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Monday, January 31, 2011

5 Reasons the Steelers Will Win the Super Bowl

If two of the five reasons the Packers are going to win the Super Bowl are intangibles (Karma and Hunger), I'm feeling even better about the Steelers than before.

Karma is a tricky thing. And it's hard to convince me that it's on the Packers side when they themselves have an accused rapist (Brandon Underwood was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a house party at which 6 of his Packer teammates were also present), a Trojan and a cheater on steroids on their roster -- and 2 of 3 in the same person. The fact is, it's never a good idea to get into a game of "Who's Team has More D-bags" -- everyone loses.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: what Ben Roethlisberger was accused of doing is despicable and I hate him for it. You can compare individuals -- and by the information I have, I think Aaron Rodgers is a much better guy than Ben. But it's impossible to root for an NFL team without supporting at least a few boneheads who have made very bad decisions. Marshawn Lynch ran over someone in his SUV -- but did that reduce the number of "BEASTMODE" posts on facebook seconds after his run against the Bears?

Karma is a wash. There's always going to be a story to make you root for or against each team. One player coaches youth football. Another donates to a homeless shelter. One player was accused of domestic violence. Another tied to a strip club shootout. The NFL is a microcosm of life. There are good people and there are bad people and more often that not there are both types playing on the same team.

As for Hunger -- not so sure I'm buying that one either. Just because I've tasted Ike's Sandwiches before doesn't make me want them any less than my friend who's never tried it. The Steelers have been to the mountaintop and know how good it feels. Furthermore, there are a lot of guys on the Steelers squad who are in the twilight of their careers. For Ward, Farrior, Dick LeBeau and others, this could be one of their last shots at glory. And you have to think they're going to make the most of it.

But at the end of the day, this is the Super Bowl folks. No one is going to need extra motivation. Every person on that field wants this -- it's going to come down to preparation and execution. Whoever wins those wins the game.

And if besides Hunger and Karma the Packers have only three things going for them (two of which are different levels of their defense), then I'm feeling preetty, preetty, preetty good.

Here are my Top 5 Reasons the Steelers should win Super Bowl XLV:

1. The Steelers are by far the best team the Packers have played since Week 15 of the regular season.
Don't get me wrong, no trip to the Super Bowl as a No. 6 seed is easy. The Packers have played and beat some very good teams. But let's take a closer look at the Packers opponents since a close Week 15 loss to the Patriots.

In Week 16, they played (and to be fair, routed) a non-playoff New York Giants team. In Week 17, they barely beat a Chicago Bears team who had locked the No. 2 seed and had absolutely nothing to play for. The Packers scored 10 points and didn't move the ball the entire game. In the first round of the playoffs, they narrowly beat a gimpy Michael Vick and a porous Eagles team that ranked 21st in the League in Points Allowed, 18th in Pass Yards per Attempt and 15th in Rush Yards per attempt. In the next round, Rodgers was mind-blowing, going lights out against the Falcons. But keep in mind the Falcons were no defensive stalwarts. They ranked 26th in the league in Yards per play and 17th and 25th in Pass and Rush Yards per attempt, respectively. Against a legitimate defense the next week against the Bears, the Packers offense was shut down for 75% of the game and the entire second half. Had they faced a QB other than the genetic fusion of Cutler, Collins and Hanie, there's a very good chance they lose that game.

The Steelers defense ranked #1 in the NFL in Points per Game, Pass Yards per attempt and Rush Yards per attempt. Compare that to Packers most recent foes. The Bears defense, similar to that of the Steelers in rankings, had the Packers vaunted offense figured out. They beat them early in the year, completely shut them down in Week 17 and shut them down for all but one drive in the NFC Championship game. In their three meetings they held the Pack to 17, 10 and 14 offensive points. As my cousin said, there's something there and Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau should be able to find it.

Much like the Packers offense has yet to face a truly dominant defense, the Packers defense have yet to face a true juggernaut in these playoffs. Thanks to Marshawn Lynch, the Packers avoided a huge hurdle in the defending champion New Orleans Saints. Of course the Steelers themselves avoided a hurdle themselves in the New England Patriots. But the QB play the Packers have seen has been nowhere near Super Bowl caliber. They faced a gimpy Michael Vick, an overwhelmed Matt Ryan and the Chicago Bears ball boy at QB. Neither the Steelers nor the Packers have had to face a truly elite QB thus far in the playoffs and both will get their first shot on Sunday.

The Steelers have, however, faced legitimate defenses and won. This is why Eric's 2 Reasons of Green Bay's Front 7 and Secondary don't scare me all that much. The Steelers faced the Ravens and Jets, both of whom feature one of the league's best defense and best road playoff records. If the Steelers tattered O-Line can handle Heloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott and Jason Taylor, they can handle B.J. Raji and a fuel-injected Clay Matthews. Ben's had to watch out for Ed Reed and Darrell Revis the last two weeks, so I'm confident he can keep the ball out of Charles Woodson's hands.


Above all the stats and biceps, my point is the Steelers are the most complete team the Packers have faced in a long time -- and by a wide margin.

Most of the defensive stats used in this section came from a great two-part analysis of the Steelers Defense. It has some very interesting interactive stat displays to check out:

2. The Steelers are going to try and beat Aaron Rodgers like a rented mule.

If you watched the Packers-Bears game last weekend, you saw a total of 5 different QBs play. Cutler, Collins, Hanie, Rodgers and....Rodgers.


Aaron Rodgers was a completely different player after taking a big hit from Julius Peppers at the start of the 4th Quarter. Up 7 and trying to put the game away, Rodgers didn't make a single play from that point forward. He looked rattled, missed open receivers and was out of his normal rhythm.

Dick LeBeau doesn't miss much, and I know this point is not lost on him.

The Steelers are going to do everything they can to pummel the crap out of Rodgers early in this game. If they can get one unblocked hit on him, even if it draws a flag, it may end up being the play of the game. They're going to try and break his rhythm, rattle his confidence and generally instill the fear of God in him that James Harrison is going to come full speed like a runaway freight train. As my uncle wisely pointed out, the Packers won't be able to run the ball at all which will lead to Harrison and Woodley drawing double teams up the wazoo, thus freeing up Ike Taylor or Troy Polamalu to come in unblocked. If Rodgers holds that ball a second too long, he may be wishing Julius Peppers was the worst of his troubles.

Aaron Rodgers is a very good QB, and as he demonstrated against the Bears, he's fully capable of throwing quick slant patterns to beat a blitzing defense. But as Mr. Peppers demonstrated all it takes is one hit to "get in that ass" -- so to speak. 

Here's to Lawrence Timmons spray-painting "LARRY WAS HERE."

3. The Steelers Restore Balance to Offensive Force
I'm guessing either the TV show you're watching just came back from commercial or you're bordering on taking too long in the bathroom at work -- in any event, I'll try and make my next three points in less than 2,000 words.

The Steelers are not what I consider an offensive juggernaut. You could likely convince me that the Packers, because of Rodgers vision and rhythm, are a better offensive unit. But the Steelers do feature one thing the Packers lack -- balance. James Starks has performed well in the playoffs, but his one great game against the Eagles came, well, against the Eagles. While he rushed for a decent 66 and 74 yards the next few weeks, both came on 22+ carries, for an average of 3.0 yards per carry. If you run the numbers, Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall hasn't done considerably better, but the difference is, the Steelers will not abandon the run as quickly as the Packers. The Packers offense belongs to Rodgers. He will be responsible for their success or failure.

The Steelers meanwhile effectively share the load. Mendenhall carried the Steelers last week against the Jets and if given decent O-Line play has the ability to take some of the pressure of Roethlisberger to make every play for his offense. Like I said last week, Mendenhall keeps his feet moving and exploits poor tackling.

Moving to Roethlisberger, he is the best QB the Packers will have faced since that Week 15 matchup against Tom Brady. The fact that his Offensive Line is in shambles is no secret, but luckily for the Steelers, Ben excels in situations where he is forced out of the pocket.

The Steelers Wide Receivers and Tight Ends are vastly underrated. Even if Ben is being harassed all day, his receivers will get open. I was surprised one of Eric's 5 Reasons was not the supposed advantage the Packers will have playing on turf. Green Bay may have more team speed, but Mike Wallace could outrun a jungle cat on a people mover. He'll get at least a few deep attempts from Ben. Antonio Brown has made the catch of the game in two consecutive games and I would expect him to be similarly involved against the Packers.

Finally, don't be surprised if the Steelers whip out a trick play or two. Wallace on an end-around or Antwan Randle El airing it out. Remember this dandy that iced Super Bowl XL?

 4. Mike Tomlin > Mike McCarthy
On paper, this may be to me the Steelers single biggest advantage over the Packers. Mike Tomlin is already the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. Now he's the first to go twice before turning 40. He has two Super Bowl rings (one as an assistant in Tampa), a great staff and just the right amount of swagger. He is, in my opinion, the best coach in the NFL. Unlike Belichick he has personality, but not too much personality like Ryan. He's defeated John Harbaugh every time he had to. 

Mike McCarthy strikes me as a perfectly good coach. But in five years in Green Bay he's 48-32 (.600) in the regular season. Good, but not great. And before this season's 3 playoff wins, he was just 1-2 in the playoffs. Compare that to Mike Tomlin's 43-21 (.671) and 5-1 in the post-season. You may be saying .600 and .671 aren't that different. But it's the difference between averaging 9.5 wins a year and 10.8. That's often the difference between the Division and a January tee time.

But more important than winning percentage is what I saw in the NFC and AFC Championship games. The entire second half, Mike McCarthy seemed to play not to lose. When one scoring drive would have sealed the game, he handcuffed the league's best QB. I admire his attempt to run the clock out with 4:00 minutes left, but when your running back is James Starks, your QB Aaron Rodgers and your defense just gave up a long TD pass to Caleb Hanie, you throw the ball and win the game. Compare that to Mike Tomlin's 3rd and 6 call at the end of the AFC Championship game. When running would have meant punting back to the surging Jets with 1:15 left, he threw and won the game.

I'm sure Mike McCarthy will up his aggressiveness in this game of games. But as Sean Payton showed last year, an aggressive and confident coach is oftentimes the coach soaked in Gatorade come the Super Bowl's final gun.

5. Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.
Experience alone will not lead the Steelers to victory in this game. Like my buddy Troy, I don't believe it gives them as enormous an advantage as many of the pundits. But where I'll bet it comes in handy is over the next week. The build-up to the Super Bowl is overwhelming for a fan, so I can only imagine how it must be for a player. The media days, public appearances and heck, just the emotion of making to the Super Bowl.

The Steelers have 25 players who've played in a Super Bowl. 14 of their 22 starters won a Super Bowl ring in 2008. 10 of them have another from 2005. Their defensive coordinator has two rings, their offensive coordinator has one. Mike Tomlin, as previously mentioned, has two as well. The Rooneys, well, they have six.

Two players on the current Packers team have played in a Super Bowl, both having lost. Many, like Eric, use that as an argument that they're hungrier than the Steelers. But when push come to shove, I think preparation will have more a say in the outcome than hunger. And the Steelers' experience will lead to fewer distractions, thus allowing them to truly treat this as just another game.

When it's all said and done, this game is close to a toss-up as they come. Both teams feature an elite QB, freakish linebackers in Harrison and Matthews and a safety/CB duo for the ages in Polamalu and Woodson.

But the Packers are not a team of destiny. At least not any more than the Steelers will be if they win. Or the Jets had they won. Or the Bears. Let's face it, every team is a team of destiny -- so long as they win.

None of us have any idea how this game is going to play out. Not Conan, not James Lipton, not even Harry Caray. But what we do know is that the moon is not made of Green Cheese. And that, perhaps more than anything, spells victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here's the Seventh Heaven and polishing it down with a tall, cool Budweiser.

Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!

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