Friday, February 4, 2011

Ten Things to Watch for in the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is finally here. Fans all around the country have been anticipating this moment since the Saints won it last year. Two of the league’s top defenses square off in a battle that will be fun for any sports fan to watch. These teams are very evenly matched, so all the viewers should really be in for a treat. That being said, here are the keys for each team, and things you’ll want to take a look at as the game progresses.

10. How will the Steelers’ offensive line play without Maurkice Pouncey? Pouncey was an excellent center as a rookie, and really did a great job to help a banged up and mediocre Steelers’ offensive line. Everyone saw how much the Steelers missed him two weeks ago when he got injured in the AFC championship game. Doug Legursky came in, and eventually botched a snap which led to a Jets safety. Legursky is going to need to do a good job not only in snapping the ball, but protecting Ben Roethlisberger. Being thrown in there after being a backup all season puts a lot of pressure on him, and we’ll see if the Super Bowl hype gets to him. If he can’t handle the job, Roethlisberger could be sacked often.

9. How will the Green Bay corners match up with the Pittsburgh receivers? The weak spot of the stingy Pittsburgh defense is in its secondary. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor don’t get lit up every game, but they’re no Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. They will both have their hands full with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and even Jordy Nelson. All of these guys have the ability to make plays and are very good receivers. They also have a very good quarterback throwing to them. If the Steelers want to win, Clark and Taylor will have slow down Green Bay’s receiving core. But with all the depth they have, and the fact that neither of the two may be able to contain Jennings, the Steelers could get lit up.

8. How will Aaron Rodgers deal with the pressure? Rodgers has never been to a Super Bowl before so the black and yellow will be taking his big game virginity. That is not a good thing. Rodgers has taken big steps in each of his first three seasons starting for Green Bay. When he first started, he had an excellent year as a player, but failed to give the Packers a winning record. Last year, he got them into the playoffs, but couldn’t get out of the wild card round. Sunday, he will finally be in the Super Bowl, and I’d say he has done a great job of handling pressure and criticism so far. If he can win the big one, people may actually start forgetting about Brett Favre. That is a huge compliment. There’s definitely a possibility of Rodgers having a meltdown late in the game, but I don’t see that happening.

7. Can Big Ben carry his team? Ben Roethlisberger is a good quarterback on a very good team. He’s tough, can make difficult throws, and does an excellent job at extending plays with his legs. He plays a style of schoolyard football that is a nightmare to defend. But is he an elite quarterback? Not really. The numbers aren’t that great. He didn’t play that well against the Jets and Ravens. And he really didn’t have an outstanding game in either of his Super Bowl wins. He’s benefited from playmaking wide receivers (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace), a solid running game, and a shut down defense. This Packers team is very unique. They have the ability to beat the Steelers defense, stop the running game, and blanket the wide receivers. So if it comes down to it, Big Ben may be called on to the task of putting the team on his shoulders. It will be interesting to see what he would do in a situation like that. The guy knows how to win, but he has also received a lot of help. He’s going to need help Sunday.

6. Will Troy Polamalu make a big play? Dick LeBeau is going to have to decide whether he wants Polamalu to drop back in coverage and help against the wide receivers, or blitz and put Rodgers under pressure. He’s going to have to be at his best with his defensive schemes because Rodgers will make him pay. But a big play by the long haired safety could go a long way in winning the game. Polamalu should be a force all game just being on the field, but if he could get a pick six, that could change the momentum of the game greatly. It’s not going to be easy to trip up the Packers offense, but if anyone can do it, it will be the defensive player of the year. Last year, when the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs, Polamalu missed 11 games. This is the stage where players like Polamalu step up and really excel.

5. Who has the best chance of winning MVP? The Super Bowl MVP is often presented to the quarterback of the winning team because they are involved in the game more than anyone else, and have a better chance to make plays. However, that hasn’t been the case with Roethlisberger. He’s won two Super Bowls, but no MVP awards. Hell, even Eli Manning has a Super Bowl MVP. If the Steelers win, he may not get the award for a third time. My pick with a Pittsburgh victory is Mike Wallace. Wallace has the ability to outrun anyone on the field, and rack up big time yardage. He’s also able to have a great game even if Roethlisberger doesn’t. If Big Ben can get him a few bombs and a score or two, Wallace will follow in the footsteps of Ward and Holmes to win an MVP with the Steelers as a wide receiver. If he doesn’t win, James Harrison is the best bet. He can rack up a few sacks and maybe force a few fumbles because he’s going against a suspect Packers’ offensive line and quite frankly, he’s a beast. Everyone saw the play he made two years ago against Arizona. Other dark horse Pittsburgh candidates are Mendenhall, Polamalu, and Roethlisberger. However, if Green Bay wins, it will most likely be because of superb quarterback play. No one on that team will probably outperform Rodgers, who has a solid chance of an MVP caliber game. If somehow Rodgers doesn’t win it, Clay Matthews will likely be the recipient. Like Harrison, Matthews can bust through the offensive line, get some sacks, force some turnovers, and cause hell. A lot of people are talking about Matthews versus Polamalu because of their long hair, but people should be more concerned about whether or not Matthews can outplay Harrison. Other outside shots of winning for the Packers are Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson, and James Jones.

4. Can Rashard Mendenhall go the whole game? During the second half of the AFC championship game, Mendenhall seemed to slow down a little bit. Yes, he was playing the Jets, but he ran all over them in the first half. The NFL season is very long and since Mendenhall has basically been the only running back for the Steelers, he could definitely be hampered by the heavy workload. The Steelers are really going to need to rely on him, so he will have to turn in a good performance. They also may need him to close out the game if they have a late lead. Two weeks ago, Antonio Brown made the play to seal the victory. But Mendenhall is really the closer for the team, and should be relied on in that situation. Don’t be surprised to see a few touches go to Issac Redman early in the game.

3. Can James Starks somehow provide a solid ground game? Starks has been the talk of the town in Green Bay. But it’s not because he’s had eye-popping games or runs, it’s because he actually gives the Packers a running game. It may not be as good as it would be with Ryan Grant, but it’s better than Brandon Jackson. Starks is a rookie who didn’t play his senior year at Buffalo due to injury and didn’t play for the Packers until Week 13. Now he’s being asked to turn in a solid game against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Not an easy task. Starks should be able to run a little, but don’t expect much. I would be surprised if Starks reaches 75 yards on the game. There is a possibility he has a breakout game, but it’s tough to see that happening. The Packers could really use the boost they would get from him to open up the passing game.

2. Is the momentum of the Packers more important than the experience of the Steelers? A lot of people have been saying how Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, and the rest of the Steelers have a huge experience advantage, being in the Super Bowl before. But what about the momentum of the Packers? They have been red hot and tearing through teams. Rodgers has been playing out of his mind, and momentum is often the key to championship runs. Just ask the New York Giants from three years ago. They rode a hot streak to knock off the previously undefeated Patriots. And speaking of New England, they had won the Super Bowl three times before that game. Yes, they had the experience, but it didn’t really help there, did it? After already winning, the Patriots may have been lackadaisical and not as motivated as someone who has never won. They also may have the mindset that even if they don’t play well, they’ll still win. The Steelers have won two of the last five Super Bowls, and they could have a similar thought on their minds. They know how to win, but they have to know how to win again.

1. Which storied franchise will add another ring to their collection? Prediction time. In the end, I think Rodgers will go off, and throw for three touchdown passes. The recipients will be Jennings, Driver, and a surprise, John Kuhn. Starks will have a tough time, but do just enough. I see the Steelers forcing an interception from Rodgers, but I think Roethlisberger will throw two. Mendenhall should have a decent game and get a score, as should Wallace via Roethlisberger. But their offense won’t be able to match Green Bay’s. Matthews will wreck havoc and really beat up Roethlisberger. And in the end, it will be Rodgers holding up the Lombardi Trophy, and having an MVP to his name as well. We may see a Super Bowl championship belt very soon.

Prediction: Packers 24, Steelers 19