There’s a well-known saying that surrounds each and every Super Bowl. That saying is “Defense wins championships”.
Up until now this old school adage has gone hand in hand with the NFL’s biggest dance. Offensively a skillful quarterback has been known to only push a team so far, before a sturdy secondary polishes off the dirty work to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
In two weeks’ time, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers look to sparkle in Dallas – under both of these subcategories.
Whether it was defensive coordinator Dom Capers taking over Green Bay in 2009, or Pittsburgh’s Dick LeBeau grasping the reigns in 2004, there are certain expectations that come with taking on two of the league’s biggest franchises.
Lambeau Field expects only the best out of their players on a daily basis, similar to the faithful folk of Heinz Field, whose team is renowned for the Steel Curtain days of the 1970’s. Names like Ray Nitschke and “Mean” Joe Greene litter the history books of these two teams, making any loyal fan accustom to some hard hits and a dosage of brutality sixteen weeks a year.
Perhaps that’s why this year’s Super Bowl is so different to the rest.
Pittsburgh’s defense has had its finger on the button for much of this year, taking home the number one spot in rush yards during the regular season. Yet the question of containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers is tossing some problems into the mix.
The area that has plagued opposing teams in the past three weeks, is deciphering what defensive strategy is best when tackling the Packers passing game.
Blitz? Rodgers is likely to go around you. Man coverage? You’re taking a chance on some deep passes. And zone? Well, the run game is new and improved right now behind rookie James Starks.
Don’t be disheartened, though, the Chicago Bears may have shone some light on this situation.
On Sunday during the NFC Championship game, Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli chose to emphasize the importance of the Cover 2 option, rather than mixing and matching against Green Bay.
Did this work for the Bears?
Perhaps quarterback Jay Cutler makes Marinelli’s decision look false. However, don’t let No.6 fool you; Green Bay had a tough time picking up yards at Soldier Field.
The simple fact that the Packers converted only two of 11 third down attempts tells the whole story. Linebackers Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher were brilliant in pressurizing Rodgers, and one gets the feeling that if the Packers didn’t score twice in the first quarter, Green Bay may not be headed to Dallas right now.
Therefore, this is a thought that LeBeau must ponder. Cover 2 isn’t always the Steelers first option defensively, yet at the same time it is the safest possibility with wide receiver Greg Jennings proving to be lethal early.
The Steelers have recorded only 7 sacks and one interception in the postseason. If one thing is for sure, LeBeau won’t be happy until these numbers are increased.
Hand it to Dom Capers, the 3-4 scheme has drastically changed the Packers game. More to the point, though, the ability that Capers has shown in developing players is all the more impressive in the grand scheme of things.
To have a linebacker like Clay Matthews recording 13.5 sacks in his second season is remarkable. Better yet, to have a fourth year cornerback like Tramon Williams standing up tall with three postseason interceptions in even more awe-inspiring
So what about the problems?
Quite frankly, drawing issues out of Capers defensive hat is a tough chore for any expert to undergo. Nonetheless, one problem that the Packers have had in the past three weeks comes down to the bare necessities – tackling.
Against the Chicago Bears, not so much. Green Bay did a good job of containing quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Todd Collins, along with maintaining control over running back Matt Forte, even though he did run for 70 yards on the day.
Still, there is one play that still stands out. When the Bears were rallying a comeback behind third string quarterback Caleb Hanie, Chicago found themselves with an easy six points in hand thanks to poor tackling on safety Nick Collins’ part.
Wide receiver Earl Bennett blew right past the usually reliable safety, for a 35-yard touchdown on the back of B.J Raji’s interception touchdown.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, this type of inconsistency simply must be avoided. Capers is likely to mix up his play calls against Ben Roethlisberger and the offense, but expect to see a number of blitz packages, as Big Ben is often rattled under pressure.
The Steelers coughed the ball up a total of six times against the New York Jets last week. Two came from interceptions, while the other four were due to fumbles. Pressure on Roethlisberger equals forced throws. Forced throws equal more opportunities for the likes of Williams, Charles Woodson and rookie cornerback, Sam Shields.
Defense Will Win the Battle
Forget Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin for a moment, because Dom Capers vs. Dick LeBeau will mean the difference between winning and losing.
Both Pittsburgh and Green Bay have experienced a remarkable year on the defensive side of the ball, seeing a number of no-name player’s rise through the ranks week in and week out.
Linebacker Erik Walden has been a huge factor for the Packers, while cornerback William Gay has been the danger man on Pittsburgh’s roster.
Dallas plays host, and of course fans expect the scoreboard to be exercised. Don’t be surprised, though, if this year’s Super Bowl becomes a defensive shootout.
Ryan Cook is an Australian author for Acme Packing Company, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer to Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Sports Haze.