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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl - Go Pack Go!

Roberto Ruiz-Maki

On February 6th the Green Bay Packers will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. Green Bay is favored to win, but a lot of fans are swayed by the number of rings the Steelers have won in the last five years. Past occurrences have no effect on the events of the future. Green Bay has the better offense, the better defense, and the better special teams; don't be swayed by rings.
Pittsburgh's offense is led by one big (in every sense of the word) name, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger (Big Ben) has had a good season, after his tumultuous offseason when a college student accused him of rape. Big Ben's nickname fits perfectly, since he is a quarterback in a linebacker's body. Too often, blitzers will bounce off of him and watch him throw to a wide open receiver instead of bringing him down. Rashard Mendenhall is a running back with the ability to bust the game open with long runs. Mendenhall has never had the breakout season that many analysts have predicted over the past few seasons, but he still has the skills to take over any game, as he showed in the championship round against the New York Jets. Mike Wallace is one of the better receivers in the league, mostly because he has a knack for making the big play. Wallace averages 21 yards per catch, second in the league behind Desean Jackson. The big weakness of the Steelers offense is the offensive line. The line has been decimated by injuries, leaving only six healthy linemen for the playoff games. With star center Maurkice Pouncey unlikely to play (broken ankle), they may go in with only five healthy offensive linemen.
The “Steel Curtain”, the nickname given to the Steelers' defense in the 1970's, is looking a bit rusty these days. While Pittsburgh still boasts star power with safety Troy Polamalu (the guy with the hair), and linebacker James Harrison, their secondary has several holes that Aaron Rodgers can exploit. Though Pittsburgh has not given up many points lately, Packers fans should rest well knowing that their offense will not be held to 21 or less again this season.
I am relieved that I can finally discuss the Packers, since I was getting tired of writing about a team as boring as the Steelers. The Packers are the best team in the league. Many analysts picked them to win the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year, but after the team suffered several season ending injuries to key players, their stock plummeted. Thanks to a great coaching staff, though, the backup players have stepped up and played incredibly in place of the stars. Players like Howard Green, Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson, Erik Walden, Charlie Peprah, and James Starks have stepped up in ways that nobody could have foreseen. This cast of no-names has been getting it done all season, and facing the beat up Pittsburgh offensive line should be a walk in the park for B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams, and company.
Aaron Rodgers leads a high-powered offense that has the ability to go on 12+ play drives, as well as score in an instant. The offensive line has been a surprise this year, protecting Rodgers better then ever. Since the loss of Ryan Grant in the first week of the season, Green Bay has been searching for a running game. Well, they were searching, until James Starks burst onto the scene in the playoffs with a 23 carry, 123 yard performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. James Starks provides stability for the offense now that teams are no longer able to drop everyone into coverage against Rodgers. Greg Jennings highlights the group of receivers that are superb at getting yards after the catch. James Jones is the other deep threat, often playing on the outside. Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson play in the slot, and are possession receivers who are capable of making your average five yard gain into a fifteen yard gain.
The Packers defense, ranked second in the league behind Pittsburgh's in points allowed, has been stingy all year. The Packers were first in the league with 24 interceptions, first in sacks with 47, second in passes defensed with 110, and eighth with 15 forced fumbles. Coaches Dom Capers (defensive coordinator), Kevin Greene (outside linebackers coach), and Joe Whitt Jr. (cornerbacks coach), have all been instrumental in the development of the younger players. Along with the big names of Charles Woodson, Raji, and Matthews, rookie Sam Shields, Desmond Bishop, and Peprah have also made big plays all season.
Green Bay's special teams has been more reliable of late than the Steelers' special teams. Tim Masthay has been crucial to the playoff success for the Packers thus far; punting it not only for distance, but to keep the ball away from returners Jackson and Devin Hester was instrumental in both games. Jeremy Kapinos is Masthay's counterpart, and some fans may remember Kapinos as the Packers punter from the end of 2008 through 2009. Kapinos has been decent as an emergency replacement for Dan Sepulveda. Crosby has been suspect all season, but he has been better than Shaun Suisham, especially if you take kickoffs into consideration.
To be completely honest, this game could go either way. Green Bay has the better team, but Pittsburgh has better coaching. The one major factor that not many people are talking about is that though Pittsburgh has experienced less major injuries, the majority of their injuries have occurred recently. That makes a big difference because the players who had to fill in for Green Bay have already had close to a full season of experience under their belt, while Pittsburgh's players have had a short amount of time to learn the style of the NFL.
The previous time these two teams met was last season, and Pittsburgh won in a shootout after a last second long touchdown pass. Though Green Bay outplayed Pittsburgh that day, the Steelers still won thanks to their superior coaching. That game will look nothing like this upcoming one, though, since both teams have changed dramatically since that meeting. Green Bay's defense got carved up at the end of that season because while they were good statistically, they had many holes since the team was still learning Dom Capers' defensive scheme.
Green Bay has the better team at this time. If Pittsburgh's team was fully healthy then perhaps things would be different, but they aren't. Dom Capers' scheme will take advantage of the inexperienced linemen, and green and gold confetti will be streaming onto the field in celebration of the most decorated franchise in the NFL hanging another championship banner. Green Bay is going to win the Super Bowl, with Pittsburgh a mere bump at the end of a long, arduous road. It excites me to think that a whole new generation of Packer fans will be watching their team vie for the title of “best in the NFL.” Either way, this season was a huge success for the Packers, and we should all be grateful that such an exciting, loveable team was in our state, and we could call them our own.

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