Packers O vs. Steelers D: A Breakdown

While Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have proven they can score on just about anyone, the Pittsburgh Steelers can shut down just about anyone and present quite a challenge.


Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is arguably the most dominant defensive player in the league when healthy because of his hitting ability and ball skills. (Ronald C. Modra/Getty)

Packers Offense vs. Steelers Defense

By the Numbers
The Packers were the No. 9 offense in the NFL this season, averaging 358.1 yards per game. They were 24th with 100.4 yards rushing per game and fifth with 257.8 yards passing per game. In terms of scoring, Green Bay was 10th with 24.2 points per game.

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The Steelers were the No. 2 defense in the NFL this season, averaging 276.8 yards allowed per game. They were first with 62.8 yards rushing allowed per game and 12th with 214.1 yards passing allowed per game. In terms of scoring, Pittsburgh was first with 14.5 points allowed per game.

Digging Deeper
The Packers were sixth in the league in yards per play (5.7), and when you consider how poor their running game was most of the year, that means they generated a ton of big passing plays. They were tied for seventh in third-down conversions (42 percent), which is again doubly impressive without a lot of ground support. Since Aaron Rodgers doesn't give the ball away often, Green Bay was fourth in turnover ratio (plus-10).

The Steelers were on the field for only 974 defensive plays total, which tied for seventh fewest and proves they know how to stall a drive on third down. Consequently, they tied for fifth in the league by surrendering just 17 first downs per game. Despite the fact that James Harrison seemingly got fined on a weekly basis for his overly aggressive brand of defense, Pittsburgh's 716 penalty yards this season was eighth fewest, so discipline is a part of the formula.

Matchups to Watch
RT Bryan Bulaga vs. LB LaMarr Woodley: A first-round pick out of Iowa, Bulaga has endured an up-and-down rookie season, although it's worth noting that Bears defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije combined for only four tackles and no sacks in the NFC Championship Game. A fourth-year pro out of Michigan, Woodley is one of the better pass rushers in football from his outside linebacker position, racking up 35 sacks from 2008-10. Bulaga knew exactly who he had to block the last time he suited up, as Chicago runs a basic 4-3, but Pittsburgh features a much more aggressive 3-4 and has calls designed to get players like Woodley a free run at the quarterback.

WR Greg Jennings vs. FS Ryan Clark: The Packers have perhaps the best quartet of receivers in the game with Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, but Jennings is the most important of the bunch because he's the big-play artist. The Steelers move strong safety Troy Polamalu all over the place since he's one of the premier playmakers in football history, which oftentimes leaves Clark as the last line of defense. Jennings is a razor-sharp route runner and continually gets open downfield with double and triple moves, and Clark can't afford to give up a 50-yard lightning strike in a game of this magnitude.

The X Factor
He only recorded 29 carries for 101 yards during the regular season, but James Starks has emerged as Green Bay's primary ball carrier in the playoffs and ran 70 times for 263 yards in victories over the Eagles, Falcons and Bears -- all on the road. Say what you will about Pittsburgh being the No. 1 rush defense in the league this season, but the Bears were No. 2 and the sixth-round choice out of Buffalo managed a respectable 74 yards on 22 attempts.

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Polamalu is always going to be the X factor for the Steelers, as few players in recent memory can single-handedly turn the tide of a game like No. 43 in black and gold. He's currently dealing with an Achilles injury and missed some practice time before boarding the plane to Dallas, but he's going to be in the starting lineup and has a habit of saving his best for the national stage.

Advantage...
On the ground, no question about it, the Steelers defense has the advantage over the Packers offense. Starks deserves a lot of credit for what he's done and gives Rodgers some semblance of balance on offense. However, Starks had the benefit of running the ball with a one- or two-touchdown lead for much of the Bears tilt, which likely won't be the case Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Through the air, while Rodgers wasn't nearly as sharp at Chicago as he was previously at Philadelphia and at Atlanta, he's still going to be directing one of the most dangerous passing attacks around -- and weather won't be a factor inside the "friendly" confines of the Death Star. Give the advantage to Green Bay, but only if Rodgers can keep nimbly escaping those blitzers that his blockers sometimes miss.


John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.


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