What We Learned: Super Bowl XLV

As expected, Super Bowl XLV was a good one and came down to the end. So what did we learn about the Packers and Steelers -- and perhaps the rest of the NFL? Start with these five observations.


In three of his four postseason performances, none of which were at home, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Rodgers is at worst the third best quarterback in the NFL

Unquestionably the MVP of Super Bowl XLV and awarded as such after the ballgame, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 24 of his 39 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and it's safe to say that five more balls should have been caught but slipped through his intended target's hands. Rodgers played four postseason games in the last five weeks, not a one at Lambeau Field, and in three of them he fired three TDs against zero INTs, proving that a passer can indeed be highly productive in the passing game without necessarily being prone to a bunch of turnovers. Time and time again, the former first rounder delivered strikes with razor-sharp accuracy and appeared to be unflappable in the pocket.

Be sure to read my

Intentional Hounding

Tom Brady of the Patriots -- the league's first ever unanimous MVP -- and Peyton Manning of the Colts remain the two premier signal callers in the NFL and are both comfortably in the top 10 all time, but Rodgers has now leap-frogged everybody else at the position and perhaps still has his best days in front of him.

More teams should think about employing the 3-4

Despite the fact that there were 56 points scored and a total of 725 yards of offense racked up by the two squads, make no mistake about it: There were still some very good defensive plays made in this game by both the Packers and Steelers. Green Bay forced three turnovers, one of which ended up being a touchdown when safety Nick Collins intercepted a wobbly pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 37 yards to paydirt, and Pittsburgh found a way to sack Rodgers three times. The chess match between the two teams was beautiful to watch, with the various substitution packages on both sides of the ball leading to some unique defensive game-planning and play-calling -- be it the various blitz packages or the variety of coverages employed.

It's hard to find fire-hydrant nose tackles like Green Bay's B.J. Raji and Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton, two of the best in the business and essential to the success of their respective schemes, but 4-3 coaches watching at home have to take notice that this was the first Super Bowl in history with two base 3-4 teams pitted against each other.

Playmakers through the air trump playmakers on the ground

The Packers won this game because Rodgers was under center and he had a dazzling quartet of wideouts at his disposal, not because rookie James Starks was doing his best to make up for the loss of the injured Ryan Grant at running back. The Steelers got back into this game because Roethlisberger got over his two earlier INTs and continually got the ball to Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, not because Rashard Mendenhall -- granted, he was having a great game before he lost that costly fumble -- conjured up images of Franco Harris in the good old days of the Steel Curtain. Not that this is a news flash, as there were more yards and more touchdowns through the air this season than any other in the history of the league, but the NFL is about the passing game more than ever and even getting to the Super Bowl without a difference-making quarterback seems impossible at this point.

The fact that Starks did such a good job for Green Bay throughout the playoffs as an unheralded sixth-round selection out of Buffalo simply goes to show that a marginally-talented ball carrier can succeed if the QB and receivers are special.

Polamalu really IS the Defensive Player of the Year

Three of the top four vote getters for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award were featured in this contest, not to mention that last year's winner (Packers cornerback Charles Woodson) was also in the starting lineup. Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews is an absolute terror off the edge, and there are still some experts out there believing linebacker James Harrison is truly the best defender in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers losing Super Bowl XLV only goes to show just how important is it for their defense to have a healthy Troy Polamalu at safety. Battling a nagging Achilles injury that forced him to miss some practice time between Championship Sunday and Super Sunday, Polamalu clearly wasn't himself and didn't have a chance in coverage when he surrendered Rodgers' final TD toss of the evening to Greg Jennings.

While the unofficial stats afterward credit Polamalu with three tackles, he had nothing but donuts in all the other columns -- no sacks, no passes defensed, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries -- and wasn't mobile enough to live up to his reputation as a one-man game changer.

A rematch in Indy next season isn't out of the question

Come follow me on

@JC_NFL

We haven't had a rematch in the title game since the Cowboys beat the Bills two consecutive times in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII, and even though it may be foolish to predict both the Packers and Steelers make it to Indianapolis next year for Super Bowl XLVI, there is no evidence to suggest either of these teams peaked and is due for an inevitable fall. First of all, they have elite young QBs in Rodgers and Roethlisberger that have now won three of the last six Vince Lombardi Trophies. Their main threats, Jennings in Green Bay and Wallace in Pittsburgh, have youth on their side, plus these defenses are loaded with talent at pretty much every position. Finally, Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin are in absolute command of two of the most storied franchises in sports, and stability at the top is paramount in today's NFL.

Each team will inevitably look to the draft to beef up on depth -- especially along the offensive line -- and fill in whatever minor leaks may have sprung in 2010, but the short- and long-term future looks bright for both organizations.


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.


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