D-Gaps: defense may take backseat to QBs

January, 28, 2011
1/28/11
9:00
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As you’ve read here and elsewhere, Super Bowl XLV will match the league’s top two scoring defenses for just the fourth time and first since Super Bowl XVII (after the 1982 strike-shortened season).

The Green Bay Packers allowed 15.0 points per game during the regular season, the fewest since their Super Bowl season of 1996. The only team to allow fewer was the Pittsburgh Steelers (14.5), who now have led the NFL in scoring defense three times in the past seven seasons.

However, a look back at the last time these two teams played offers a note of caution to all those predicting a low-scoring game. Combining the regular season and playoffs, there have been more than 10,000 games played during the Super Bowl era (since 1966). In exactly one of them, opposing quarterbacks threw for at least 375 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. That was on December 20, 2009, as the Steelers stunned the visiting Packers 37-36 when Ben Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace in the end zone from 19 yards out on the game’s final play.

“Big Ben” finished the game with 503 passing yards, the 10th-highest single-game total in league history. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t bad either, piling up 383 yards to go with his three scores. While the second Roethlisberger-Rodgers matchup isn’t likely to produce the same type of offensive fireworks, it could give us a much higher-scoring Super Bowl than many are predicting.

Rookie sends Packers to Dallas
In a defensive backfield that includes 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson and Pro Bowler Tramon Williams, an undrafted rookie made the plays that clinched Green Bay’s fifth Super Bowl trip.

Sam Shields
Shields
In the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears, Sam Shields registered a sack, a forced fumble and a pair of interceptions, including the game-icing pick deep in Packers territory with less than a minute remaining. Shields is the first player with a sack, forced fumble and two interceptions in a postseason game since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Over the past 10 years, only two other players have posted that stat line in a regular-season game: Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Eric Warfield in Week 8 of 2003, and Woodson in Week 12 of 2009.

Steelers goal-line stand helped seal win
Is the criticism the New York Jets have faced for choosing to plunge into the middle of the league’s best run defense on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the AFC Championship Game appropriate?

During the regular season, Pittsburgh allowed opponents to convert on 75 percent (15-of-20) of running plays on third- and fourth-and-1, better than just seven NFL teams. On passing plays in those situations (including sacks), Steelers opponents converted only 54.5 percent (6-of-11) of the time, the 14th-lowest rate allowed by any defense.

Shonn Greene
Greene
So while the Jets' decision to keep the ball on the ground seems sound, they may have had the wrong player in the backfield. Over the past two seasons (including playoffs), Shonn Greene has moved the chains on 13 of 15 carries in third- and fourth-and-1 situations, the third-highest conversion rate (86.7 percent) among all running backs (minimum 10 carries). LaDainian Tomlinson, who was stoned at the goal line, has a conversion rate of 64.3 percent on such carries (9-of-14).

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