>Thursday Lunch Special: Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XLV Preview

Posted: February 3, 2011 in super bowl
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By Will Robinson

Offense

The longstanding history of the Steelers is that they have always been a run first, smash mouth football team. While media members still love to play this angle up and say that is how the Steelers have had success, they are clearly a pass first time. This year they were about 50-50 throughout the whole year, but in the first four games without Big Ben (with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch), they called more run plays, to the tune of 123 to 81. By the end of the regular season, they had eight more pass attempts than run.

Even though he may not put up the Brady, Manning, or Brees numbers, Ben Roethlisberger has to be considered a top five quarterback. Had he played the full 16 game schedule and continued his season long pace to those four hypothetical games, he would have posted a 4200 yard, 22 touchdown, six interception season – very good numbers, and had an impressive 8.23 yards per attempt. Roethlisberger’s ability to create more time in the pocket and throw on the run is, by standard metrics, statistically indefinable. You have to “see it” to know it, and it really is something amazing to watch when he extends a play to make something magically happen. Just watch the last few minutes of Super Bowl XLIII (try and get past the epic music). Great, clutch quarterback play and he is the quarterback in this game I want with two minutes left, down by four.

 

Even though I just spent a paragraph chastising the Steeler run game, it is still very important to their overall success. Rashard Mendenhall built off the success he had last year, rushing for 100 more yards (on a dismal 78 more attempts, dropping his yard per rush average from 4.6 to 3.9), but scoring six more times. He had great performances against the vaunted Jets defense twice this season, rushing for 220 yards combined. Mewelde Moore has been sufficient in coming in on third downs, and the bruising Isaac Redman is hard to bring down whenever he spells Mendenhall.

 

mike-wallace-catch-pittsburgh-steelersThe Steelers receivers are some of my favorite to watch, because they carry great depth. Mike Wallace, the third round pick out of Ole Miss in 2009 (note: Denver traded with Pittsburgh, and they possessed this pick before. Not that they WOULD have taken a receiver, but this still makes me sick), is the premier wide receiver in the league. He has exceptional speed, and with most traditional deep threats (think DeSean Jackson), they rely too heavily on the big play. Only 16 players since the merger have posted at least 50 catches and 20 yards per reception, and Wallace is the first player to do so since Ashley Lelie (REALLY?!?!) in 2004, and only the sixth since 1970 with 60 receptions and 20 yards per reception (Pro Football Reference). Hines Ward has turned in a Hall of Fame résumé, being the leading receiver in Steeler history, winning a Super Bowl MVP, and being known as one of the toughest pound for pound blocking receivers to play the game. Rookie Antonio Brown and one year man Emmanuel Sanders round out the receiving corps as solid, young receivers and tight end Heath Miller is a consistent security blanket for Roethlisberger.

 

The one sect of the Steelers offense that could cause trouble for them is the offensive line. They were without starting tackle Willie Colon for the whole year and have missed tackle Max Starks since November. Lineman have routintely been injured in the game, and they have been down to their last dressed lineman more times than anyone should be comfortable with. Rookie Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey said he has a 75% chance to play in the game after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Jets. He is by far their best lineman, and he will be a big difference maker if he can step up his game while not 100%.

 

Defense

Unlike the premise that the Steelers have always been a run first team, their success has been directly coordinated with their tough, blitzing defense. Just like Green Bay’s front line, Pittsburgh’s has played phenomenally this year with 3-4 ends and tackles in Ziggy Hood, Aaron Smith Casey Hampton, and Brett “I Have the Greatest Beard Ever” Keisel. Smith typically plays at a Pro Bowl, even All Pro level when he is healthy, but he has missed the last 12 games with torn triceps. Keisel would have gone to Hawaii if his team didn’t make it to Dallas, even though he missed a few games this year (I’m telling you, it’s the beard). Hood has greatly filled the void, solidifying his first round pick status in the 2009 draft.

 

Pittsburgh linebackers have had a long and great lineage. From Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Andy Russell, and Greg Lloyd of the past, to James Farrior, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley of now, their linebackers have defined the Steel Curtain. Farrior was runner up to the defensive player of the year award, and has been a solid second interior linebacker to the young, developing Lawrence Timmons. The hard hitting, aggressive Harrison is one the best outside linebackers playing now, and is definitely in the top five of “NFL Players I Would Not Want to Piss Off” – who knows what this fine-getter and ’08 DPOY will do to you. Four years into the league, Woodley is an elite pass rushing force, and is already coming close to the all-time post season sack record. Woodley has ten sacks in six postseason games; Willie McGinest has the record with 16… in 18 games played. Woodley will assuredly own this record by the time he retires, which, barring a terrible injury, should not be for another eight to ten years.

 

The secondary, the overall weakest part of this defense, is really not that bad. They are led by the reigning defensive player of the year in Troy Polamalu and his headhunting partner in crime, Ryan Clark. Cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden are above league average, but this is by far the weakest part of this defense. That being said, the tandem and chemistry that Clark and Polamalu share is so great that they can cover up some of the other defensive backs’ problems. This will be the one spot Green Bay must try to challenge in order to grain some ground against the stout defensive squad.

 

Three Key Players

Doug Legursky

If I were a betting man, I would put money on a Steeler offensive lineman being hurt during this game. Whether it is Flozell Adams falling down again or Pouncey not being able to play, Legursky will be the go-to sub. He filled in very nicely against the Jets when Pouncey hurt his ankle, and was a surprising success. However, should Legursky be thrown into the fire, he will have to block one of the giant 3-4 tackles if he is inside or Clay Matthews if he is on the outside. A great Legursky performance will keep Roethlisberger on his legs more and plays alive for longer.

 

Heath Miller

This extends to Sanders and Brown as well. Depending on what role Charles Woodson plays in this game, whether it be on Mike Wallace, or his wildcard role he has played recently, Sam Shield and Tramon Williams will be covering the next two top receivers. Miller or one of the other receivers across the middle of the field may often be the best option for Roethlisberger to choose, and may rake in seven catches or more. The interior linebackers are solid for Green Bay, but they are definitely better with the injured Nick Barnett in the lineup. If a safety has to cover Miller, he can outwork him as he has a distinct size advantage.

 

The Corners

I alluded to this earlier, but the Pittsburgh secondary will have their hands full with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones. Polamalu and Clark can’t do it all on their own, so they will need some help from Taylor, McFadden, and William Gay to follow the green receivers around the gridiron.

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