How in the Heck are Packers in Super Bowl?

The Packers have no running game, no big threat to complement to Greg Jennings, no threat from their tight ends. And yet, the Packers will play in Super Bowl XLV today. Packer Report publisher provides his final take on the team and who will win today.

DALLAS – The first Super Bowl championship in 14 years is so close that the Green Bay Packers can taste it.

Which begs the question: How in the heck did the Packers get here?

To be sure, injuries left the offense with a 22-caliber rifle compared to a 12-gauge shotgun.

Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback.

Greg Jennings is a difference-making wide receiver.

But then what on offense?

James Starks has been a savior at running back, but only by comparison to the other guys who stumbled while trying to replace Ryan Grant. Anyone want him instead of the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall?

The offensive line is good at protecting Rodgers, and Josh Sitton is an above-average guard both run and pass, but if the Packers weren't able to run the ball against Atlanta and Chicago in the playoffs, they're probably not going to run the ball against the Steelers' run defense, which finished No. 1 this season and is all-time dominant.

Losing Jermichael Finley was a huge loss on offense. Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree and Donald Lee are almost total nonfactors in the passing game, other than when they motion into the backfield to help with pass protection.

Donald Driver is a great story and remains a tough matchup on third down. Jordy Nelson knows how to get open and is sure-handed. James Jones is capable of making big plays. But really, Jennings is a one-man band when defensive coordinators are watching tape. Due no doubt to a thigh injury that's slowed Driver since midseason, he's just not the same guy who churned out 1,000-yard season after 1,000-yard season. Nelson and Jones have their warts, too, with Nelson's fumbling in traffic and Jones' inconsistent hands.

Other than the punting unit, the special teams do nothing to swing the field position in the Packers' favor.

Maybe the FieldTurf surface of Cowboys Stadium will tilt things in the Packers' direction on the perimeter, just like it did against Atlanta. Those tight ends are going to be needed in pass protection like never before, as will running back Brandon Jackson, who probably will get the bulk of the work in the backfield instead of Starks. When Starks gets his chances, he needs to keep doing what he's been doing: run hard and hold onto the ball.

But when the game kicks off tonight, the reasons why the Packers are here will be the reasons why they win (or lose) this game. Rodgers has to stay true to the player he's been since he took over in 2008. Jennings needs a big game on a big stage.

And when all else fails, there's the real reason why the Packers are here: An indomitable defense.

While injuries have made the offense the "Rodgers and Jennings Show," the injuries probably have helped the defense in the long run.

When Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins went down, it forced Ted Thompson to sign big Howard Green off of waivers. That's been a huge addition in keeping a now-healthy Jenkins fresh to do what he does best: attack the quarterback.

It's hard to believe a defense can be better without its perennial leading tackler, but it's almost impossible to argue that the combination of Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk has been consistently better than Barnett and Hawk. What Hawk lacks in sideline-to-sideline speed, he makes up for in guts, unselfishness and reliability.

In the defensive backfield, maybe rookie Morgan Burnett will develop into a big-time player, but for this year, the secondary's probably better off with the smarts of steady Charlie Peprah.

On paper, that the Packers are favored just doesn't make sense. With Mendenhall, the Steelers have far more balance offensively. Tight end Heath Miller gives Ben Roethlisberger the big target that Rodgers doesn't have at tight end. The overall depth of the Packers' receiving corps is better than the Steelers' group but Mike Wallace is a big-play machine. Defensively, the Steelers finished No. 1 against the run and No. 1 in points allowed.

The stats-inside-the-stats work in Pittsburgh's favor, too. The Steelers finished better in turnovers (plus-17 compared to plus-10), better on third down (sixth offensively, third defensively compared to eighth offensively and ninth defensively) and are better defensively in the red zone (40 percent touchdowns allowed compared to 48.4 percent).

For those reasons, I took the Steelers to win this game all week, including on two national radio interviews and a half-hour segment in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have won on this stage. But let me call an audible, and not just because I'm writing for this audience. There's just something about this team that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The defense just keeps coming up big in the clutch. And coach Mike McCarthy just seems to know that his team's time has arrived.

How in the heck are the Packers in the Super Bowl?

Here's a better question: How in the heck are the Packers Super Bowl champions?


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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