Nothing is more daunting than a lifetime Bears fan and franchise-long Ravens fan attending the carving up of Super Bowl assignments at GASB headquarters.
In short: which No. 1 hated division rival would you like to analyze and assess more? Thankfully, GASB will always love the game much more than we hate our mortal enemies, so let’s take a hard look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, inarguably one of the greatest franchises in NFL history.
Pittsburgh comes into this game as the only franchise with six previous Super Bowl victories and the only franchise to have won eight AFC Championship Games. This means that in seven prior Super Bowl appearances, the team has only been defeated once.
If it weren’t for loyalties elsewhere, the Pittsburgh Steelers are precisely the type of organization that GASB loves and they certainly run the type of system that other teams around the league should certainly aspire toward both on the field and in the front offices.
Consider that this particular team is still owned and run by the Rooney Family (since 1933) and has tenured a mere THREE head coaches in the modern Super Bowl era.
Rather than take impulsive mulligans or “adapt” to the more corporate Snyder/Jones one-and-done style of modern front office and personal changes, the Steelers get their men and stand by their men.
They consistently build immense teams via the draft and grow their players in a uniquely Steelers system from the ground up. The loyalty pays off: Chuck Noll delivered four rings, Bill Cowher delivered one and Mike Tomlin matched it a mere three years later and is sitting on the doorstep yet again.
One would be hard pressed to find a team with as much talent in the office as on the field, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are unquestionably that team. And as with every Sunday, it will ultimately come down to the men standing on the field executing what they’ve been drilled on since OTA’s and mini camp the preceding summer.
Let’s examine who’s coming charging out of the tunnel.
Quarterback: Love him or hate him, “Big” Ben Roethlisberger is unquestionably in the top three realm of modern quarterbacks.
If we’re talking about one game for all the marbles, Big Ben is right up there with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. All three have demonstrated what it is to be clutch when it counts the absolute most. What makes the Steelers’ quarterback position so terrifying for Green Bay and Packer fans everywhere in this matchup is that they are facing an especially dangerous Roethlisberger coming out of the story arc that was the 2010 season.
Forced to sit for four games (reduced from six) at the front end of the schedule for particularly a scandalous and alarming pattern of offseason misconduct, Ben was faced with a simple choice: shape up now or suffer the fate of former teammate Santonio Holmes (traded to the Jets after a nightclub incident).
Accordingly, Roethlisberger focused in on the difficult road to redemption before him and made massive strides. He recommitted himself to the game and, upon reinstatement, went out to light it up like a man literally playing for his life.
Roethlisberger 3.0 was an absolute monster during the remaining 2010 regular season and playoffs.
His mental and physical toughness were unparalleled while stacked AFC defenses tried to simply break him in all facets from week to week. They smashed and broke his nose across his face. He stayed in. They nearly snapped his ankle. He put a boot on and ran right back out onto the field.
He threw for over 3,000 yards in 12 games, he lowered his head and picked up first downs and touchdowns at will and, while unquantifiable on a stat sheet, he seemed much wiser in his trademark gambling methodology of navigating the pocket.
Yes, Ben Roethlisberger holds onto the ball longer than any QB in the league. This has not changed. What has changed is that he’s seeing the peripheral landscape better and creating many more offensive opportunities than ever in doing so.
Nobody wants this game more than Big Ben. You could argue that nobody needs this game more than Big Ben.
This is an entirely frightening premise if you’re Dom Capers on the Packers sideline.
Offensive Line: Of note and of great significance: reports have emerged that starting rookie center Maurkice Pouncey will not play in Sunday’s showdown due to an ankle injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game.
He remains listed as “questionable” as of press time. This is a massive blow to the Steelers and will absolutely be a major factor heading in. Pouncey put forth a Pro Bowl effort in 2010 and certainly demonstrated what a modern center in the league CAN be. Doug Legursky has been tapped to step in.
His reward? BJ Raji staring him down from across the line. To quote a legendary canine cartoon, “ZOINKS!”
The good news? The Steelers are absolutely stacked with grizzled and energized veterans on the left and right sides.
Jonathan Scott, Chris Kemoeatu, and Flozell Adams are household names for a reason. Second-year right guard Ramon Foster is quickly proving himself and earning his keep with the big boys. So while Legursky has his work cut out for him, expect more than a little help from his not-so-little friends.
Anticipate a showdown of epic proportions as the Packers send Cullen Jenkins and Clay Matthews slamming into these Steeler workhorses.
Running Backs: Now in his third season, Rashard Mendenhall has proven yet again that the Steelers know how to draft. Plucked straight from the Big Ten and thrust immediately into the Super Bowl season of 2008, No. 34 was forced to learn the system immediately and be ready when his number was called.
He responded with a 2009 that saw him break 1,000 yards on the ground while stepping into that every-QBs-best-friend role of hovering just outside of the pocket on pass plays for the last option dump off pass. In 2010, he showed improvement across the board — making a case for elite status.
Look for entirely solid and potentially game-breaking plays from Mendenhall under the big lights. Do not count on costly mistakes: Mendenhall only put the ball on the ground twice this season.
Fullback David Johnson will have his work cut out for him alternating between trying to shore up the Pouncey-free line and creating lanes for Mendenhall to bust through.
As he’s proven in the last two seasons, he is ready, willing, and able to do just that when called upon.
Other than that, look for Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman to see some snaps and give Big Ben some options if Matthews and Jenkins manage to get past the O-Line quicker than anticipated.
Tight End: Simply put, Heath Miller is your prototypical AFC North tight end.
Deftly skilled at both blocking and receiving, look for the Steelers to call upon No. 83 in any scenario where the chips are down. His field vision will enable him to pick up and thwart oncoming defenders and, if Charles Woodson plugs up the deep threat, Miller is not afraid to run a route across the middle on any third-down situation.
With a weakened line, Heath will absolutely need to be on point on every down he plays. Count on it. Beyond No. 83, the Steelers could not ask for a better number two guy than Matt Spaeth.
Set your watch to both men executing their assignments with ferocity.
Wide Receivers: Once again, the Steelers prove that they are top-tier genius status when it comes to drafting correctly.
Hines Ward is now in his thirteenth year with the team and is still one of the most explosive and game-breaking receivers in big game situations. He simply grins in the face of opposing defenses as he’s breaking their backs with clutch catch after catch.
Those unfamiliar with the Steelers’ 2010 season might look at the stat line and surmise that No. 86 had a down year. That’s not the case when you factor in Roethlisberger’s newest toy at the No. 2 spot: another draft pick turned gold in second-year man Mike Wallace.
Accounting for over 1,250 yards and 10 TD’s in year two? Welcome to prime time, youngster.
After the monster season Wallace enjoyed, look for him to shine and truly make a name for himself in front of the biggest viewing audience of the year (perhaps all-time).
The Steelers are as balanced as ever at this position and the war chest runs deep receiver-wise. If Hines gets stymied, Monday morning water cooler talk could be all about the rise of the “Young Money Fellas” (more later).
Defensive Line: The Steelers continue to run a 3-4 defense, so look for the 920-pound three-headed dog-from-hell also known as Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, and Casey Hampton to put constant pressure on the Packers and Rodgers.
Ziggy’s had a bit of a breakout year in only his second year in the league, so definitely keep your eye on him with each snap. It looks like Aaron Smith will not be available for the game, so the Steelers will have to count on Chris Hoke and Nick Eason for support behind the starting three.
GASB expects some major disruptions at the hands of the D line versus the Pack. The timing of these disruptions and how Rodgers adjusts and handles pressure from all sides will be a huge determining factor in this game. Rodgers has seen some exotic blitzes during the course of the season. On Sunday, he will literally see the best the league has to offer.
Linebackers: As we take a peak over the front three, we’re beginning to become a little terrified for Aaron Rodgers and James Starks. Let’s say the Pack pitches a perfect game versus Keisel, Hood, and Hampton. Okay, then what the hell do you do with “LIGHTS OUT. NO SERIOUSLY, LIGHTS OUT” James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, and LeMarr Woodley wanting to decapitate any and every man attempting to advance the football past them?
GASB would prefer to go to any California State Penitentiary wearing nothing but assless chaps for a day than be asked to stave off the homicidal maniacs that comprise the modern day Steel Curtain for even a single down.
Put it down: all four of these men are going to put their mark on this game. There is not an offensive scheme on the planet that can keep these four from feasting at will. They are going to get to you and they are going to make your internal organs scream. The only way to address the linebacking corps of the Steelers is to attempt to keep their big plays manageable within the context of the entire offensive attack.
In this regard, The Packers will need to hone in on a perfectly balanced attack of both the run and the pass, as we now enter into the third and near-inpenatrable component of the Steelers D.
Secondary: With such a formidable front line and linebacking corps, sometimes the only possible solution is to take your chances on the secondary. Not with the Steelers, man.
You know you’re in deep, deep trouble when the STRONG SAFETY for the other team has more national endorsements than your starting franchise quarterback.
Simply put, you can try testing Troy Polamalu, but he’s going to eat your lunch more often than not. It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “how many times?”
How many times are you going to issue a death sentence to your own tight end or receiver by trying to pick up yardage in the middle?
How many times is one of those 300-pound giants going to bat a ball up into the air only to see it come down into the hands and fleet-footed blur of hair and black and gold?
And that’s just Polamalu’s impact.
Have you SEEN Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor give interviews lately? Could there be a more cold-blooded, Secret Service-level of assuredness and confidence coming from two men?
GASB thinks not. We’re talking about two men in their athletic primes (nine years in the league for Clark, eight for Taylor) realizing that the window is closing on another ring and wanting absolutely nothing more in present tense. Expect athletic brilliance from both, with Clark making savant-like freelancing decisions and Taylor blanketing all assignments.
If all else fails and Rodgers looks left for intermediate, manageable gains, expect no mercy. Bryant McFadden will be watching. Waiting. Studying. He’s already looked over every tape of every tendency Rodgers has shown in his entire career. He knows how to tackle in the open field (2010 marked a career high 74 solo tackles). He’s absolutely going to get there and, if he sees something he recognizes, it’s going to make for a long day for the men in yellow and green.
Special Teams: This is the one area where the Steelers aren’t exactly as superhuman as the other facets of the game.
Punter Jeremy Kapinos, in spite of being a Penn Stater, hasn’t exactly had the most solid NFL career to date. Four different teams in as many years, and just not many reps. He came over to the Steelers in week eight of the 2010 season and didn’t see consistent action until week fourteen, where he slid into the starter role.
With the exception of a rough game versus the Jets in week fifteen, he’s been “okay” for the Steelers. If SB XLV turns out to be the defensive war it has all the potential to be, field position will be at a premium and Mr. Kapinos will need to back up his Nittany Lion pedigree by putting it back long and in the corner.
Placekicker Shaun Suisham scares the bejeezus out of GASB if this game indeed comes down to defense and field goals. GASB spends a lot of time in the greater Washington, DC metro area, where Suisham was run out of town at the behest of a rather angry pitchfork and torch-wielding mob of Redskins faithful.
While he’s shown decent acumen in his seven-game run this season with the Steelers, history dictates that at some point Shaun Suisham will become Shaun Suisham. For the sake of the biggest game of the year, we sincerely hope it’s not this Sunday.
Finally, in the latter half of the season, the Steelers discovered big-play ability in a young rookie named Antonio Brown. It began with a game-winning dagger of a catch versus GASB’s beloved Ravens and simply did not end there. Accordingly, the Steelers have put 1/3 of the “Young Money Fellas” (the other two being fellow WR’s Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders) back for both kick and punt returns on top of what is quickly becoming his “late-game heroic” status in the offense.
The hope is that his explosiveness and excitement-raising style of play will energize the offense and Terrible Towel-wavers alike heading into each and every series. We anticipate Brown to deliver at some point, likely when it matters most (think Santonio Holmes in their last SB appearance).
Side note on Antonio Brown: If you’re looking for a Michael Oher Blind Side-esque backstory to get behind and really pull for for this weekend, GASB highly recommends looking into No. 84’s rise to the NFL. It’s the classic narrative of daunting, oppressively hard times failing to break a human spirit driven to compete at the highest level.
Super Bowl XLV has all of the makings of a game for the ages and this writer wishes a sincerely fantastic and fun-filled viewing experience to everyone in GASB-nation.
– Brent Eyestone