In place of our usual Gameday Notebook, which is probably filled with things that have been written and said, we call a Super Bowl audible with this Four-Point Stance.
Aaron Rodgers scoffed at the comparison between the Green Bay Packers' offense and the old "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers.
Still, when Green Bay's got the ball, it's attack, attack, attack – and we're not talking about play-calling.
Coach Mike McCarthy calls his a "tempo offense." Ideally, the offense breaks the huddle with about 20 or 21 seconds left on the play clock, which gives Rodgers the option to either quick-snap it or diagnose what the defense is doing. Throw in the dizzying array of personnel groups that McCarthy runs out on the field, and the goal is to get the defense off-balance and quicken their decision-making.
"It makes them play faster, whether they're comfortable with that or not," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. With Greg Jennings being the Packers' one game-breaking weapon, tempo has been especially important. The Packers finished fifth in the league with 30 drives of 10-plus plays. All three of their touchdown drives against Philadelphia took 10 or more plays. Three of the touchdown drives against Atlanta were 10-plus plays, and four of them covered at least 80 yards.
"The thing that can help your tempo the most, and I know it sounds simple, is making first downs, mixing personnel groups, making defensive guys substitute and never letting a defense get into a rhythm," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Most of the time, when we've been most effective, I think we do a good job using our different players and different personnel groups and getting them in and getting them out. There's a mental and a physical benefit. I think our guys believe in an up-tempo style. They feel like they're a well-conditioned group and can play fast for four quarters. You hope that, combined with the speed that we come at an opponent with both from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint, might wear them down eventually throughout the course of a game. But you've got to be able to get first downs and run a bunch of plays for that to work."
From a quarterback's perspective, the benefit is obvious.
"It gets you in a good rhythm," quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said. "If you're getting in and out of the huddle quickly and running a lot of plays, it gets you in a rhythm and kind of wears down the defense and it gives you more opportunities to have successful plays. If you're an up-tempo team and you're running 75 plays or more a game as opposed to a more deliberate team that's running 60 plays a game, you have 15 more opportunities for explosive plays."
Brandon Jackson, MVP?
Last year's game against Pittsburgh was Brandon Jackson's signature game. He picked up blitzes with such ferocity that, during the offseason, McCarthy compared that part of Jackson's game to Hall of Famer Marcus Allen.
"I take a lot of pride in protecting the quarterback. I like to call him ‘my quarterback,'" Jackson said.
So, when I asked stud Steelers linebacker James Harrison about Jackson during Tuesday's Media Day, he looked at me with a blank stare. When I said "32," as in Jackson's number, which Harrison no doubt saw a time or two when watching film, he just shrugged his shoulders and muttered a dismissive, "I don't know."
Jackson doesn't care. After all, immediately after juking Brian Urlacher in the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago, he busted out laughing – while the play was still in progress.
While rookie James Starks has emerged as the Packers' featured ball-carrier, Jackson figures to play a huge role in this game. What the Steelers do on defense is blitz. What Jackson does is see blitzers and stop them in their tracks. If he does that on Sunday, Rodgers potentially will have a monster day. If he fails, it could be any one of a few nightmare scenarios, from a costly turnover to an injury.
The signature play of the season for Pittsburgh was Troy Polamalu's blind-side hit on Baltimore's Joe Flacco. The late-game sack-strip was recovered, and Pittsburgh capitalized with the winning touchdown.
While Rodgers certainly has been sacked a lot, those blind-side hits just don't happen against the Packers.
"A lot of time goes into it, and certainly with those other clubs, I'm pretty sure a lot of time goes into it, as well," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said last week in Green Bay. "But it goes back to everyone on the unit being on the same page. I think that's really the bottom line. You want it to be visual and verbal as far as your communication to make sure everyone's on the same page so we can make the necessary adjustments to put our quarterback in the best position. You have to be able to protect your quarterback."
Building a Super Bowl team
If not for the labor mess, free agency would be starting in a month, meaning fans wishing and hoping for this player or that player, and teams opening the vault and paying top dollar to not-so-top players.
The Packers and Steelers, however, have built their teams the right way. Green Bay's Ted Thompson and Pittsburgh's Kevin Colbert are two of the best in the business. High-stakes free agency is practically an afterthought. It boils down to scouting and the draft and undrafted free agency and shrewd pickups off the scrap heap.
Where, for instance, would the Packers be without Cullen Jenkins?
Jenkins has been here so long that he's taken for granted. But recall his story for a minute – as I did with him in the hotel restaurant earlier in the week. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 out of Central Michigan but didn't make the team. After sitting out the entire season, he signed with the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League, but before the first practice, the Packers called and wanted to ship Jenkins to NFL Europe.
"It was a good experience for me because I've always been kind of self-conscious about how good I actually am or what my opportunities actually were, if I really had a legit chance," he said. "When I was going to Europe, I was nervous at first because I know you have to make the team. Heck, I didn't know if I was going to make the team. Coming from a small school, you always think the guys at the bigger schools are so much better with so much great competition. Getting out there in Europe and finally getting to compete, everybody was really high on me and speaking highly of me, it started giving me a lot of confidence because I was playing against a lot of guys who had been on (NFL) rosters before or practice squads or played for a year or two or three. When you compete against them and you're doing pretty good, it makes you feel more confident about your chances."
Jenkins said he studied pass-rushing technique with Aaron Kampman. And he worked. And worked. This season, he finished with seven sacks in 11 games. He needs to be a huge factor against Big Ben Roethlisberger today.
"To have come so far and be in a position that we're in, it's just amazing," he said.
Bill's three keys
Offense: The Packers won't be able to run the ball, not against one of the all-time great run defenses (62.8 yards per game; 3.0 yards per carry). So, expect Rodgers and the Packers' offense to spread the field and take advantage of their matchups on the perimeter. That plan won't work, though, if they can't protect Rodgers. That means it's up to left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga to hold up against the relentless pass rush that comes from James Harrison (vs. Clifton) and LaMarr Woodley (against Bulaga). They've combined for 25.5 sacks in 18 games. The Packers have no chance if the tackles can't hold up.
Defense: As always for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the key is to stop the run. The Packers didn't do it well this season, with their 4.7 yards allowed per carry tied for second-worst in the NFL in the regular season. Through three playoff games, though, the Packers have allowed merely 209 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry. Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 1,273 yards, 13 touchdowns and 3.9 yards per carry in the regular season and 167 yards, three touchdowns and 3.6 yards a pop in the playoffs. If they can't stop the run, Roethlisberger will have time to find game-breaker Mike Wallace.
Special teams: After a gauntlet of big-time returners have put the Packers' coverage units behind the eight-ball all season, Green Bay enters this game on relatively even ground against Pittsburgh. The X-factor could be Pittsburgh's Emmanuel Sanders, who averaged a robust 25.1 yards per kickoff return this season. In a game in which every yard could be precious with these stout defenses, the Packers can't afford to let Sanders get loose against their suspect kickoff coverage.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.