Rationalizing Rodgers, Random Limas, Plax, and Tommy

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]

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  • Mike L

    Madden 2011 predicts the Superbowl- Steelers 24 – Packers 20. Only wrong once in the last 7 years, and that was the Patriots losing to the Giants.

  • eyespy

    Imagine this…

    Plax, Bluntonio, Wallace, Ward, Brown and Sanders.

    What could have been…

    • Anonymous

      WR: Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Cedrick Wilson
      TE: Matt Spaeth
      RB: Bam Morris, Najeh Davenport
      K: Jeff Reid
      What could have been…

  • Gregorymilinovich

    plaxico vs. limas? i’ll take limas sweed 100 times out of 100.

    • countertorque

      I’m curious to know why you are so down on Plax. I’m no fan of the guy, but he is (ok, was) an established veteran receiver who has proven he can perform at a high level. I think he dropped too many balls in Pittsburgh, but it seemed to me that he got much better about that in NY. Sweed on the other hand has yet to demonstrate that he can do anything. I don’t see where either has the advantage in the character department.

      • drinkingclub

        I would probably take Sweed just because he’s younger.

      • Gregorymilinovich

        i saw too much out of plax. he quit. go back and watch the tape of the patriots @ steelers afc championship game held in january of 2005: he quit. he quit running his routes. he quit trying. he’s not a steeler. he’s a cancer in the locker room and he’s a mess off the field. you don’t want to touch him.

        sweed hasn’t shown much (other than the ability to throw a nice block in the afc championship game against the ravens in 2008). but he’s got potential, and i’d rather place my chips on an unknown with potential than a known cancer. in my opinion, too many people underestimate the value of CHARACTER when evaluating players. it is part of the package, just as much as athletic skill and teachability.

  • Randy Steele

    I just don’t have that much respect this year for the NFC’s teams in general, and the NFC teams that Green Bay beat in particular. I guess that’s another way of saying the Packers are over-rated.

    Plus, I don’t think the Packers match up very well against the Steelers. Plus, the Steelers seem like a very together, very focused — and a very angry — veteran team.

    The Packers? Not so much.

    It’s not that I don’t think Green Bay can win this game. Of course, they can.

    But I like the Steelers chances. A lot.

    • RoB D

      I think a lot more has to go right for Green Bay than for the Steelers in order to determine a champion. I felt the same way about the Arizona SB game and this has the same kind of feel to me.

      The wild card for me is ST’s . There’s just no way of knowing if your kicker decides to crap the bed, you lose a key coverage or return guy early and are forced to go with someone not nearly as good or reliable. etc.IF neither team gets a score from ST’s..advantage Steelers. I love Ben and these receivers on a fast track. Mendy too. And I love our pass rushers and Polamalu on the same basis.

      We could lose..of course. But I don’t think we will and I was not as confident against the Jets as I am against the Pack. No disrespect and I am not trash talking on my street or anything..lol..I really think we have a substantial edge in this one.

  • Dean Keaton

    Limas or Plax – which one is cheaper? Probably Limas so I’d take him and hope they spend the $ on re-signing Woodley and Ike.

    I’m not nearly as confident about this game as Randy & Rob D… I personally think that the Packers’ offense matches up very well against the Steelers. To add to Ryan’s point about Rodgers can dink & dunk all day long, our defense isn’t really taking away anything with our run defense because the Packers thrived on offense most of the season without much of a run game.

    The game is going to be close – I really think it will come down to whether our defense can get an INT or two.

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    I do not know how to say it properly, but basically I do not fear the Packers, I sure do respect them and acknowledge that they could win, but they are clearly, one dimensional on offense, it will be a match very well suited for our Defense. On offense, they can be pushed around on the running game, and as we saw on the AFCCG, that is a great thing for our much maligned O-Line and our RB’s. This was the best possible match-up in the Super Bowl, only because as has been said before, the NFC was very mediocre all across, and the Pack was clearly the best possible rep. I could only dream about Caleb Hanie pulling the miracle and having a chance to obliterate the Bears, but that was not going to happen.

    As per Limas, only for the sake of getting some return on that investment, the team should give it another try. Do no forget, that if we win the whole thing on sunday, that could be a very nice stage for Hines and some other guys to call it quits, so, all of a sudden we could need yet another WR.

    • Dean Keaton

      I guess my point is that the Packers have proven they don’t need a running game, so the Steelers don’t gain a big advantage by taking it away.

      • JCRODRIGUEZ

        To me, the main advantage is game planning, as Coach LeBeau had 2 weeks to devise ways to stop Rodgers without being concerned about the ground game. The same can not be said for Coach Capers. So, yes, we do have an edge. And yes, the game could go either way.

      • Randy Steele

        Even passing teams need a smattering of a running game, and the Packers don’t even have that. And without a running game, play-action doesn’t work. And if you can’t use play-action successfully in your game plan, your quarterback will end up as so much split-pea soup.

  • Cols714

    I also feel this way about the Packers, but I don’t know why. In 2008 the Steelers were facing a future HOF in Kurt Warner, the best receiver in the game that year in Fitzgerald, and 2 other 1000 yard receivers. Plus their defense had Darnell Docket, Karlos Dansby, and Adrian Wilson.

    Yet for some reason i was completely confident going into that game, but this one has me scared.

    • countertorque

      Well, the Cardinals sucked until the playoffs started. Green Bay has looked much better down the stretch in the regular season. I think this Green Bay team is a much better team than either the 05 Seahawks or the 08 Cardinals.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

    All I know is that, unlike most superbowls, this is a matchup between two really good teams. Which means the game itself is probably going to turn out lousy.

  • Bill Gates

    WTF, the pack don’t even take their injured who have contributed and the Steelers take Lamis along?

  • dennisonschili

    Ryan, You’re right in that the death by a 1000 dinks and dunks gameplan is what to fear here. It’s the Lebeau achilles heal and has been for a decade. Luckily very few QBs can effectively pull it off and Rodgers is probably one of them. I think our offense will do well so keeping Rodgers off the field as much as possible will be key and forcing a few turnovers is probably our best chance of winning. I think it comes down to nerves and if Rodgers plays flawless this will probably not end well. I’m hoping he makes some mistakes and we control the clock.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Is Rodgers a dink and dunker? I thought he was more of a down the field thrower. If so, we should have time to rush him. If he avoids the rush and makes long throws without turning the ball over, more power to him. I doubt it will happen, but I’d have to tip my hat to him.

    I agree that the Pack are better than our last two SB opponents or either of our playoff opponents from this year. But we’re pretty damn good, too. Let’s get it on.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    ELSM,

    JJ basically makes that point on today’s podcast — Rodgers can dink and dunk, but is the Packers offense patient enough to stick with it like Tom Brady? That’s the big question.

  • Anonymous

    Rewatched the 2008 SB again after Kurt Warner’s comments. The Cardinals were in the spread several times in the first half, but didn’t have a ton of success. Actually, I think the Cardinals in 2008 were a more potent passing offense than GB in 2010, so I’m not THAT worried about our defense against Rodgers & Co.

    However the Steelers offense against the weak Cardinals D was definitely a mismatch. We both ran and passed on them pretty easily. The GB defense is much, much better than that unit. The Cardinals in 2008 would have won if they’d had GB’s 2010 defense, I think.