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.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH