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Super Bowl XLV matchup

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones breaks down today's Super Bowl.

The Packers will win if:

They can get pressure on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is known for his ability to avoid sacks and turn big losses into huge gains. But, occasionally, that ability to extend plays turns haywire when he fumbles or throws a pick. The Ravens turned a Roethlisberger fumble into a score in the division round of the playoffs. Then Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the AFC Championship Game against the Jets. When he has time, he rarely makes a mistake. And he doesn't make many on the run, either. But the majority of his mistakes come when he is forced to scramble.

The Steelers will win if:

They can run the ball like they did against the Jets. The Steelers rushed for 166 yards in the AFC Championship Game, including 121 from Rashard Mendenhall. In doing so, they allowed the Jets to run only 57 offensive plays. Green Bay ran only 63 in the NFC Championship Game and scored just 14 offensive points. Compare that with the 69 plays they ran against the Falcons, when they scored 41 offensive points. In other words, the better the Steelers can run the ball, the fewer plays the Packers can run. Anything that can keep Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers off the field is a good thing for Pittsburgh.

Three key matchups

1. Packers NT B.J. Raji vs. Steelers C Doug Legursky

This seems to be a mismatch because of a Steelers injury. Maurkice Pouncey had an outstanding rookie season and was one of the best centers in football, but an ankle injury has put him out for today. Legursky is technically sound, but he simply doesn't have the skill, experience at center or size of Pouncey. At 6-2, 337 pounds, Raji can physically dominate opposing centers. He led NFL nose tackles this season with 61/2 sacks and has 10 tackles and a sack in the postseason. This could throw a real dent into Pittsburgh's running game.

2. Packers RT Bryan Bulaga vs. Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley

While most are concentrating on the marquee matchup on the other side of the line (Packers OT Chad Clifton against Steelers LB James Harrison), the real key could be the matchup between Woodley and Bulaga. Woodley doesn't get the attention Harrison does, but he might be every bit as good, if not better. He has 10 sacks in six career postseason games and is just one of two Steelers ever to record 10 or more sacks in three consecutive seasons. He could have his way against Bulaga, a rookie who took over as a starter for the injured Mark Tauscher in Week 5.

3. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Steelers S Troy Polamalu

We list the matchup as being Rodgers against Polamalu, but this is really about Rodgers against the Steelers pass defense. It's virtually impossible to run against the Steelers, who gave up a mere 62 yards a game on the ground this season. They shut down the Ravens and Jets in these playoffs. Green Bay might not even bother with the run. When it comes to Polamalu, the Packers could spread the field with four or five receivers, forcing Polamalu to stay exclusively in pass coverage as opposed to stuffing the run and blitzing the quarterback. Many believe Polamalu is better the closer he is to the line of scrimmage. But that would mean the Packers could have issues blocking the Steelers' blitzing linebackers.

Hero/goat watch

Steelers: Wide receivers always seem to play a critical role in Steelers Super Bowls. Lynn Swann, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes have all won Super Bowl MVP awards, and John Stallworth played a key role in two Super Bowls. If there's a wide receiver capable of that kind of big-game performance, it's burner Mike Wallace, above. He caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards this season — a stunning 20.9 yards per catch — and 10 touchdowns. He hasn't done a lot in the postseason (four catches for 26 yards), but the perfect conditions in Dallas make him a serious threat. He might be the fastest player in the NFL.

Packers: If the game comes down to a field goal, you have to feel a tad more comfortable with Packers K Mason Crosby, left, instead of Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham. It's not that Suisham had a bad season. In fact, just the opposite. He has gone 14-of-15 on field goals since taking over for Jeff Reed midseason, and he put up those numbers in Pittsburgh, which is a difficult place to kick. But Crosby booted 22 field goals this season, and his range reaches 60 yards.

Coach-speak

The Steelers' Mike Tomlin and the Packers' Mike McCarthy are two of the brightest coaches in the game with veteran and capable assistants, but the edge probably goes to Pittsburgh simply because Tomlin, top left, has been to the big game before. A victory today would give Tomlin, 38, his second title in his first four years. Only the Redskins' Joe Gibbs has done that. A victory also would make Tomlin the youngest coach to collect two Super Bowl victories. McCarthy, who grew up in Pittsburgh and spent four years as an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh, has managed to keep the Packers calm and focused despite losing 15 players to injured reserve this season.

Things you might not know

1. This is a series that dates all the way to the 1930s. The teams have met 32 times since the Steelers broke into the league in 1933 with Green Bay holding an 18-14 edge in all-time meetings. The teams are in different conferences, so this will be the first postseason meeting. But you would have thought their paths had crossed at least once in the old days before the NFL-AFL merger.

2. Expecting a defensive showdown today? Think again. The last time these teams met, QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers combined for some explosive offensive history. On Dec. 20, 2009, the Steelers beat the Packers, 37-36. In that game, Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards, and Rodgers tossed for 383. The combined 886 passing yards is the most in NFL history in a game that did not have an interception.

3. Speaking of quarterbacks, in four career postseason starts, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has completed 94 of 135 passes (69.6 percent) for 1,213 yards, 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions. His 113.0 quarterback rating is the highest in NFL postseason history for quarterbacks who have attempted at least 100 passes. Meantime, Ben Roethlisberger could move into rarefied air with a victory. He would join Troy Aikman and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks with exactly three Super Bowl victories, one behind the record held by Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana.

Total offense

Packers: 358.1 (9th)

Steelers: 345.3 (14th)

Rushing offense

Packers: 100.4 (24th)

Steelers: 120.2 (11th)

Passing offense

Packers: 257.8 (5th)

Steelers: 225.1 (14th)

Total defense

Packers: 309.1 (5th)

Steelers: 276.8 (2nd)

Rushing defense

Packers: 114.9 (18th)

Steelers: 62.8 (1st)

Passing defense

Packers: 194.2 (5th)

Steelers: 214.1 (12th)

Sacks

Packers: 47 (2nd)

Steelers: 48 (1st)

Time of possession

Packers: 32:01 (7th)

Steelers: 32:24 (5th)

Turnover MARGIN

Packers: +10 (4th)

Steelers: +17 (2nd)

Super Bowl XLV matchup 02/05/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 6, 2011 10:21am]
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