Packers-Steelers: Keys to the game

In his previous 2 1/2 games, Brett Favre was at his best, shooting into the league lead for touchdown passes. Last week against Cincinnati, he was at his worst, earning the dubious distinction of leading the NFL in interceptions.

That's the fine line Favre has to walk each week.

Without a bonafide, starting-caliber running back, without his Pro Bowl wide receiver, without another starting-caliber wide receiver and without a promising rookie wide receiver, and with his Pro Bowl tight end hobbled for much of the year, the pressure to move the offense is totally on Favre.

Play too conservative, and the offense isn't going to produce. The Packers just don't have enough weapons to be able to consistently nickel and dime their way down the field for field goals and touchdowns.

Play too aggressive, however, and you get what happened at Cincinnati last week, when Favre was picked off five times while trying to force the ball to receivers who weren't open.

For the Packers to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Favre must find a happy medium between conservative and aggressive. If he can move the chains often enough to give himself a chance to hit a big play or two, the Packers have a chance to pull a big upset.

Here are the rest of this week's five keys to the game:

2. Capitalize on good fortune

With the rash of injuries that have destroyed the Packers' postseason hopes, the only luck the Packers have had this year has been bad.

Until Sunday.

Pittsburgh will play without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and battering-ram veteran running back Jerome Bettis. While Roethlisberger plays in the supporting cast rather than the starring role, he is as efficient as they come. In his place will be Charlie Batch, who accomplished little in three-plus years as a starter in Detroit.

Good teams capitalize on their opponent's bad fortune. For most of this season, however, the Packers have played just well enough to lose. Today's game will be a barometer to show how much the young players have grown.

3. Tony the tiger

Playing in place of the injured Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport, Tony Fisher had a decent starting debut last week against the Bengals. That, however, was against Cincinnati's run defense, which ranks in the bottom quarter of the league. Pittsburgh's run defense ranks fifth in the league, yielding 87.4 yards per game.

The Packers won't be able to run consistently against Pittsburgh. They must run it often enough, however, to prevent the Blitzburgh defense from attacking Favre.

4. Parker and Staley

Without Bettis and Roethlisberger, the Steelers will turn to surprising Willie Parker and veteran Duce Staley. Parker was an absolute unknown until the start of this season. But with Bettis and Staley watching from the sideline with injuries, Parker took command of the starting job. He enters Sunday's game with 607 rushing yards and a per-carry average of a gaudy 4.7 yards.

The veteran Staley hasn't touched the ball this season — he has been sidelined after offseason knee surgery — but rushed for 830 yards last year.

The Steelers want to minimize Batch's role in the offense. That means the Packers had better be ready for a heavy dose of Pittsburgh's powerful running game.

5. Take away the big play

With points likely to be at a premium, the Packers must prevent Pittsburgh from making a game-changing big play.

That means stout tackling by the defense, stellar pass protection against a Pittsburgh defense with 22 sacks (seventh in the NFL) and nine interceptions (ninth in the NFL), and sound play by the special teams to take away punt returner Antwaan Randel El, who has returned a punt for a touchdown.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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