ward in what should be a great battle between two future Hall of Famers.

Pittsburgh got great seasons out of their two rookie wide receivers, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, and Brown has come up huge late in both playoff games this season. But Sam Shields, who runs a sub 4.3 forty, has been a godsend for the Packers as a nickle back this year, and limiting opposing offenses' abilities to spread the field.

But what the Packers have not been able to do is shut down tight ends, and Heath Miller is one of the best. Miller has been a major asset for Pittsburgh's rushing attack over the course of his career, and his value in the passing game cannot be understated.

A.J. Hawk won't be able to cover Miller—that much we know—so the question is can strong safety  Charlie Peprah? Miller gets great body position on smaller defenders and finds the spot in a zone every time.

If his line can keep him upright long enough, the middle of the field will be open for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

Green Bay's Running Game
Let's keep this short and sweet. The Packers won't run the football. James Stark has been a great addition and provided a much-needed spark against Philadelphia and ran hard in tough conditions against a good Bears defense two weeks ago. But the Packers will not run on the Steelers.

They know that, however, and it doesn't bother them a bit. Green Bay is in the Super Bowl because Aaron Rodgers has no problem putting the offense on his shoulders and winning games with his pinpoint accuracy and his cannon of an arm.

When Ray Rice and Clinton Portis struggled to move the ball on the ground in the divisional match-up, Joe Flacco fell apart. When LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene couldn't run on the Steelers in the AFC Championship game, Mark Sanchez was game but it wasn't enough to overcome.

Aaron Rodgers, however, won't be phased.

The Packers want to line-up in the shotgun and sling the football all over the yard. They'll deploy multiple wide receiver sets and force Pittsburgh into a nickel package with the vulnerable Willie Gay forced to cover James Jones.

But while Gay is not a quality starting cornerback in this league, he's made plays as a nickle. And Bryant McFadden—not an All-Pro by any means—has solidified the Steelers pass defense. And when the Steelers play a nickle-set, they move Ziggy Hood to his natural defensive tackle position, where he's absolutely thrived. Hood has been disruptive in the backfield when running out of a 4-3 this season, and has delivered consistent interior pressure.

This leads us to what could ultimately be the deciding factor in Sunday's game.

Pittsburgh's Blitzes
As is often the case when facing a Dick LeBeau defense, the ability to consistently handle his blitz schemes is usually the key to beating them.

Because they want to spread the field with their formidable offensive weapons, the Packers will likely try to handle Steelers linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley with a single blocker. Veteran Chad Clifton will draw Harrison, while rookie Bryan Bulaga will match-up against Woodley.

Ziggy Hood has provided good pressure when Pittsburgh plays out of a nickle defense this season, which will allow LeBeau to vary his blitzes and somewhat dial back his outside backers on occasion, instead bringing heat up the middle.

Rodgers is great against the blitz and hurt teams running the ball as well as finding receivers downfield and getting rid of the ball quickly, but the Steelers saw what happened with the Bears hit him repeatedly in the NFC Championship game, and they'll likely see that as a risk well worth taking.

Chad Clifton, much like the Steelers Adams, is a wily veteran with diminishing skills who fights his way through bad match-ups with instincts. The difference, though, is that the Steelers will be able to offer assistance to Adams without getting out of their comfort zone. Once the Packers start doubling Harrison or Woodley, their weapons become watered-down.

And if Pittsburgh brings a corner or a safety from either side, it further complicates things. Clifton cannot handle that kind of pressure and Bulaga won't recognize it.

Harrison vs the NFL
Finally, the idea that Steelers linebacker James Harrison has made this game about him versus the refs is nonsense.

Sure, Harrison seemed bitter, sarcastic and angry when discussing his fines and his style of play. But when is James Harrison not bitter and angry? Still, he said he felt "most" of his fines were not justified—he did not say all—an indication that perhaps he finally understands why his hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was correctly deemed illegal by the league.

And while he spoke defiantly about his style of play, yet vaguely about minimizing risks, he also spoke very clearly about his understanding of the league's enforcement of the rules: "I don't think they need to do anything to provide clarity. I just think they need to [fine players] evenly across the board. That's all."

Harrison wasn't daring officials to fine him, nor was he taunting the league. I've been as critical as anyone about Harrison—and the Steelers in general—whining about the officiating this season, but this is not one of those instances.

Game Flow
It's reasonable to expect most of the scoring to happen early in this game. That's typically when the inexperience in the Super Bowl tends to be a factor, and often teams new to this play on their heels the first few series. The Steelers offense could have a chance to get some points early.

The Green Bay offense, meanwhile, scripts their first dozen and-a-half plays or so, and usually nails them. After both teams settle in, however, look for a war of attrition. Exactly like both conference championship contests, where the victors grabbed early leads and hung on to win close games.

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