Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Super Pick

Pittsburgh at GREEN BAY (-2.5)

It's a legitimately fascinating game. Pittsburgh is basically a deluxe version of Chicago, the one team in the NFC that consistently slowed down the Packers attack. The way to do it is to have plus pass rushers that come from any number of angles, so that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers gets confused and/or tentative. That's the way to neutralize a QB that can prolong plays with his legs, and when you look at the Steeler wins (NYJ, Baltimore), you see them taking young guys who can run a little and putting them down hard.

But the trouble with this defense is that S Troy Polamalu is a shell of himself, and the DL is secretly old. They look great in the first half, then start to fall apart, especially on long drives -- again, the Jets' game is highly informative. History will note that this is more of a transitional Steelers defense, rather than a cohesive and dominant unit, especially when you get to the second and third wideout. For the Packers, that's just money calling, with wily veteran Donald Driver (playing near home in what might be a retirement game; don't discount the idea that he could go all Max McGee, albeit without the drinking) and the inconsistent but occasionally spectacular James Jones. I'm not even mentioning Jordy Nelson, who's just been making plays all playoff, or TE Andrew Quarless, who isn't Jermichael Finley, but also isn't terrible. Too many weapons is too many weapons; if Rodgers doesn't go down four times or more, or doesn't turn the ball over a couple of times, the Steelers will not win this game.

Which leads us to the forgotten men in the Packer equation: RBs James Starks, Brandon Jackson and Jon Kuhn. I think they avoid irrelevance in this game, so long as the Pack avoids perfunctory runs in obvious situations, and I also expect them to get sprung for a half-dozen dump-offs, check-downs and sack avoidance moments that will keep Rodgers out of third-and-concussion. That's all they really need to do, along with the occasional short yardage success. And while the Packer line isn't the equal of the Jets, it's also not terrible, especially given the speed of Rodgers' release when he's in rhythm, and the willingness of the Packer WRs (Driver especially, though star WR Greg Jennings also will put himself in harm's way) to run a slant or twelve. (And yes, that play in particular is the single biggest reason why aggro DB play has swung the pendulum too far towards the offense. But I digress.)

On the other side of the ball, it's your basic game of lower margins means lower acceptable levels of error. If QB Ben Roethlisberger misfires on first down, it's a big problem, because second down is a 3 to 6 yard Rashard Mendall run, and third is shotgun and diceyness. When GB has that problem, it's much less serious, because second can easily be a 15 to 25 yard completion to the WRs, especially in a de facto indoor arena. CB Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams will take some of the terror out of WR Mike Wallace, and while the Steelers have promising young players of their own at the 3 through 5 WR slots, they aren't quite ready to take the full load.

The Packer pass rush also has to be a serious worry for the Steelers here. LB Clay Mathews has been a terror in the Packers' run, and it's not as if the Steelers offensive line defines dominance. They are disciplined enough to stay in their lanes -- note that they limited the damage Eagles QB Mike Vick was able to do on the ground in their first round win, and that QB Jay Cutler didn't make any plays with his legs before getting hurt in the NFC Championship Game -- and come from inventive angles of their own. Roethlisberger has Hero Syndrome, given his size and durability; he can make mistakes with the ball. Against this offense, on this track, that's going to be fatal.

Finally, there's the factor that swung me, once and for all, to the Pack. C Maurkice Pouncey will either watch this game, on crutches from the sideline, or not finish it, since a high ankle sprain that puts a man on crutches is not something you recover from in two weeks. Replacement C Doug Legursky is a competent player, but he's not Pouncey. He's also the backup for any lineman that might need to leave this one. So any tweak gets the Steelers down to the seventh best OL on the roster, and against the imagination of Packers DC Dom Capers, that's a recipe for heartbreak. You aren't going to see Mendenhall go for more than 80 to 85 yards in this game, or the Steelers hold the ball for 35 to 40 minutes. Not that such things are realistic in the super-delayed game format, where a third of the audience is watching for the ads. Yeesh.

Had this game happened without a bye, I think I might have taken Pittsburgh. Rodgers was more or less concussed in the second half of that Bears game. Had it been outdoors, I think they win; Green Bay really is a dome team in winter's clothing. Had Pouncey been available, I think they win; Mendenhall could have gone for the 120 he'd need to limit Rodgers' chances, especially later in the game, when the Packer WRs start making yards in big chunks. (Neither team is terribly prone to big positive plays in special teams, which is always a bit of a mystery about the Steelers; for a team that drafts and develops as well as they do, particularly at reserve LB, you'd think they'd be better at kick coverage. But anyway.)

But with all of the 50-50 moments against them -- Pouncey, dome, Polamalu, Rodgers rested and the Pack getting its act together in short yardage -- I don't see the Packers scoring less than 24 points. Or the Steelers scoring a lot more than that. It will be close, it will be great, and at the end, the Packers will win, and cover. Packers 31, Steelers 24.

Last week: 2-0

Year to date: 125-128-15

Past Super Bowls: 1-3

Career: 406-405-15


Anonymous said...

Superbowl 45, yeah, we’re going live

Pittsburgh here to win, so we’re going in

Superbowl 45, yeah, we’re gone show ya

Might as well hand the Superbowl trophy ova

When those cleats hit the field, better take cover

When the defensive strike, we could make thunder

Pittsburgh­, we're the Superbowl team

We all leaving here with a Superbowl ring....



Anonymous said...


I have to give you mad props on that one. You almost nailed it on the money! You're pretty dang good there. Congrats! :)



DMtShooter said...

Just a 2-point attempt away from perfection. I'll take it.

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