When I was eight, the Packers won the Super Bowl. When I was nine, they were shocked by the eleven-point underdog Broncos.
Since then, the organization has been dogged by heartbreaking losses: Terrell Owens’ “catch” in the 1999 Wild Card game; Brett Favre’s six interception game against the St. Louis Rams in 2002 (only three of these interceptions were returned for touchdowns, thankfully); the 4th and 26 loss to the Eagles in 2004; the 2008 travesty (Favre’s last game as a Packer) against the Giants in the NFC Championship and, finally, the 2010 Wild Card game, when Kurt Warner hung 51 points on the Packers’ defense.
It’s been rough. Full disclosure: I’m a fan.
And for the Steelers, it’s been very different. They have more Super Bowls than any other team—two since 2005. They have a franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a brilliant, young head coach in Mike Tomlin and the most dynamic player in football, Troy Polamalu.
Roethlisberger’s had his fair share of disgusting off-the-field controversies, most of which have been covered in this column space. His latest antics forced National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell to put his foot down and suspend Roethlisberger for the first four games of this season. For the first four games, the Steelers started a broken-down Charlie Batch.
The Steelers went 3-1. With Roethlisberger, they were 9-3, and all four of their losses came against playoff teams—two of whom they dispatched in the playoffs.
Contrast that with the Packers, who struggled to even make the playoffs, losing to such also-rans as the Miami Dolphins, the Washington Redskins, the Detroit Lions, etc. At 10-6, the Packers were the bottom seed in the NFC. And yet, no one wanted to play them.
They were hailed by many as the “most dangerous” team in the NFC, a moniker they earned by winning three consecutive road games to reach the Super Bowl. But how do they match up against the Steelers?
Not well. Perhaps it’s the pessimist in me, but I can’t get confident about this game. On defense, the Steelers are quick, creative, and hard-hitting.
Pittsburgh’s centuries-old defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, will do everything he can to make sure one of his helmet-to-helmet, dirtbag linebackers puts Rodgers in the turf; an understandable strategy if you like cheering on heathens like James Harrison. But Rodgers loves the blitz—as long as his receivers get open. Against the Bears, Rodgers fell apart in the fourth quarter when the holes in the Bears’ cover two were plugged. Expect the Steelers to try something similar.
Also, Rodgers will have to drop back a ton. The Steelers are great against the run, and the Packers’ James Starks and Brandon Jackson will not go for many yards on the ground.
I’m also not so sure the Steelers’ offense will be easy to stop, either. The Packers have two strengths: superb cover corners in Tramon Williams and Sam Shields and a fantastic pass rush, generated by Cullen Jenkins, Clay Matthews and, lately, Charles Woodson. What are Ben Roethlisberger’s strengths? Avoiding sacks, getting outside the pocket and improvising.
I fully expect there to be at least four or five instances in Sunday night’s game when Roethlisberger is flushed out, running toward the sidelines, Clay Matthews nipping at his heels, before completing a seventeen-yard pass to Heath Miller. Or a fifty-yard heave to receiver Mike Wallace. Or maybe Roethlisberger scampers for eight yards.
But Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers is a smart guy—smarter than me—and will probably mix in enough corner blitzes with Woodson to keep Roethlisberger uncomfortable in the pocket.
Still, as a Packers fan, I’m not feeling good. The Packers’ strengths play right into the Steelers’ strengths. Plus Green Bay is favored
Well, maybe it’s just some childish envy, but hasn’t Pittsburgh had enough fun lately? Two super bowls last decade, their city becoming the Brooklyn of Pennsylvania, etc.
When I was nine, and the Packers fell to horse-face John Elway and his aptly named Broncos, I learned that “my” team doesn’t win every year; that sometimes a different city gets to celebrate.
Here’s hoping some little runt in Pittsburgh learns a similar lesson on Sunday.
Packers 24 Steelers 21