It’s Super Bowl Week hump day. Not sure how these thoughts could be more random or scattered. Thanks in advance for indulging me.
I don’t feel good about this matchup. In previous weeks, I was quite confident the Steelers could beat the Ravens and the Jets. But the Packers — and specifically Aaron Rodgers — scare me.
Rodgers is a lot like Tom Brady and Drew Brees; he’s accurate, has a quick release, and can execute the Death by 1,000 Dinks and Dunks game plan with minimal effort. But he’s also stronger and more mobile than either quarterback. And as we have heard countless times this week, he’s a lot like his Super Bowl counterpart Ben Roethlisberger.
Something else that troubles me. I can’t work up the hatred for the Packers that was so easily summoned against the Ravens or the Jets. It’s part familiarity (it breeds contempt, apparently), part loud-mouthed bravado (Rex Ryan, from August right up until he slammed his headset on the Heinz Field turf).
The Steelers faced the Packers during Week 15 of the 2009 season, winning on a last-second pitch-and-catch from Big Ben to Mike Wallace. Before that, Pittsburgh beat Green Bay at Lambeau Field in 2005. (Enjoy the box score: Chaz Batch started for an injured Roethlisberger, Duce Staley played, and Tyrone Carter had an interception.) There’s not much recent history there.
Plus, I really, really like Rodgers. For how he handled the Brett Favre silliness for three years, for his on-field abilities, and most of all, perhaps, for the championship belt thing he does after he scores. That’s all sorts of awesome and I fully expect to see it Sunday. And you know what? I’ll probably chuckle.
It seems like most people — both media and fans — like the Packers to beat the Steelers. I don’t have any issue with that. It’s not like, say, Sterling Sharpe announcing during NFL Network’s “Playbook” show that the Panthers would defeat the Steelers “just because.” There are legitimate arguments for why Green Bay can win: the aforementioned Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, the Packers defense, Dom Capers.
I wrote Monday that maybe Pittsburgh’s best chance could come by way of the running game. And I still believe that whether Maurkice Pouncey plays or not. Football Outsiders took a look at both teams’ losses this season and identified the weaknesses. It’s ESPN Insider content but here’s the takeaway: Pittsburgh’s strengths match up well with Green Bay’s weaknesses, but the opposite doesn’t hold. So there’s that.
Speaking more generally, there is also this: as long as Roethlisberger and Polamalu are on the field, the Steelers have a very good chance to win. That can’t be overstated. Troy didn’t play in last year’s get-together (although he was on the field against the Pats and Saints this year — and looked lost at times in New Orleans). The one unknown: how the new, feel-good Ben performs in crunch time. There’s no rational reason to think it will affect him one way or the other but when your entire sports-watching existence is built on superstitions and routine, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind.
There was a Limas Sweed sighting at Media Day. When asked if he felt he was in the Steelers long-term plans he offered an “I believe so.”
Realistically, his chances more closely resemble slim and none, but I’m holding out hope. I know, I know, Sweed’s play can kindly be described as frustrating, and his inability to stay healthy is all the more reason for everybody to get on with their lives. But — and I don’t usually fall for this, I swear — the potential is there. Hines has a couple years left. Mike Wallace is on the verge of something special. Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown have exceeded everyone’s expectations, but I’m not yet willing to anoint them the Nos. 2 and 3 wideouts. (Look no further than Troy Edwards for that cautionary tale.)
It’s a pipe dream, yes. Worst case: Limas comes to training camp, earns a roster spot and we go from there. It would be a great story but I’m not holding out hope.
Sorta related: Hines said that he would welcome Plaxico back to the Steelers with open arms. If the final wide receiver roster spot for 2011 came down to Plax or Limas, who ya got?
More links (because you’re worth it, that’s why)…
– Great read by SI.com’s Tim Layden on the zone blitz. [SI.com]
– Cool graphic from JSOnline.com about the Steelers favorite running play. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
– Via reader Mike L, Pat Kirwan talks about the effectiveness of the Steelers’ bunch formation. [NFL.com]
– I love this comment from Bruce Arians, regarding the 2003 Browns-Steelers wild card game: “You just don’t let Tommy Maddox sit there and go against a prevent defense.” [PFT]