Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is only in his second season out of USC but already finished as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Steelers Offense vs. Packers Defense
By the Numbers
The Steelers were the No. 14 offense in the NFL this year, averaging 345.3 yards per game. They were 11th with 120.2 yards rushing per game and 14th with 225.1 yards passing per game. In terms of scoring, Pittsburgh was 12th with 23.4 points per game.
The Packers were the No. 5 defense in the NFL this season, averaging 309.1 yards allowed per game. They were 18th with 114.9 yards rushing allowed per game and fifth with 194.2 yards passing allowed per game. In terms of scoring, Green Bay was second with 15 points allowed per game.
The Steelers were sixth in the league in third-down conversions (43 percent), which is the product of an efficient quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and a between-the-tackles running back in Rashard Mendenhall. They fumbled the ball 22 times but only lost nine of them, and when you couple that with Roethlisberger throwing just five INTs in 12 games, they finished second in turnover ratio (plus-17). Pittsburgh averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt, second best in the NFL, and that includes contributions from backup QBs Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich under center when Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games, so give credit to Mike Wallace and his breath-taking average of 21 yards per reception.
The Packers were at their stingiest when it really mattered most, allowing only six of 20 fourth-down attempts to be converted (30 percent), which was fourth best in the league. Just 56.2 percent of the passes they faced were completed, also fourth best, and their average of 6.5 yards allowed per pass attempt tied for fifth best -- Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams may be the top cornerback tandem in football. Green Bay sacked the enemy quarterback 47 times, tied for second most and only one behind Sunday's opponent in Super Bowl XLV: Pittsburgh.
Matchups to Watch
C Doug Legursky vs. DT B.J. Raji: The Steelers are still holding out hope that rookie All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey will be able to play and haven't ruled him out, but he got off the plane in Dallas wearing a protective boot due to a high ankle sprain suffered in the AFC Championship Game. Legursky will get the call if Pouncey isn't healthy enough to suit up, and he faces a dastardly assignment in the 6-2, 337-pound Raji. More than a space eater in the middle, Raji was nimble enough to drop back into coverage against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game and even returned an interception 18 yards for the clinching touchdown.
RT Flozell Adams vs. LB Clay Matthews: Originally a second-round pick of the host Cowboys in the 1998 NFL Draft out of Michigan State, Adams is now knocking on the door of 36 years old and in the twilight of his career. The Steelers have rotated offensive linemen in and out of the lineup lately due to a rash of injuries, which is exactly the kind of news Matthews likes to read upon waking up in his hotel room. Matthews, who lost out on the Defensive Player of the Year award to Steelers safety Troy Polamalu by a mere two votes, is a relentless pass rusher down after down and will surely give Adams everything he can handle.
The X Factor
Despite catching only 59 passes for 755 yards and five touchdowns this season, as he has taken a back seat in the Pittsburgh passing game to the explosive Wallace, 13-year veteran Hines Ward is one of the NFL's ultimate gamers and plays with a fearlessness rarely seen at the receiver position. He already has one Super Bowl MVP trophy on his mantle, so a second shouldn't be a shock to anyone.
It's a misnomer to call Woodson a corner these days, as he'll also serve as a safety, nickel back and linebacker depending on what defensive coordinator Dom Capers calls -- and he's a tremendous blitzer no matter where he lines up on the field. Not many players are capable of getting two picks and two sacks in the same game, but the former Heisman Trophy winner is one of the few that can tame that lion.
On the ground, the Steelers have a slight edge because teams have been able to run the ball on the Packers more often than not. Nevertheless, it's worth mentioning that Mendenhall averaged but 3.9 yards on his career-high 324 rushing attempts, plus the blockers in front of him seemed to change every other series in the AFC title game.
Through the air, give the nod to Green Bay since Woodson and Williams can handle most wideouts in man coverage, and then safety Nick Collins over the top is a Pro Bowler himself. Roethlisberger is so hard to bring down and buys extra time in the pocket as well as any QB, and he'll need that escapability Sunday with Matthews breathing down his neck.
|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.|