Five Things to Watch
5. Early Scoring – The team that gets rolling early will have a distinct advantage as neither team is superior on either side of the ball. It looks just as unlikely to be a blow out win for either team as it would be for one team to play catch-up if put in an early deficit. Early momentum is crucial.
4. Coaching - Mike Holmgren and his coaching staff have coached in Super Bowls before, and unlike Bill Cowher, he has won in the big game. Holmgren has gotten into an incredible play calling rhythm during the playoffs, and he will need to win the chess matches with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to win this game.
3. Offensive Line – The Seahawks offensive line have been the story of efficiency and cohesiveness all year, but they will need to play as a solid unit Sunday in order to stop an aggressive and creative Steelers defense. The defense, led by mastermind Dick LeBeau, runs a solid ¾ scheme with a zone blitz package that is second to none. Blitz awareness and pickups will determine who wins the battle in the trenches.
2. Defensive Line – The Steelers have several playmakers on offense, including Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, and rookie TE Heath Miller, but the key to stopping the Steelers attack will be to stop the run at the line of scrimmage and pressure 2nd year QB Ben Roethlisberger. The front 7 of the Seahawks will need to play lights out football every down.
1. Matt Hasselbeck – More than any other player, the responsibility of winning this game falls solely on the Quarterback, and Matt Hasselbeck will need to continue his record-breaking play from the past several weeks. If he completes 60% of his passes and doesn’t turn the ball over, the Seahawks will win.
Next on the List
Professional sports handicapper Nick Shelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) breaks down the Seahawk’s vs. Steelers match up and gives his pick for the winner.
This week, I thought we'd do things a little differently. Normally a "Seahawk-Slanted" analysis, I thought we'd compare apples to apples and see what falls off the turnip truck.
Steelers: Riding the hype of RB Jerome Bettis returning home, the mouth of LB Joey Porter, the golden arm of QB Ben Roethlisberger, the recklessness of S Troy Polamalu and lest we forget the hype of the 6th seed walking down the path of destiny. This all makes for a fantastic story, and the result? The Steelers are favored in the game.
Seahawks: All they did was win under adversity. The butterfingers approach to the passing game came to an abrupt halt with the dismissal of misfit WR Koren Robinson and the signing of WR Joe Jurevicius. The league MVP, RB Shaun Alexander is in a contract year (and what a year it was, breaking RB Priest Holmes' TD record). And don't forget the adversity; S Ken Hamlin's altercation brought us Marquand Manuel. The WR injuries gave a meteoric rise of players like Jurevicius and WR DJ Hackett. The corners were hurt and DB Jordan Babineaux stepped up. LB Jamie Sharper is gone for the year, but LB Leroy Hill fills the spot like an old veteran. The story line for the 2005 Seahawks: Depth, resilience, and maturity.
Seattle gets the nod: The balance is better overall, Hasselbeck has more maturity in his offense than does Roethlisberger, and Alexander is the MVP running behind a better FB. Slight nod to the Steelers for their WR corps, but the TE position goes to the Hawks based mostly on experience. Offensive line favors Seattle with 3 Pro Bowlers. Seattle led the league in several offensive categories, and probably most impressive is that they are #1 overall in red zone efficiency as well as drives of 80 yards or more.
People will say I'm crazy giving an "equal" nod on this one. The reason? The Steelers rely solely on creative blitz packages to be effective on defense. The Seahawks play you straight up. Polamalu is a great player. Joey Porter is a great player. The Seattle defense is solid all the way through, and only got better as the season progressed. Both teams still struggle with the deep ball, but Seattle puts more linebackers in coverage protecting against the intermediate pass. Expect plenty of 3-and-outs for both teams and several tackles-for-loss.
Slight edge to Pittsburgh here. The Seahawks replaced DB/KR Jimmy Williams with a sure-handed and electric WR/KR Peter Warrick. Seattle’s kicker is one of the league's best, and their punter is experienced. The Steelers have game-breakers for return men who should affect field position in this game, earning them the slight edge.
Holmgren is 4-1 against the Steelers in his career and has been to more Super Bowls, winning one ring as head coach of the Packers. Bill Cowher may be the ultimate player’s coach, but he has only one Super Bowl appearance in 14 years and no ring. The nod goes to the Seahawks on this one.
Advantage Steelers. Seattle's biggest intangible is their lack of respect from the media and Vegas. Why is the #1 seed an underdog to the #6? Is it really true that Seattle would not have even made the playoffs in the AFC? Doubtful. Their other intangible is centered on team unity and maturity. The Seahawks have let down every analyst for the last several years with what they SHOULD HAVE been able to do. This year, they are doing it for the reasons of unity and maturity. Pittsburgh, however, has the world on their side (see the "Hype" section). Bettis is coming home. They are the 6th seed and playing the role of "Cinderella" quite nicely. Second year star Roethlisberger is suddenly a passing threat - being compared to Dan Marino for his accomplishments.
Edge to the Steelers. Steel town is a paltry 284 miles from Detroit and word on the street has it that thousands of Steeler fans will make the trip and snatch up all the scalped tickets. Seattle is 2350 miles from Detroit and most likely the only fans that will be there are ones that got lucky in the lottery. In other words, this will be reasonably close to a home game for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh is getting all the media attention. Vegas loves Pittsburgh as the favorite, after all, the majority of sports betting occurs on the East Coast and the odds makers have to find a way to get people to bet on that little town in Alaska that got lucky enough to land a NFL team. The lack of respect for the Seahawks and too much respect for Pittsburgh is why the Seahawks get the nod in this category.
Super Bowl (Seattle +4, 47)
Seattle ......3 10 7 3 - 23
Pittsburgh ..7 3 .0 7 - 17
Game Log: The game starts out with a huge special teams return by Pittsburgh setting up a short field. Everybody is certain that the Seahawks will be crushed after the first drive. But after two 3-and-out's, Seattle gets going and puts points on the board. In the second quarter, Seattle takes over, finding success in the passing game, hitting TE Jerramy Stevens and Jurevicius on four consecutive plays to get inside the 5 and Alexander punches it in. The teams trade field goals, as Rothlisberger manages to stay on his feet most of the first half.
In the 3rd quarter, Seattle forces an interception on a pass to WR Hines Ward and returns the ball to the Steeler side of the field, and a deep ball to WR Darrell Jackson sets up another Alexander score. The remaining time in the third period is spent by both head coaches trying to establish field position. In the fourth, the Seahawks continue to confuse Roethlisberger but they punch it in. Bettis gets the score and lifts his team onto his shoulders. But they let Seattle get into field goal range and Josh Brown splits the uprights. Pittsburgh needs a touchdown in the final minutes to win, but comes up short after moving into Seahawk territory.
Super Bowl MVP: Shaun Alexander
Mark “RockHawk” Olsen’s Final Thought
Later this week, I’ll be traveling to Detroit to watch my Seahawks play against the Steelers in Super Bowl XL because of the first class treatment that our fan site, Seahawks.NET, received from Seahawks Director of Community Relations Mike Flood. The Seahawks front office seems to now be realizing just how much the diehard fan has been alienated starting from the Ken Behring ownership and continuing through the hiring of ex-President Bob Whitsitt. But it seems that the firing of Whitsitt and subsequent hiring of new President Tim Ruskell not only showed immediate dividends on the field, but off.
The key to a successful sports franchise, especially long term, knows the importance of the “diehard” fan. These are the folks that buy the season tickets and the merchandise and support the team even during the bad years. The Seahawk front office has started showing signs that they now understand that and they are starting to embrace those that will be the lifeblood of their continued success. This includes those non-traditional outlets like internet fan sites with a worldwide fan base and instant access to information and news rather than just a local approach that has worked for decades.
But even through the tough years, Mike Flood has been a beacon of respect, friendliness, and genuine appreciation for the fans. He has always shown allegiance to the people that stayed loyal to the team and he deserves this season of success as much as anyone else. So, from one diehard to the Seahawk front office (especially Mr. Flood), thank you for a wonderful season, and let’s finish this thing on Sunday.
- Mark Olsen writes frequently for Seahawks.NET. Feel free to send him feedback at email@example.com.
- Nick Shelly has been a professional sports analyst and handicapper for over 10 years. You can contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.