Super Bowl game plan

The last time the Steelers and Packers met, late in the 2009 season, it was a passing exhibition. This time, the defenses are expected to hold up a little better. Plus, get the matchups to watch as the Super Bowl is finally here.


The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (team-record 503) and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (383) combined for 886 yards and six touchdowns (three apiece) through the air in the teams' late-season meeting in 2009, which Pittsburgh pulled out 37-36 on a TD throw by Roethlisberger on the final play. A recurrence of those fireworks in the second meeting between two of the best young quarterbacks in the league is unlikely.

The Steelers and Packers in the regular season boasted of the Nos. 1 and 2 scoring defenses, allowing an average of 14.5 and 15 points per game, respectively. They are mirror images with their 3-4 schemes that are pressure-oriented. The Packers expect nothing less from legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to throw the kitchen sink at Rodgers and disrupt the timing of his quick throws. If given time, look for Rodgers to try to slice and dice the Steelers on the back end with short to intermediate passes to the likes of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones, who piled up the yards after the catch in that 2009 game.

"There are a couple of things we can take advantage of in their secondary," rookie tight end Andrew Quarless said.

The 'X' factor for Pittsburgh will be do-everything safety Troy Polamalu, this season's NFL Defensive Player of the Year who missed the last game between the teams. That makes the Packers' stated desire to move the football on the ground more difficult against the league's most stingy run defense.

"The plan is to run and pass," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We'll find out."

Defensively, the Packers will have to be more aggressive in going after Roethlisberger than they were in the '09 meeting, even though they had five sacks of him. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers backed off on blitzing down the stretch - rushing only three or four in the final drive that culminated in the game-winning touchdown dart from Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace as time expired - because he had to cover up the failings in coverage throughout the game by flooding the passing window. This time, Capers can trust putting emerging cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields on a one-on-one island on the perimeter to send more toward the pocket.

"You have to stop the quarterback, and that's who it starts with," Williams said. "If you can stop Big Ben, then you have a chance to win the game."


Pittsburgh would prefer to run on Green Bay's 24th-ranked run defense. It would keep those pass-rushers at bay and allow a rather weak offensive line to go to its strength. When the Steelers do pass, they will try to make it quick. On defense, the Steelers are prepared to play a lot of coverage and could go away from their standard sub package using five defensive backs to six with two more corners and taking linebacker Lawrence Timmons and nose tackle Casey Hampton off the field.


  • Packers LT Chad Clifton and RT Bryan Bulaga vs. Steelers ROLB James Harrison and LOLB LaMarr Woodley. Giving Aaron Rodgers time to play pitch and catch with his receivers against Pittsburgh's suspect secondary is paramount for the Packers. A great deal of responsibility for keeping Rodgers upright falls on wily veteran Clifton and rookie Bulaga as they go head to head with the best tandem of pass-rushing linebackers in the league. Harrison (three) and Woodley (two) have combined for five sacks this postseason. Clifton tamed the ferocious Harrison in the Steelers' one-point win late in the 2009 season. "He is like a pit bull out there," Clifton said. Woodley rates the edge on Bulaga, a first-round draft pick who is playing opposite his natural position and has been inconsistent late in the season. Woodley beat then-starting right tackle Mark Tauscher to share in the only sack of Rodgers in that last meeting.

  • Packers LOLB Clay Matthews vs. Steelers RT Flozell Adams. Matthews could come in with a chip on his shoulder after he was narrowly beaten by Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Matthews, who was entrenched on the right side as a rookie, embarrassed left tackle Max Starks in the teams' meeting last season, getting to Ben Roethlisberger for three hits and two sacks. Matthews had another sack and a resulting fumble by Roethlisberger for a turnover wiped out by replay review. Matthews, more than any other Packer, knows what it takes to get the hulking Roethlisberger on the ground and could have a huge game lined up on the other side against the aging and hefty Adams. Matthews has 3 1/2 sacks in this year's playoffs.

  • Packers CB Charles Woodson vs. Steelers WR Hines Ward and TE Heath Miller. If Matthews and others can't apply pressure on Roethlisberger and allow him to extend plays in his trademark fashion, Ward and Miller are the quarterback's two best friends for improvising with their routes and getting to an open spot for the football to be thrown. The Packers primarily keep Woodson in the slot or drop him back off the line to spy and freelance over the middle. Those are the areas Ward and Miller generally come out of and maneuver to for trying to create some separation. Both players had 100-yard games against Woodson and Co. in 2009 with seven catches apiece for a combined 244 yards, led by Ward's 126.

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