Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl Preview

Tomorrow's the big day!  Many have already descended upon Dallas to watch the Super Bowl.  Countless others are stocking up on beer, nacho fixings, beer, bacon cheeseburgers, beer, etc. in preparation for the big game.  Millions watch for the commercials.  While that kills me inside, I can't ignore this eventuality.  For those of you who like the game itself, I'll break down some of the key match-ups that I believe will determine the outcome of the game.

I believe that there are two match-ups to watch that will determine the outcome of the game.  These match-ups depend entirely on the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team (not that many weaknesses exist), and whoever wins these battles will likely negate what their opponent does best.

1.  BJ Raji vs. Doug Legursky.  The Packers play very strong defense all around, but their strength is pass defense.  Against the run, they surrendered nearly 115 yards per game during the season, ranking 18th.  However, the pass defense ranked 5th surrendering under 200 yards per game.  Conversely, while the Steelers are fairly balanced on offense, they rank 11th (120 yards per game) rushing and 14th (225 yards per game) passing.  The fact that the Steelers' relative strength plays to the Packers' relative weakness.  However, now that Pouncey can't go, Pittsburgh will basically be forced to double team Raji or run away from the middle of that defense.  If they have to double team Raji, that will allow Cushing to face Scott one on one, and that's not good news for Big Ben.  It will also free up AJ Hawk to make plays sideline to sideline in the running game, which should go a long ways in negating the play action pass.  Pittsburgh will need a strong day out of Legursky or brilliant game planning by the offensive line coach to keep varying everything they do to force the Packers into confusion.  The other thing they could do is rely on play action early and often before realizing that they likely won't be able to run.  That could push the secondary back and at least make the Packer defense play it straight and not cheat on the run.

2.  James Harrison vs. Chad Clifton (and Brian Bulaga).  The rankings that elevate these match-ups to pivotal are:  Packers passing game - 5th (nearly 260 yards per game), Packers running game - 24th (a shade over 100 ypg), Steelers pass defense - 12th (214 ypg), Steelers run defense - 1st (nearly 63 ypg).  If the Packer tackles can manage to win the one on one battle in the trenches with Harrison, Rogers will have all the time in the world to throw.If that happens, Aaron Rogers will pick Pittsburgh apart.  It will be surgical in nature, and if you're a Pittsburgh fan, it will not be fun.  If, however, Harrison wins his one on one battles, and Lebeau doesn't have to blitz too often to generate pressure, Rogers will be in for a rough game.  If Lebeau has to blitz, Pittsburgh will be in a little more trouble, as the Green Bay receivers are excellent at getting separation quickly, and Rogers is an artist against the blitz.

Certainly, there are other intriguing and important match-ups to watch that could determine the outcome of the game, but the above are, in my mind, the most pivotal.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that I think the biggest battles are in the trenches.  I've seen first hand for the last ten years (as a Bills fan) what happens when you don't win those battles.  It results in losses.

My prediction for the game is Green Bay 23, Pittsburgh 20.  Unfortunately, if my prediction comes true, I will lose the box pool from my office.

What match-ups will you be watching for?  Please post in the comments if I've missed one you feel will be a determining factor in the game!


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