Written by: SR Crew
Date posted: 1/31/2011
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 6
Arlington, TX (Artificial Turf)
6:25 pm, EST
The Packers and Steelers, with veteran defensive coordinators Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau, feature two very good 3-4 defenses with blitzes coming from everywhere, and two good quarterbacks that have demonstrated an ability to escape from pressure and make plays with their arms, and with their legs.
We've been on a good post-season roll with the Packers, a team with which it has been our intent to ride as far as they might go. They seem to be capable of outscoring just about anybody they play. As far as we’re concerned, the Steelers need to prove that they can outscore opponents whose offenses have proven capable of moving the ball and scoring points on a consistent basis, especially through the air.
A couple of years ago, we took the offensive-minded Arizona Cardinals vs. the points in the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh, and Arizona generated enough offense to cover the spread, nearly winning outright. Green Bay’s defense appears to be better than that Arizona defense was. It has been mentioned on these pages all throughout the post-season that the Packers are holding opponents to about a touchdown less than their per game scoring averages.
Last Sunday, once again, Green Bay did just that. The Chicago Bears, who averaged 21 ppg in the regular season, scored 14 against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game and were shut out for the first three quarters. Of course, let’s not forget that the Steelers are doing the same thing: holding opponents to nearly a touchdown less than their scoring average.
Last season (2009), the Packers’ only loss in their final eight regular season games was at Pittsburgh, 37-36. Stop right there: Green Bay was a +1.5 road underdog in that game, so nobody should be surprised that the Packers have opened as a -2.5 favorite in this Super Bowl match-up on a neutral field. “Pittsburgh is getting points? Are they crazy?” No. Nobody is crazy, just like Green Bay being favored on the road at Chicago was nothing to be surprised about.
In last season’s Packers at Steelers game, the lead changed five times in the final nine minutes, and Pittsburgh won it on the final play of the game on a 19-yard TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace. That means Green Bay led by six points after 59:59, right? That’d be good enough to cover this one. That particular game was a weird one, with Roethlisberger throwing for 472 yards, Aaron Rodgers for 376, and neither side attempting to run much: 12 rushes for Green Bay, 19 for Pittsburgh, for 60 and 65 yards.
It was played in Week #15. The Steelers who improved their record to just 7-7 and would eventually miss the post-season – needed the win on that day a lot more than the 9-5 Packers did at the time. Green Bay’s defensive backfield was also a mess at the time, and observers said that such a horrid performance was inevitable after cornerback Al Harris had been lost for the season several games before and they were forced to play the likes of youngsters Jarrett Bush, Brandon Underwood, and Josh Bell in December and January.
Pittsburgh’s offense registered 11 big-chunk completions of 16 yards or more, beginning with a 60-yard touchdown to Mike Wallace on their first offensive play. There were seven Packers’ penalties in coverage during that game, including an illegal contact call against a linebacker that wiped out what would have been a game-sealing interception on Pittsburgh’s final drive.
Dom Capers had to think long and hard about how to defend better against three- and four-wide sets with which Pittsburgh had killed their personnel grouping. “We’re going to have to take a good look and evaluate things…adapting things based on where we are right now, and that’s not where we want to be.”
Although it seems odd that a free-agent rookie would be the key to secondary improvement, Sam Shields is being credited with the jelling of the frequent nickel and dime base packages this season. Capers has been able to use the entire defensive playbook and is not afraid to call any and all the blitzes in it, including more with standout Charles Woodson. “If you've got guys like Tramon [Williams] and Sam outside, it enables you to bring five [rushers] more,” Capers told the media last week. "Because those guys end up [covering receivers] one-on-one, and you aren't always having to protect a guy on the outside.”
Adds head coach Mike McCarthy, “When you have the flexibility to put your corners out there and play man-to-man, it really gives you all the options because you're not trying to cover up anybody. Everybody that's watched us play on defense, we don't really hold anything back schematically.”
The Packers came out in Week #1 at Philadelphia in their nickel defense, which they stayed in for 64 snaps by the Eagles’ offense. Middle linebacker, A.J. Hawk, didn’t even play a defensive down in that game, but has since taken over the defensive huddle’s play-calling role from injured Nick Barnett. Hawk also remains on the field for all defensive snaps, when he had previously fallen into a role as a first- and second-down player.
If the Packers come out in a base nickel defense, the Steelers will almost certainly run Rashard Mendenhall against it early and often. But Capers will adapt. For instance, with an absent starting nose tackle and injury-limited starting defensive end against the Jets this regular season, the Packers’ defense nevertheless set out to stop the run first, did, and everything else fell into place in a 9-0 road win.
Daring Pittsburgh to run the ball and discouraging them from passing, when your offense can score quickly, also plays a little cat and mouse game with the Steelers: ‘Go ahead and punish us physically. The scoreboard is in our favor and the clock is ticking against you.’ On passing downs for Pittsburgh, there are blitzes that Roethlisberger hasn’t seen live, given what the Packers could not do in last season’s game.
Now, dare we play the common-opponent game?
a) Pittsburgh played the Jets even - lost by 5, won by 5 – both home. The Packers beat the Jets, 9-0, on the road.
b) Pittsburgh played Atlanta to a 9-9 tie (don’t count overtime), home, without Roethlisberger. The Packers lost to Atlanta by 3 on the road, then beat them by 27 on the road.
c) Pittsburgh beat Miami, 23-22, on the road. The Packers tied Miami (don’t count overtime), 20-20, home.
d) Pittsburgh lost to New England, 39-26, home. Packers lost to New England, 31-27, on the road, with their back-up quarterback, Matt Flynn, playing the entire game.
e) Pittsburgh tied Buffalo, 16-16 (don’t count overtime), on the road. The Packers beat Buffalo 34-7, home.
On a pure points basis, the Packers were +9 against the Steelers vs. the Jets, -3 vs. Atlanta (not counting their blowout second crack at the Falcons), -1 vs. Miami, +9 vs. New England, and +27 vs. Buffalo, for a net of +41 points in five games. Divide by 5 for about +8.0 points.
Of course, those are just the raw-score numbers from when they played those opponents, and they aren’t playing those teams in the Super Bowl, then. They’re playing each other, now. Steelers’ starting center, Maurkice Pouncey's, ankle injury would have to be a concern, considering that Pittsburgh scored only 17 offensive points in his absence in the AFC Championship Game. Some points to ponder for what they may be worth:
a) The Steelers are 0-3 ATS on artificial turf this season, Green Bay is 6-2 ATS on artificial turf this season.
b) Green Bay safeties’ coach, Darren Perry, was the Steelers defensive backs coach from 2004–2006 under Bill Cowher. He is credited with developing one Troy Polamalu, a star player who you may have heard about. Prior to that coaching stint, Perry spent the 2002 season as Cincinnati safeties coach under his former defensive coordinator from when he was a player, then-Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, now the Steelers’ defensive coordinator. During the 2008 season, current Green Bay linebackers coach, Kevin Greene, did a coaching internship for Pittsburgh as an assistant linebackers coach during training camp. If the Packers defense operates un-Jet-like (smart) and keeps Roethlisberger from rolling and setting up the Steelers’ favorite offensive pass play – the busted play – then the Packers can make the sudden, game-changing defensive play the Steelers have been feared for.
For those who have been following the Crier either through the blog or the weekly newsletter, remember that for betting purposes, this is just one game. The typical weekend has 16 of them to choose from. This event should not have the potential to make or break anyone’s season, so don't go overboard on this game. GREEN BAY, 28-17.
Yesterday’s Record ATS: 1-3
Cumulative Season Record ATS (excludes “pushes”): 296-197
Today’s Action (for reading purposes only):
INDIANA* (-9) over TORONTO
The Raptors were totally controlled in the loss in Indy early in the season and there were some evident reasons. They could not board with the Pacers and they could not defend the long ball as Indy was 13 for 26 from beyond the arc. Indy can run if in the mood, Tyler Hansbrough has been finding his niche and Mike Dunleavy finds other ways to contribute than just scoring. INDIANA, 105 - 88
UTAH* (-3) over CHARLOTTE
The Bobcats have responded well to new Coach Paul Silas. They played the Celtics tough in Boston only losing by five and beat the Bulls twice in a 6-day stretch. Paul Millsap is the wild card for homers because when he is active on the boards, the Jazz thrive. UTAH, 99 -90
LOUISVILLE (+4.5) over GEORGETOWN*
This short-rest Big Monday feature could shape up very favorably. The Ville’s solid enough that G-Town’s perimeter game doesn’t put much fear in our hearts. LOUISVILLE, 72-70