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03 Feb 2011

Super Bowl XLV Preview

by Bill Barnwell and Aaron Schatz

The Packers and Steelers are about as similar as two Super Bowl teams can be. They run something close to the same 3-4 defense, with Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau helping to introduce the zone blitz to the NFL. Each runs a pass-first offense, effective both at moving the ball with short completions and making big throws downfield. Their quarterbacks are big and tough and can make plays on what look to be sure sacks. Their offensive lines are iffy, and their running games can come and go. Pittsburgh has a slight edge of about seven percentage points of weighted DVOA, but Green Bay is a one-point favorite in our Premium game projection system, which uses other factors besides just total weighted DVOA to pick winners in individual matchups.

So, with such a close game predicted, we're left to look at the injuries, micro-matchups, and strategies employed in previous games between the two teams. In 2009, these two teams played a thrilling game that came down to the very final play, a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass that gave the Steelers a 37-36 win. That game was played with similar schemes to what you'll see on Sunday, but a few of the players are different. The Packers will be without several linebackers and three offensive starters (Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, and right tackle Mark Tauscher), while the Steelers will enter with a much worse offensive line, but enjoy the benefits of Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu.

Anyone can tell you that it's going to be a close game. We're going to do that at the end of this preview. Between now and then, though, we'll take a look at how each side will attack the other, identify trends that should affect how the two teams execute on Sunday, and poke a couple holes in conventional wisdom along the way.

The Super Bowl preview includes two "week-to-week" charts for each team: one for offense, one for defense. Because defensive DVOA is opposite of offensive DVOA, the defensive charts are flipped upside-down -- the higher dots still represent better games.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link.



Steelers on Offense
  PIT OFF GB DEF
DVOA 17.9% (5) -10.8% (2)
WEI DVOA  21.3% (3) -17.4% (3)
PASS 45.6% (3) -17.9% (1)
RUSH 0.2% (14) -1.8% (16)
RED ZONE 2.2% (14) -19.6% (8)


Packers on Offense
  GB OFF PIT DEF
DVOA 14.7% (7) -18.5% (1)
WEI DVOA 17.0% (7) -18.4% (1)
PASS 33.0% (6) -13.0% (2)
RUSH 1.7% (11) -27.7% (1)
RED ZONE -0.9% (17) -38.7% (1)


Special Teams
  GB PIT
DVOA -2.2% (27) 0.9% (16)
GB kickoff -5.8 (27) 3.6 (12)
PIT kickoff -10.8 (28) -1.2 (20)
GB punts 4.1 (15) -5.5 (28)
PIT punts -1.2 (19) 9.4 (5)
FG/XP 0.4 (17) -1.1 (24)

All readers can click here for in-game discussion on our message boards. If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Just as we all predicted back in September, this year's Super Bowl may come down to the health of one team's center. Maurkice Pouncey's severely sprained ankle will have had two weeks to heal by the time Sunday rolls around, but his ability to play in the game will be almost entirely dependent upon how his body responds to a particular form of platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy. For a variety of reasons, PRP therapy is controversial: The World Anti-Doping Agency once banned intramuscular injections of PRP, while there are arguments about the efficacy of the procedure altogether. One team that's enjoyed success in employing PRP therapy in the past, though, is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In January 2009, Hines Ward suffered a Grade II tear of his MCL during the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens. You may recognize that injury as the same one suffered by Jay Cutler during the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago. Ward suffered his injury midway through the first quarter, and like Cutler, he came back for a drive (catching a pass for a 1-yard loss early in the second quarter) before again removing himself from the game. I've been told that Ward was on the field for a drive late in the fourth quarter as a decoy, but I don't have film of the game and haven't been able to confirm that myself. A Grade II MCL tear, according to our injury database, has kept most players out for about four weeks.

Ward received two treatments of Autologous Condition Plasma (ACP), a form of PRP, during the two-week gap between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, one on the Tuesday following the Ravens game and the other on the following Monday. He was on an exercise bike immediately following the first ACP treatment. Pouncey's comments on Monday, meanwhile, suggested that Monday would be his first day on an exercise bike since the injury. By that time in his recovery (admittedly from a different injury), Ward had advanced to weight-bearing machines like the elliptical and StairMaster.

We know so much about Ward's recovery because Steelers athletic trainer Ariko Iso wrote a paper detailing the process for the website of the Big East Conference Sports Medicine Society. The article details how the Steelers use ACP therapy, its potential benefits and applications, and gives case studies detailing the recovery rates of Ward and several other players. It is exceedingly likely that Pouncey is in the middle of a similar recovery process.

In the end, Ward was able to play in the Super Bowl, but he wasn't 100 percent and didn't produce a meaningful contribution, with just two catches for 43 yards in a 27-23 shootout. A decline in Pouncey's production will be more difficult to identify, but if the Packers get a significantly reduced Pouncey (or no Pouncey at all, if he can't practice on Friday), it will create opportunities for Capers and his defense to exploit.

The Packers' defensive line is coming off of a very good performance against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game. Cullen Jenkins spent most of that game living in the Bears' backfield, producing several hurries of assorted Bears quarterbacks. B.J. Raji scored a touchdown when he dropped back into a passing lane on a zone blitz. Even with a healthy Pouncey in the lineup, they could be expected to have the upper hand over the interior of the Steelers' offensive line. Instead, they will get to face a line anchored by either a gimpy Pouncey or backup guard Doug Legursky. (Ben Muth has already written that he's a fan of Legursky's work, so that might not be the worst thing in the world.)

In the game between these two teams last season, the Packers went with their 3-4 alignment as the base defense on most first downs. On virtually every second down with more than five yards to go, they went into their 2-4-5 Nickel set (erroneously described as their "Psycho" defense in the NFC championship preview), and on several third downs, they went into the actual Psycho alignment, a 1-5-5 look that creates confusion and overload possibilities while still retaining a strong base in coverage.

While we often think of overload blitzes as a lot of guys coming off the edge to attack one side of the field, there's nothing that says you can't overload a spot in the middle of the line. The Packers did just that with a blitz out of the Psycho that worked for a sack against Roethlisberger in last year's game. By overloading the A-gap between center Justin Hartwig and right guard Trai Essex, the Packers placed stress on the entire offensive line, especially Hartwig, to make the right decisions on who to block and where to go to find a rusher. They'll do the same thing to Pouncey and/or Legursky on Sunday.

Figure 1: Psycho Blitz

On the play in question (Figure 1), Jenkins (77) lines up as the lone down lineman, directly above Hartwig. Linebacker Desmond Bishop (55) is just off the line and to his right, while Brandon Chillar (54) lines up over right tackle. Nick Barnett (56) stands several yards behind Jenkins, while Clay Matthews (52) is a yard behind Barnett and over the A-gap, the space between the center and right guard. (Note that Chillar and Barnett are on injured reserve and won't play on Sunday.)

It's a tricky blitz to handle for the Steelers. Although they have six potential blockers in with the five offensive linemen and running back Rashard Mendenhall, they have to get everyone to the overloaded side without missing a rusher or blowing an assignment. It's Hartwig's job to set the initial protection at the line, while Roethlisberger can change the protection if he sees something. Roethlisberger's aided here by being in the shotgun, allowing him to see the field better than he otherwise would under center.

At the snap, the Steelers do a good job of accounting for the initial rushers. Left tackle Max Starks slides into the B-gap (between him and left guard Ramon Foster) to take on Jenkins, while Foster slides right and handles the stunting Bishop. That leaves four guys to block three on the right side, which shouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong. A moment of planned hesitation from Matthews is enough to throw everyone off. Chillar does a good job of getting underneath right tackle Willie Colon, and as he's the closest threat to the quarterback, Mendenhall goes to help out. Meanwhile, Barnett heads to the B-gap between Colon and right guard Trai Essex, forcing Essex to slide to his right and take care of him. That leaves the team's best pass rusher, Matthews, alone with Hartwig, who has to sift through all this trash and then find a way to block Matthews, who's coming in with a full head of steam through the vacated hole where Essex was. No chance. It's an easy sack.

It's impossible to assign all the blame here to one player, but there are ways the Steelers could have handled the rush more effectively. Mendenhall is key here; he was likely premature to step outside and help Colon on Chillar, which opened up the middle of the field for Matthews. Part of Chillar's role as a rusher there is to try and stay outside and prevent Mendenhall from releasing into a pass pattern, which would also have alleviated the pressure; with five defenders coming in from that side, it would have likely created a big gain on a checkoff. We don't know Matthews's responsibilities for sure on this play, but it's also possible that he was in coverage on Mendenhall as the green dog. That's a player who is in coverage if a running back releases out of the backfield into a pass pattern, but blitzes if he sees the running back engaged as a blocker. While the block the now-retired Hartwig was expected to make on Matthews was close to impossible for him to make, a more athletic center (like a healthy Pouncey, perhaps) would be able to disrupt Matthews' rush and partially redirect him away from the quarterback, allowing Roethlisberger to step up into the pocket to make a throw. Essex also allowed Barnett to ride him out of the play, creating the hole. Don't be surprised if the Packers run this exact sort of blitz concept on Sunday to try and take advantage of whoever the center is.

Of course, Matthews is a mismatch wherever he ends up. Capers is not shy about shifting Matthews around to line up wherever the opposition's weakest pass blocker is, and the most difficult thing might be identifying the weakest link. He should have a significant advantage over either left tackle Jonathan Scott or right tackle Flozell Adams, and is a good bet to pick up at least one sack and another forced holding penalty by the time the game is over. Although Capers has seemed loathe to bring a big blitz (six or more), he's been successful the few times he's done so. Although only Washington blitzes six or more less frequently than Green Bay's 3.2 percent rate, but the Packers allow the opposition a miserly 3.0 yards per attempt when they bring the house. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger averages 5.0 yards per attempt against the big blitz (six or more rushers), but 7.7 yards per attempt against all other rush combinations.

The Steelers have a variety of ways to beat the blitz and create problems for the coverage behind those blitzers. One classic way is play-action, with the plan of getting Roethlisberger out of the pocket and away from Matthews long enough to scan the field and potentially hit a big play. That happened on the opening play from scrimmage in the last game, when Roethlisberger successfully recognized a single high safety look and was able to wait for Mike Wallace to beat what was then the weak link of the secondary, Jarrett Bush, deep for an easy touchdown. That one may have some flaws, though: The Packers are great against play-action, allowing just 4.9 yards per attempt. That's the third-lowest rate in the league. Pittsburgh goes from averaging seven yards per attempt to 8.5 YPA with play-action, but that's about a league-average increase.

A second way would be to spread the field with multiple wideout sets and force the Packers to cover every inch of the field. They enjoyed some success against the Packers with the empty backfield approach last year, with Roethlisberger going 6-of-11 for 124 yards with four first downs and a touchdown, as well as a seven-yard scramble. The Packers were concerned enough about the empty set to rush five just twice on those 12 attempts; they sent five on 11 of Roethlisberger's other 42 dropbacks. During the 2010 regular season, Pittsburgh went with an empty backfield 69 times, producing 6.5 yards per attempt with a 45 percent Success Rate. The average team only went empty 44 times, producing 5.7 yards per attempt and succeeding 42 percent of the time.

Going to an empty backfield creates obvious problems for the offensive line, though: It means that Scott and Adams will have to hold their own in pass protection in one-on-one situations, which could allow the Packers to get pressure without having to rush more than four defenders. The absence of Pouncey might also convince Capers that he can stop the run and generate interior pass pressure with just two down linemen, which could allow the Packers to use the Nickel 2-4-5 as their base defense (which they do against teams without effective rushing attacks anyway).

A safer solution for the Steelers might to be employ an overload of their own: On the offensive side of the ball, where they can line up multiple receivers on one side of the field while still retaining a tight end and running back for pass protection. Pittsburgh had a lot of success in the first game with their Trips Bunch sets, lining up a circle of three players in the slot and running umpteen combinations of picks and crossing routes, which present problems regardless of the coverage being employed to stop it. Against zone, it's easy for the players to clear out an area and create an opportunity for an underneath throw. It's arguably worse in man coverage, where it's so easy to get picked off by another receiver's route and give up a big play, with plenty of yards after catch for whichever receiver gets open.

The Steelers should be able to exploit mismatches either way. If the Packers go with zones, their linebackers are likely to struggle with the intricacies of the Steelers' complex route combinations. Although Bishop has been very effective as an inside linebacker in coverage this year (allowing 4.1 yards per attempt with a 67 percent Success Rate), fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk is stretched in coverage, while the team will start either rookie Frank Zombo or journeyman Erik Walden (with a sprained ankle) across from Matthews at outside linebacker.

In man coverage, the Steelers will undoubtedly try and attack safety Charlie Peprah. In the first game between these two teams, they recognized Atari Bigby (who Peprah is replacing as a starter, through Morgan Burnett) as a weakness in coverage and used both pre-snap motion and empty backfields to isolate him against a superior threat. In fact, the Steelers were able to get a touchdown pass to Mewelde Moore in exactly this way. Moore saw a lot more playing time after that Matthews sack mentioned earlier, and his touchdown was actually really easy. With second-and-goal from the 10-yard line, the Steelers lined up with an empty backfield and Moore in the slot behind Santonio Holmes. Tramon Williams was playing soft coverage on Holmes, five yards off the line of scrimmage, while Bigby started the play at the goal line. The safety on the play was actually Woodson, who was in the center of the field with no obvious assignment. The play couldn't have been much simpler: The Packers rushed five (with a sixth linebacker taking a step towards the line of scrimmage before hooking back into a zone), so Roethlisberger hit his hot read, Moore, on a short throw just past the line of scrimmage. With Holmes out in front, it amounted to a wide receiver screen. Holmes blocked Williams, and Moore had an easy move to make on Bigby at the goal line for a touchdown. With the playcall and Roethlisberger successfully recognizing the coverage, the Steelers made the blitz irrelevant and turned the play into a 2-on-2 drill.

Pittsburgh also went after a safety in the AFC Championship Game, rightly recognizing Eric Smith as a potential target in man coverage. The only problem was that when they got their chance for a big play by splitting out Heath Miller and having him run a deep corner route, Roethlisberger missed the throw. They'll try and do the same thing to Peprah.

Green Bay Cornerbacks in FO Game Charting Stats as of 1/28/11
Player Charted
Passes
Yd/Play Rank Average
Pass Length
Average
YAC
Rank Success
Rate
Rank
Tramon Williams 83 5.5 10 14.3 4.0 56 66% 6
Charles Woodson 64 6.6 29 10.8 3.5 41 59% 19
Sam Shields 48 7.4 41 14.8 3.1 31 58% 22
Minimum 36 charted passes to be ranked (81 corners ranked).

It will actually be interesting to see how the Packers employ Woodson on Sunday when they're not in their Nickel package. Truthfully, the player who ended up winning Defensive Player of the Year had a pretty poor game that night. On his worst drive, Woodson gave up a first down to Hines Ward on a third-down crossing route, committed pass interference against Santonio Holmes for another, was called for a holding penalty on the subsequent third down (declined after the Steelers converted on a throw to a different receiver), and then was unable to keep Rashard Mendenhall out of the end zone with a tackle on the 1-yard line. He didn't have a set role during the game, as he spent some plays (even within the same defensive alignment) in man coverage on Ward as part of a double-team, others in intermediate zone coverage, and then a few plays where he was in man coverage on the outside against Holmes. Of course, the challenges are different today; Holmes is gone, and while Mike Wallace has matured into a devastating option, Ward has slipped some from his level of play in 2009. Meanwhile, Tramon Williams has improved dramatically, and Sam Shields gives the team a superior third cornerback. Woodson will undoubtedly be in the slot when the team goes into their Nickel or Psycho alignments, but his responsibilities may change in the 3-4. As Ron Jaworski noted in his NFC Championship Game review, the Packers played some 3-4 with Peprah on the bench and Woodson in at safety, with Shields and Williams on the outside.

Miller's role in this game could be dramatically important, more so than any other receiver. If the Steelers' offensive line can consistently slow down the pass rush, Miller will get opportunities to make plays as a receiver. During the regular season, Green Bay ranked in the top-five in pass defense DVOA against all receiver roles except for tight end, where they were 22nd. Now, things have changed in the postseason; the Packers have done an excellent job of containing tight ends, limiting Brent Celek, Tony Gonzalez, and Greg Olsen to a combined 62 yards. But Miller had seven catches for 118 yards against the Packers last year, and they came in a variety of ways. One was with play-action, with Miller running right by Hawk up the seam for a big play. Another one came against the same zone blitz that flummoxed Caleb Hanie, with the pass protection holding up and Miller ending up isolated against B.J. Raji alone in the middle of the field. 10 of Miller's 11 targets came in the "11" personnel grouping, with one running back, three wide receivers, and Miller as the lone tight end. In that alignment, the Packers really can't blanket Miller with Woodson, and they don't have anyone besides Williams (likely to be on Wallace) who can cover him. Unless he's needed to help out constantly as a blocker, Miller should have a big role as a receiver in this game.

It would also help if the Steelers could keep the Packers honest by running the ball effectively. Rashard Mendenhall had his best game of the playoffs against the Jets, and while the Steelers would likely struggle running the ball on the interior against Green Bay, they could enjoy some success on the edges. The Steelers were seventh in the league on runs to left end, while the Packers were 19th against them; meanwhile, Pittsburgh was fifth on runs to right end, where Green Bay was 16th.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

The absence of Troy Polamalu in last year's Packers-Steelers game makes it extremely difficult to translate that tape into estimates of how the Packers offense will attack the Steelers defense on Sunday. In fact, the Packers went out of their way to specifically target Polamalu's replacement, Tyrone Carter. The Packers' first touchdown was an 80-yard bomb to Greg Jennings that saw Green Bay line up in trips left with Jennings basically standing up where Jermichael Finley would normally be in a three-point stance as a tight end. While slot receiver Donald Driver ran a deep corner route and flanker James Jones ran a slant, Jennings ran right through the zone of overmatched linebacker James Harrison and caught a long lob from Aaron Rodgers. Carter clearly thought the ball was overthrown, as replays showed him putting his arms out to catch the ball, only for Jennings to catch it himself and bounce off of Carter en route to an easy score. Would the Packers be willing to make that throw with a healthy Polamalu lurking in centerfield?

And will the Steelers even have a healthy Polamalu in the lineup on Sunday? Polamalu's impact during the playoffs has been limited at best, thanks to an Achilles injury that forced him to take time off during the regular season in the hopes that rest would allow him to be close to 100 percent during the playoffs. Instead, while he had an interception after returning from the injury in Week 17, he really hasn't had much of an impact during the Steelers' playoff run. He notably missed two tackles during the Ravens game; Polamalu had just six broken tackles during the regular season. "Invisible" isn't the word you associate with Troy Polamalu, but if you had to pick one word to describe his postseason so far, invisible is the one.

But has his injury impacted the team's performance? No matter how the data gets split, it doesn't appear to be the case. The first reports of Polamalu missing practice came on November 17, following the team's Week 10 loss to the Patriots. Polamalu played in Weeks 11-14 before sitting out in Week 15 and Week 16. Whether you look at how the team has performed since Polamalu came back in Week 17 or consider him to be injured during Weeks 11-14, the only time the Steelers defense noticeably dipped was when Polamalu was out of the lineup:

Split Overall Pass Run
Before Injury -14.3% -3.5% -31.8%
Weeks 11-14 (Injured, active) -30.8% -30.5% -31.6%
Weeks 15-16 (Inactive) -2.6% -2.3% -2.9%
Weeks 17-20 (Active post-absence) -28.4% -19.0% -44.6%
Weeks 11-14, 17-20 (All "injured" weeks) -29.8% -25.6% -37.9%

Amazingly, the defense has been much better while Polamalu has been limited by injury, especially against the pass. Correlation obviously isn't causation here, but it's certainly impressive that the Steelers haven't dropped off any with Polamalu operating at less than 100 percent. Another week of rest has likely pushed Polamalu closer to full capacity, but there's nothing to be worried about here for Pittsburgh fans: The Steelers' defense has only gotten better as the season went along.

In that first encounter, the Steelers spent the bulk of first and second downs in their base 3-4 scheme, even as the Packers came out with three-wideout sets and enjoyed the presence of Jermichael Finley at tight end. (That's not to say LeBeau didn't bust out anything out of the ordinary; I saw a front with one down lineman on second-and-3 at one point.) The move encouraged Mike McCarthy to toss the ball around and mostly limited the impact that the Packers running game could have. Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson combined for just nine carries, although Grant was able to take advantage of the Steelers expecting the pass by running virtually untouched for a 24-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Grant is on injured reserve, of course, but if the Steelers do the same thing on first and second down that they did in the previous contest, don't expect to see very much of James Starks. Brandon Jackson's the superior pass blocker, and when you consider the effectiveness of the Steelers' rushing defense -- number one in DVOA, allowing just 3.0 yards per carry -- Starks' role in this game is likely going to be limited at best.

As for how the Steelers will try and stop Rodgers out of that 3-4 front? This is a Dick LeBeau defense. They're going to come after Aaron Rodgers with the latest and greatest exotic blitz concepts LeBeau can think of, likely mixing in a few looks that LeBeau put together when he was on the same staff with Capers years ago. As Tim Layden noted in his book, Blood, Sweat and Chalk, LeBeau's attack revolves around the idea of "safe pressure": Getting heat on the quarterback without sacrificing much in the way of coverage. One way LeBeau did that in the game last year was with a classic tactic: The Fire X blitz.

The concept for the Fire X blitz is really simple. Both inside linebackers in the 3-4 rush through the A-gaps between the center and either guard at the snap. They place immense pressure on the players who are usually the worst pass blockers in a unit: The center, running back(s), and guards. The immediate threat of the rush forces running backs to commit to stopping the linebackers, which places them in the quarterback's throwing lanes, removes the possibility of them heading out into the flat as receivers, and doesn't allow for them to help out if another rusher comes free. Considering most of the blitzing in the 3-4 comes from the two outside linebackers, it can throw off a protection scheme that expects them to drop back into coverage. The three defensive linemen in front of them can stunt a particular way or occupy a particular set of blockers to allow them to run free, or a zone blitz can place the linemen or either outside linebacker into a throwing lane that is likely to interfere with the quarterback's hot read. (An obvious example would be James Harrison's pick-six against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, covered in Layden's excerpt.) The linebackers can get up on the line of scrimmage before the snap to threaten with the blitz, even if they don't intend to rush the passer, or they can stay at their standard depth and follow each other through the same gap to get to the passer.

This blitz doesn't need to get a sack to create problematic pressure. The Steelers ran the Fire X blitz on three of the Packers' first five plays, producing three quarterback hurries and four incompletions. The pass Rodgers completed went for 14 yards on second-and-15, but it was a dangerous throw over the middle to Finley that was nearly intercepted, and he took one of the hardest hits I've ever seen laid on a quarterback from Lawrence Timmons as he threw it. (Timmons got away with a helmet-to-helmet hit on the play that left Rodgers woozy, but his sheer velocity heading into the hit was terrifying to watch.) After giving the Packers lots of trouble with the package, though, the Steelers mostly went away from it the rest of the way.

Of course, the Fire X has its weaknesses. The inside linebackers used in 3-4 schemes aren't usually great pass rushers, so they don't make plays against blockers the same way that the Harrison's of the world do. On the other hand, it forces the outside linebackers and/or defensive linemen into coverage, where they're inferior to players like Timmons. And as Greg Cosell noted earlier in the year, the Steelers almost always play Cover-3 behind those Fire X blitzes. If a team can protect against those rushing inside linebackers, they can hit deep ins and skinny posts against Cover-3 over and over again. That is exactly the sort of stuff that Aaron Rodgers had so much success with against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game.

Rodgers will be able to see the field better in the shotgun, where he takes the snap 48 percent of the time, the sixth-highest rate in the league. Unfortunately, the Steelers have the league's best defense on the shotgun. They're not exactly chopped liver when the quarterback is under center, either, where they're third in DVOA.

Much like the Steelers will when they have the ball, the Packers will try and spread the Steelers out with multiple-wideout sets and get one of their four top wideouts -- Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver, and Jordy Nelson -- matched up against either a linebacker or one of the Steelers' lesser cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage. In the last game, they surprised exactly nobody in going after William Gay, then a starter. The return of Bryant McFadden has sent Gay back into the slot, but McFadden's numbers haven't been fantastic, either. Expect Rodgers's work to be heavily weighted to the right side of the field, where McFadden will be waiting at left cornerback. That could mean more James Jones than some are expecting, as Jones actually has the highest percentage of the Packers' targets on throws to the right side of the field, at 22.0 percent. Jennings is directly behind him at 19.9 percent, but he also has 30.6 percent of the team's targets on throws to the left. That's twice as much as any other receiver, and even further ahead of Jones's 13.4 percent.

Pittsburgh Steelers Cornerbacks in FO Game Charting Stats as of 1/28/11
Player Charted
Passes
Yd/Play Rank Average
Pass Length
Average
YAC
Rank Success
Rate
Rank
Ike Taylor 80 7.3 38 13.1 2.9 26 53% 40
Bryant McFadden 106 7.5 44 10.7 2.5 12 48% 58
William Gay 49 6.6 27 8.4 2.6 15 53% 35
Minimum 36 charted passes to be ranked (81 corners ranked).

Finally, if you believe that something about an offense innately changes in the fourth quarter, the Packers have exhibited a decline in DVOA on offense in the fourth quarter this season. They have a 21.4% DVOA through the first three quarters, good for the third-best figure in the league. In the fourth quarter, though, they fall to 22nd and put up a DVOA of -5.5%. Those are regular season figures and they've continued onto the playoffs, as Green Bay had a 38.1% DVOA in quarters 1-3 and a -38.7% DVOA in the fourth quarter of their three playoff games.

SPECIAL TEAMS

As with every other matchup the Packers have been a part of this postseason, they can expect to be outplayed on special teams. Against the Bears, they got a nice performance from punter Tim Masthay, but not much else. The place where the Steelers will be able to exploit the Packers best is when the Packers kickoff. Green Bay's 27th in the league in kickoffs, costing themselves 5.8 points of field position on their kicks. Meanwhile, the Steelers had the league's 12th-best kickoff returns, producing 3.6 points. That should give the Pittsburgh offense even better field position than they normally enjoy. Thanks to that kick coverage and their excellent defense, Pittsburgh's offense takes over with an average of 68.7 yards to go for a touchdown, the seventh-shortest average field position in the league.

Pittsburgh's best asset has been their punting, which ranks fifth in the league, but that's not quite as much of an asset since Daniel Sepulveda was injured. Jeremy Kapinos was the worst punter in the league with Green Bay in 2009; he's been better in his short time with Pittsburgh this year, but still has just 32.3 net yards per attempt compared to Sepulveda's 39.1 net yards per attempt. Green Bay's 19th-place ranking on punt returns is pretty good for their below-average special teams unit.

OUTLOOK

The last game between these two teams could not have been closer; a one-point win earned on the final play of regulation is about as exciting as it gets. Although we're unlikely to get that dramatic of an ending again, this should be a close game to the very end. Games this close get decided by mismatches, even if it's just one play -- think about Brian Orakpo versus Alex Barron all those weeks ago. This game's biggest mismatch is similar to that one, Matthews versus those mediocre Pittsburgh tackles in pass protection. Without a healthy Pouncey to hold things together in the middle, the Steelers offensive line finally collapses, and the Packers end up winning by 3-7 points.


STATS EXPLAINED

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list red zone DVOA and WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).

Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to total DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another (red) line shows the team's trend for the season. This week, we're trying something new -- the trend is based on the weighted average of the team's last five games, rather than being a polynomial trendline based on a regression of the week-to-week results.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 03 Feb 2011

70 comments, Last at 06 Feb 2011, 4:48pm by 'nonymous

Comments

1
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 4:33pm

I was surprised to see that Bishop has done so well in pass protection. The eyeball test really made me think he was worse than that. Of course I may miss things.

I also wonder if the charting data for Shields shows any trends. It seems pretty clear that he has been improving in the areas the charters track. I haven't been able to rewatch any games, but it seems that Shields has improved enough to allow him to be on the outside covering, and opening up Woodson to roam a bit more. I think that allows Woodson to help remove the tight end (and slot receiver) a bit better than things in the past.

Do you have any additional thoughts on what Ben Muth covered in his preview, that the Steelers lines' best asset plays against what the Packers D-line does best? That seems to pass the eyeball test for me, but I haven't watched Pittsburgh much this year.

I've stated on these boards before that the Bears and the Steelers seemed to be the worst match-ups for Green Bay. You did a nice job of pointing some of those out. I don't think the Pouncey thing is as big a deal as a lot of outlets are saying. But if it impacts the Steelers run game, I'll be happy. If the Packers can prevent the Steelers from running, be it by getting an early lead so there just aren't as many runs called, or by just stopping it, things are a lot better. I'm more comfortable with the 2-4-5 this year than I was last year.

Oh and are the trend lines weighted averages now? I like em better. :)

2
by drobviousso :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 4:39pm

You can't hope to prevent the Steelers from running for 2 yards on first down. You can only hope to play against it.

Seriously, lack of success doesn't seem to stop them from running. They are "committed to the run."

3
by DFJinPgh (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 5:03pm

If this game is half as fun as last year's, we're in for a treat!

Didn't Rodgers and Roethlisberger both set the single game passing yards record (with Ben by more)?

4
by dmb :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 5:23pm

Goodness, no. That record has stood since 1951, when Norm Van Brocklin threw for 554 yards against the New York Yanks. Roethlisberger's 503 yards were enough for 10th all-time in that category, with Rodgers' 383 being high, but not anywhere near all-time-record category.

For combined net passing yardage, the game's 848 passing yards was good for 7th all-time, with the record set at 884. It's possible that the game set the record for gross passing yardage (which would be fitting, given that Roethlisberger had a hand in it), but I'm not sure on that one.

11
by master_P (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 7:14pm

The record they set that game was "highest combined passing yard total without an interception"

5
by dbirtchnell (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 5:36pm

Great read, but for such an in-depth preview I'd have expected more on the teams' running games - particularly after Mendenhall ran all over the Jets tough run defense and with James Starks being one of the surprises of the last few weeks.

How do the teams rank running the ball? Mendenhall is clearly better than anything GB have in the backfield, but how do the O-lines measure up? Have the Packers got any chance running the ball on the Steelers D?

I realise both teams are likely to sling it all over the place, but it seems a little remiss to effectively dismiss both running games as after-thoughts. After all, did anyone think the Steelers would have run for well over 100yds in the first half vs the Jets?

23
by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 9:59am

Agreed. I assumed the "biggest mismatch" mentioned in the beginning was the Steelers run game against the Packers D.

26
by RickD :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 11:57am

The 14th rated rush offense vs. the 16th rated rush defense?

I thought it would be BJ Raji against the injured Maurkice Pouncey.

30
by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 12:57pm

Yes. That 14th rated rush offense just ran all over the 2nd rated rush defense. DVOA just seems clearly wrong in this case. The Green Bay defense gave up 4.7 yards per carry this year, which was 2nd worst in the league.

They have looked a little better in the playoffs, but nobody is going to confuse them for the Jets.

33
by Mike W :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 1:31pm

Yes, and whatever just happened will happen forever going forward.

GB gave up 4.7 ypc because they play a lot of 2-4-5 and 1-5-5. If you want five yards on 2nd and 9 or 3rd and 8, go ahead. When they have three down linemen in, they are harder to run against.

43
by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 3:08pm

I dont have the splits right in front of me, but that seems to be awfully simplistic explanation considering the Packers were run on about 25 times a game.

44
by Arkaein :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 3:14pm

GB was hurt most by QB scrambles. Vick ran for 100 yards in the opener (when they had game-planned primarily for Kolb). Cutler had a few big scrambles in week 3. In Detroit Stanton had a lot of running yards.

The only games where GB has really been run on both repeatedly and effectively were probably at Detroit and the regular season game against Atlanta. Neither time did they give up many big gains, but they were repeatedly hit for 4-6 yard gains. They had an awful time tackling Turner especially. Outside of these cases they seemed pretty average against RBs.

46
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 4:06pm

Well you can play with ALY a bit to look at advantages / disadvantages on various runs.

It's not the best analysis, but I took each teams rushing offense, compared it to the league average, took the defense, compared it to the league average, and then did a quick head to head to get a quick ALY metric on advantages/disadvantages for each basic type of run.


GB on Offense
.....Left End...Left Tackle....Mid/Guard...Right Tackle...Right End
GB...-1.72......-0.21..........0.32........0.04...........-0.86
PIT...0.3........1.1...........0.59........0.23............0.86
Diff.-2.02......-1.31.........-0.27.......-0.19...........-1.72

So GB can be expected to be about 2.02 ALY worse than an NFL average offense running off left end vs an NFL average defense since GB is significantly worse than average and Pitts D is a bit better than average.

GB was a bit better than average at running mid/guard and right tackle. Those are Pitts weakest points on defense so GB might have some success doing that. They won't be able run outside at all.


Pitt on Offense
.....Left End...Left Tackle...Mid/Guard...Right Tackle...Right End
PIT...0.56......-1.21.........-0.14.......0.04...........1.06
GB...-0.26......-0.68..........0.04......-0.56...........0.07
Diff..0.82......-0.53.........-0.18.......0.6............0.99

Pitt was not a great running team, but GB didn't have a great run defense either. Pitt has some some positive options. But their weakest rushing attacks match up with GB's weakest defense. Pitt was very bad running off left tackle. That is also GB's weakest defensive point, but their weakness was less than Pitts weakness, so Pitt is still going to look worse running left tackle than an average NFL offense vs an average NFL defense would. Pitts best rushing was off right end, that was also GB's best rushing defense, being just a bit better than an average NFL defense so they negate some of Pitts advantage.

So what about vs the Jets? The Jets has a good run defense but they had some weaker spots.


Pitt vs NYJ
.....Left End...Left Tackle...Mid/Guard...Right Tackle...Right End
PIT...0.56......-1.21.........-0.14.......0.04...........1.06
NJY..-0.9........0.65..........0.39.......1.03...........0.67
Diff..1.46......-1.86.........-0.53......-0.99...........0.39

Now I didn't see the game, but there appear to have been some advantages that Pitt could exploit vs the Jets too. They were pretty good going off Left End and the Jets were even worse at defending that, giving them a bigger advantage than anything they have vs GB. Where Pitt was the weakest running, was also where the Jets were the strongest at defending, up the middle. But based on this, Pitt having success running outside would not have surprised me. Running up the middle would have been very hard, but they may not have done much of that.

The other note is that Ben Muth did a nice job of breaking down the line play in that game and pointed out it was about the only time he saw the Pittsburgh linemen getting second level blocks. If that was just a one time thing or a fluke, I don't know.

As a note, the average NFL run is right around 4 yards, no matter what direction (Left End is the highest at 4.20 ALY, Right End is the lowest at 4.01). So you can basically take those differences and add them (so a negative is subtracted) from 4 and that is kind of the expected ALY on a run each team can expect.

Again is't not the best analysis, but it's quick (so I could do it at the end ofmy lunch break) and it should give a least a broad insight.

54
by Jerry :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 7:25pm

Nicely done, especially for something quick and dirty.

My recollection is that the Steelers were particularly successful running around end against the Jets, especially running right. (Flozell is probably better at the point of attack than Jonathan Scott.)

And with all the negative numbers, it looks like the Packers will be trying to exploit the least unpromising spot to run, rather than an actual advantage.

6
by RobT (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 5:48pm

Thanks Bill and Aaron, nice preview.

It's Jeremy Kapinos rather than Jon, by the way.

8
by Aaron Schatz :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 6:12pm

Second time I've made that same stupid mistake!

7
by Dr. Getting Ziggy Wit' It (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 6:07pm

Amazingly, the defense has been much better while Polamalu has been limited by injury, especially against the pass.

One confounding variable to tease out here is the maturation of Ziggy Hood.

27
by BMF (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 12:12pm

It helps when they're going against run-first teams like the Jets and Ravens. Their defense is built to dominate teams like that. It will be interesting to see what their defense can do against the spread out passing attack they're likely to see from the Packers.

61
by JMM* (not verified) :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 9:53am

After the Pats game, the corners have been playing closer to the line pressuring the short routes.

Conventional defensive stars pick up the improvement. Don't know if DVOA does.

9
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 6:55pm

also think Paxckiers shoudl win by 3-7 poitns. Will gloss over and dissect artuicle later tonight, maybe Fridya

13
by packerfan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 9:40pm

noooooooooo

15
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 9:54pm

Had exclelent year vs spread. No need to worry,

10
by ammek :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 7:14pm

The Packers have given themselves a few fourth-quarter frights this year because their offense has gone into curl-up mode.

Week 1 at Philly: Leading 20-3 at the half, the Packers gave Michael Vick plenty of time to mount a comeback, with fourth-quarter production of one first down, two punts, and an interception.

Week 3 at Chicago: Leading by 3 entering the fourth quarter, the Packers had three drives: three-and-out (featuring three penalties: this was the 18-flag special), touchdown, fumble. They gave up a punt return TD and a field goal, and lost 20-17.

Week 4 vs Detroit: Leading 28-13 three plays into the second half, the Packer offense vanished completely. On its first drive, Rodgers fumbled (and recovered), then had an interception overturned on a penalty. Three plays later he threw an interception that wasn't overturned. From there, Green Bay had this remarkable sequence of plays: run for 0, incomplete pass, sack, punt, lost fumble on kickoff return, 14-yard kickoff return, interception. Finally, on the last possession of the quarter, they were able to run out the clock, picking up 72 of their 99 second-half yards from scrimmage and barely holding onto a two-point lead.

Week 5 at Washington: Leading 13-10 entering the fourth quarter, Mike McCarthy called a TMQ-unfriendly nine pass plays to only one run (and two scrambles) despite never trailing. The Packers gained only one first down and missed a long field goal. Then, in overtime, they went three-and-out, got the ball back, and threw a game-ending pick on the second play.

Week 6 vs Miami: Two three-and-outs — one in the 4th quarter with a three-point lead, one in overtime — both caused by sacks on third down. Both first-down plays were moderately successful runs; both second downs were failed plays: an incomplete pass and a John Kuhn run-into-the-line-for-nowt on 2nd-and-3.

Week 8 at Jets: Leading 3-0 at the top of the fourth, the Packer offense picked up two first downs on its first drive, leading to a field goal. For the rest of the quarter, McCarthy called six runs which netted a magnificent 2 yards between them.

Week 14 at Detroit: Again leading 3-0, the Packers went three-and-out on their first fourth-quarter drive, then managed one first down via a 2-yard DPI on the next before punting. Finally, now trailing 7-3, Matt Flynn produced a 60-yard drive which died at the Lions' 31 after three attempts to convert what had been a 2nd-and-2.

Week 15 at New England: The final quarter began with 1st-and-goal for Green Bay on the Patriots' two-yard line, and leading 24-21. Two stuffs and an incomplete pass later, Mason Crosby kicked a field goal. The next two drives featured one first down and two punts. Finally, down by 4, Matt Flynn was intercepted on the second play of the next drive — only the pick was overturned by a penalty. The drive eventually netted 43 yards on 11 plays, but ended with some comical clock management and a stripsack.

Wildcard at Philly: Up by 11, the Packers' two drives featured nine runs, an incomplete pass and a sack. They gained two first downs and 30 yards, and needed an end-zone Vick interception to avoid letting this one slip.

Championship game at Chicago: Here the Packers led by seven and had three fourth-quarter drives (plus a fat man pick-six). On the first drive, they picked up two first downs on penalties, but otherwise four plays from scrimmage netted nine yards. The other drives were both three-and-outs, with three pass attempts on the first and three runs on the second netting just eight yards between them.

19
by peachy :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 12:12am

Curiously, the only Packers' games I saw prior to the NFCCG were the ones against the Giants and the Falcons - and in both GB put the boot in mercilessly.

22
by MCS :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 9:31am

Please watch the Super Bowl.

34
by Mike W :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 1:38pm

Amen, Ammek. Four things have the potential to drive me nuts Sunday.
1. Buck and Aikman - a given.
2. Hellacious refereeing - pretty much a given.
3. GB NOT going three and four wide most of the time, because we have to run the ball and use the full house backfield, cuz it's so cool.
4. GB Getting a lead and deciding not to run their offense any more.

I believe the genius of Bill Belichick can (mostly) be summed up in one sentence: Run your offense. At the start of the game, run your offense. When you get a big lead, run your offense. If you get behind, run your offense. Don't waste a possession or two running the ball at the start of the game to "establish" something, don't run off tackle on 2nd and 10 to slow up the pass rush, and don't change things depending on the score (unless you're way down late, obv.).

Thus endeth the lesson.

49
by coltrane (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 5:41pm

Good point......The Steelers have had a magical whistle during the last 2 SBs. The referee in the Seattle game can't sleep at night and the Steelers went about 6 for 6 on 50/50 calls against AZ. If they get all the calls again the conspiracy theorists will be screaming. Remember the blown call in the Dolphins game enabled them to win the division and potentially shifted the outcome of the playoffs.

50
by Intropy :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 5:52pm

I couldn't decide on one, so here ya go: goo.gl/pBrdc

66
by scottybsun (not verified) :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 8:09pm

Mike W- great job!

You perfectly captured the BB offense philosophy, and the flip side of this is Brian Schottenheimer who has been killing me all season. It really seems like he is constantly burning plays to set something else up later on or throw off the defense. It is of no suprise to me that the Jets O does best at the end of games when they scrap that plan and just run what they do best.

12
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 7:39pm

I expect James Starks to fumble the ball at least once; he hasn't yet but he isn't protecting it very well.

14
by erniecohen :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 9:52pm

That's a rather dramatic prediction. Basically, this review is saying that Pouncey's absence is worth 2-6 points (since it seems to be the only relevant injury, and the premium prediction is GB by 1). That is an extraordinary difference, particularly since Muth seems to believe that against Raji, Legurski might be just as effective.

21
by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 9:11am

I don't think its that dramatic. A win by 3-7 is a close game. A win by 1 is a close game. Its still a win by one score. The likelihood of a game being decided by 1 point are significantly lower than it being decided by 3-7 points, simply because of the way scoring works.

If you want to compare it premium picks, I read the conclusion as something like "it'll be a close game, but the injury to Pouncey probably helps the Packers, so they will probably win. But it'll be close."

59
by erniecohen :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 1:54am

There's some ambiguity in the prediction. I'm interpreting GB by 3-7 to mean that, on average, GB should win by 3-7 points. FO premium says that on average, GB wins by 1 point. If the only real difference is the Pouncey factor, that means that Poucey's absence costs an average of 2-6 points. That is a huge difference to attribute to a center - equivalent to about 300-900 yards over a season. 900 yards is the difference between Rogers and Chad Henne this year.

60
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 8:46am

Or it could be that Bill Barnwell and Aaron Schatz think it will be a 3-7 point game, and the Premium pick has it as a 1 point game. It is possible for authors at a site to have different opinions....

16
by scottybsun (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 10:44pm

My 2 cents-

I just don't see how GB can run the ball at all against the Steelers. This means that, at some point, Pitt can start teeing off on Rogers. If Rogers drops back to pass 45 times (with that O-line in front of him), I see him getting hit 5+ times, sacked a few times, and throwing 2 picks. I also see Pitt's great red-zone defense forcing FGs.

Steelers 24
Packers 16

17
by Arkaein :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 11:20pm

You know that even if GB passes 100% of the time it's not as simple as just teeing off on him? The West Coast offense has evolved quite a bit, but it still features a large array of hitches and slants that can beat any obvious blitzes. Rodgers excels at getting these passes out quickly and accurately. It only becomes a real problem in long yardage situations, where a blitz only has to force a quick throw underneath, short of the sticks.

Besides, GB's O-line honestly isn't that bad. They're quite a bit better in pass protection than run blocking. Sometimes they look bad because they run a fair amount of empty set plays where it's up to Rodgers to identify extra rushers rather than keeping in backs or TEs (this was the case in every one of Rodgers Houdini acts against the Falcons, thought the O-line play was not perfect in any of these cases).

Pitt will get it's chance to pressure Rodgers, but they won't achieve much with extensive heavy blitzing. As a Packers fan, I look forward to Pitt trying that. No, blitzing will have to be well disguised and hard to identify before the snap, or on 3rd and at least medium where a hot read does little good to have a good chance at success.

28
by Dr. Information for Information (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 12:27pm

I will tell you a Steelers secret and ask for some Packers information in return.

The secret is that the 2010-11 Steelers cannot get much pressure with a four-man rush against good or even mediocre offenses. Sure, against bad offenses, they have a field day (six sacks against the Raiders, ten against the Browns in two games, etc.) But I almost feel as if they should usually rush either three, or five or more.

The information that I somehow have not encountered among all the endless Super Bowl hype is: how are the Packers backs at picking up blitzers? Who's best and who's worst? Starks, Kuhn (central Pennsylvania got to represent!), Brandon Jackson?

29
by Arkaein :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 12:39pm

Novelty accounts on FO. Huh.

Anyways, Starks doesn't have a lot of experience in the passing game. I've seen him catch a few balls, but haven;t really watched him pass block. He's probably adequate, as the Packers coaches stress pass blocking for their backs enough that he probably wouldn't play if he wasn't at least okay.

Jackson is excellent at it. The nifty play against the Bears where he juked Urlacher out of his jock started with a chip on a D-lineman that knocked the lineman off balance and into the block of a GB O-lineman. Although Starks has been the playoff mini-savior for the Packers running game, I expect Jackson to have the larger role by far in this game (unless or until GB builds a sizeable lead, in which case GB will try to grind it out with Starks). GB should be passing a lot, and Jackson is basically very effective at every aspect of the passing game (his receiving DYAR is excellent because he's very consistent, though he's not particularly explosive, and his best running plays tend to be draw plays).

Kuhn has played most of his career as a FB before spending time at running back this season, so he's also solid in pass blocking, although again, I haven't watched him do this quite as much since Jackson is the preferred back in passing formations.

36
by Dr. See Below (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 2:12pm

Thanks for the information!

I don't yet have an FO account, novelty or otherwise, partly because of the shtick I developed on the old comments-posting system of changing my alias to "Dr. Appropriate Alias for This Post" for each comment. I suppose I could register as "Dr. See Below" and sign each comment appropriately...

- Dr. No One Cares about My Meta-Posting

55
by Jerry :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 7:41pm

That might be a good idea, just so nobody steals your shtick.

- Mr. I Should Have a Cleverer Sig Here

35
by ammek :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 2:09pm

The ProFootballFocus people wrote an article lauding the Packer backs' pass protection:

"The Green Bay backs gave up pressure on just 1.6% of plays they were pass protecting for in 2010. They … combined to average more than three games between giving up pressure."

20
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 2:53am

What's interesting is that the packers rush DVOA was 1.7%, ranking 11th. Pittsburgh meanwhile is .0.2%, ranking 14th. So they are basically tied. However I would assume that Pit has more rushing attempts and DYAR than GB.
For pass offense Pit has 45.6% DVOA! Basically tied with SD for a clear second. Again I think these offenses set up "shot plays" down the field in the passing game with their running game.
GB pass offense is in the third bracket at 33.0% with teams like Ind, Hou, Bal. They probably have a lot more pass attempts and DYAR than Pit though.

Teams that have spread the field and passed successfully against Pit in the past like NE and NO: these teams had solid rush offenses. Even in four wide sets the defense still had to respect the run.

The expectation in this game is that the PIT front 3 can win all of their one on one matchups, and spill any runs up the middle to the outside. This gives the LBs and DBs a lot more freedom to drop in to their zones.

37
by verifiable (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 2:25pm

I agree with your comments, not sure if Pitt can run on GB either so this may play out against both teams. Not in agreement with your score. 16 is rather unlikey, does that come from 2 TD's + 2 2pt conv, or 2TD's + 2 exPts + 1 Safety, or?

65
by scottybsun (not verified) :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 7:53pm

1 TD, 3 FG

18
by t.d. :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 11:35pm

I thought last year's matchup was also, to a large extent, a mirror image game (their strengths on d were different, but each team relied on a couple key playmakers and were driven by great offenses). I still think R-berger is a little underrated, because he is difficult to scheme against, as he is most dangerous when things break down.

24
by Grant (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 10:36am

I went back to watch last year's game and was horrified to see Jarrett Bush jog out for Pittsburgh's first offensive play. Roethlisberger rainbowed a 60 yard pass that Bush stopped to look at for a second or two before resuming his vain pursuit that ended with a flailing attempt at the ball and an unsuccessful dive at Wallace who easily skipped into the end zone.

The Packers were a good defensive team last year, but had some horrible games against good QB's. Favre, Roethlisberger, and Warner eviscerated them. The development of Williams and ability of Shields has me cautiously optimistic that the Packers defense will be ok this year.

25
by 'nonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 11:38am

I see so many analyses that cautiously pick a winner, but confidently assert this will be a close game. I agree this is a tough one to pick, but I'm not sure the game has to be close-- any football team is capable of a really bad day, and either team will happily take a big lead if that happens. We have two good football teams, so I'm sure both will do some things right before the day is done. But I wouldn't be surprised by a final margin bigger than 10.

31
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 1:01pm

Hi! This isn't a place to advertise your website. Thanks.

38
by thepowerrank :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 2:36pm

Sorry, just thought this crowd would like the analysis.

32
by CoachDave :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 1:04pm

I'm VERY curious to see how Secondary contact will be called in this game.

Both teams have CB/S that are known for "clutch and grab" technique with a nod to BB's "dare you to call it" mentality.

If it's called tight, I see this benefiting GB as they have the talent to cover without getting as physical as Pitt.

If a lot is let go (which I would suspect will be the case) than I think the secondary/coverage differences will be pretty minimal.

I just hope it's a good game.

40
by Intropy :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 2:42pm

I see where you're coming from, but my impression is that the Steeler CB who gets the grabbiest is Ike Taylor. Ike Taylor is also an all-around talented CB. It's just that he plays with as much contact as he's allowed.

52
by CoachDave :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 7:12pm

Then why does he get so many DPI and holding calls like Woodson and Williams? By definition, that would be contact beyond what is allowed.

56
by Intropy :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 9:07pm

Because, as you implied earlier, different referees have different lines at which they will make those calls, and Ike Taylor seems to like to find out what he can get away with. From what I've seen the same is true of Woodson. Both are talented and capable of strong coverage without downfield contact. Both are also fairly big, physical guys who prefer to make contact. It's natural for them both to play as close to the line as they can which means they will get called occasionally, especially near the beginning of a game when still trying to gauge what they can get away with.

39
by Randy Hedberg (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 2:37pm

This is neither here nor there, but while watching a replay of Super Bowl XIV (Steelers 31, Rams 19) on NFL Network this week, I was struck by the commentator stating that in the 1979 season, the Steelers had 55 turnovers and the Rams had 52. Those levels are ludicrous for any team by today's standards, much less for two of the top teams in the NFL.

Obviously a lot of the decrease in turnovers over the past 30 years has been due to the passing game going shorter and safer, but I had never realized that there has been such a dramatic decline in fumbles over the years. For instance:

Steelers 1979 - 47 fumbles: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/pit/1979.htm
Steelers 2010 - 22 fumbles: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/pit/2010.htm

Overall, fumbles have decreased from 2.0 f/team/game to 1.4. Anybody know why this is? Better coaching? Stickier leather? More artificial turf?

42
by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 3:01pm

My guess is that defenses were allowed to play defense.

45
by tuluse :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 3:19pm

A number of things.

1) Instant replay

2) More passing

3) Running backs are just better at holding onto the ball these days

It actually has nothing to do with stickiness, as stickem is banned now. I think the PFR blog actually did an article on running back fumbles. Might want to search around for it.

47
by Dr. Fewer Fumbles (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 4:10pm

Thanks for the mention of that article -- searched for it, found it, linked to it (click on my alias).

62
by Theo :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 5:09pm

Equipment does help. But also better practice at protecting the ball. If this includes interceptions; QBs at a high level really throw less INTs even when facing superior defensive backs. I dare that CFL and UFL football QBs throw more INTs than NFL QBs.
Football is less mayhem right now, not the 'run and a clowd of dust' that lower levels of football are or used to be. So yeah, play pitch and catch and protect the football.
They've learned.

41
by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 3:00pm

Here is my prediction.

If the Packers win, the general consensus will be that Rogers et al are great and that they were simply the better team.

If the Steelers win the general consensus will be that they were lucky and/or the refs gave them the game.

Of course, only one of these can be proven true...but I am taking bets.

48
by Dr. Cry Me a River (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 4:15pm

Okay, you might not want to read the rest of this comment if you're not a Steelers fan. It's a lot of whining by the overprivileged. Okay, fairly warned.

Just once, just once -- and I'm pretty sure it's not going to happen this year -- I want the Steelers to win a Super Bowl by completely destroying their opponent. 55-10, 49-26, 34-7, 48-21, those are the kind of scores I'm talking about. Apparently 21-10 is not a big enough margin to keep people from complaining about the officiating. I just want people to say, "Well, the Steelers were clearly the far better team."

64
by Kal :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 7:06pm

I'm a Hawks fan, and while I think that the Steelers were definitely the better team, I can also say that the officiating for XL sucked. It really took away from the enjoyment of the game.

I don't think that even if the officials act somewhat sane in that game that the Seahawks win that game. It still sucked.

51
by Intropy :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 5:53pm

I don't think preemptively complaining about complaining about officiating helps.

53
by 'nonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 7:13pm

Actually, at least one of them will be proven true... As a Steelers fan, I hope the first implication is true, and the second implication is false.

57
by matt w (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 9:48pm

Very nice use of the material conditional.

63
by Theo :: Sat, 02/05/2011 - 6:26pm

self-fulfilling prophesy much?

58
by Ed Schoenfeld (not verified) :: Fri, 02/04/2011 - 10:26pm

@48 et al: The better prediction is that sore losers on either side will complain that the officiating favored the actual winners. What will really happen is that if the Packers win, Rodgers will be called a great quarterback who made use of fantastic talent on offense, while if the Steelers win pundits will say R-berger pulled some awesome plays out of his a**. For some reason Big Ben and the Steelers O do not get the recognition their talent level actually deserves. But as a Packer fan who lived in Squirrel Hill for 5 years, I understand that yinz kind of like it that way.

67
by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Sun, 02/06/2011 - 9:50am

In the FO stats listed at the top of this article, biggest gap between units is in a pass offense vs. a pass defense. But it isn't the one widely assumed. The Steelers' passing offense is 27.7 greater than the Packers' passing defense, wider than the 20 spread between the Packers pass offense and the Steelers pass D.

69
by thebuch :: Sun, 02/06/2011 - 3:48pm

But still, look at how many great quarterbacks the Steelers beat this year. Brady and Brees beat them, they didn't beat anyone of that caliber. Last year, the Packers had a great passing defense according to every stat because they'd beat up on bad quarterbacks, but were vulnerable to good quarterbacks. Then they went out and gave up 45 points in a dome to Kurt Warner (not counting the last 6 points because the defense had nothing to do with that).

70
by 'nonymous (not verified) :: Sun, 02/06/2011 - 4:48pm

Yeah, it's possible for a defense that's great against average to poor QB's to fall apart against a great QB; but I suspect that says more about the quarterback than it does about the defense. When big plays work, they look effortless, but only because everything has to go right, especially against a good defense.

As a Steelers fan, I'm worried about the adjustments required by Pouncey's absence; but I'm not worried about the Steelers defense. (There's no other defense I'd want instead, for sure!) They're capable of slowing down Green Bay and even of taking control of the game, when their gambles pay off. Of course I expect Rodgers to make some big plays, quite possibly a lot of them, because he's really good. The Steelers D won't dominate like they did against the Raiders, Panthers, or Browns; but they won't collapse, even if the Packers get on a roll. The Steelers D will take their chances and will remain a potent force and threat (except in the event they're protecting a big lead).

68
by EasyLikeSundayMorning (not verified) :: Sun, 02/06/2011 - 9:53am

Has anyone done a split for how the Packers and Steelers offenses do against 3-4 defenses (compared to all defenses)?