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Saturday, February 5, 2011
Key matchups to watch


It's time to once again sift through all the Super Bowl hoopla and get down to the nitty-gritty -- who has the advantage on Sunday. Big Ben versus the Packers' secondary? The Packers' offensive line versus the Steelers' defensive line? These and other key battles will determine whether Pittsburgh or Green Bay hoists the Lombardi trophy come Sunday night.

Steelers' defensive line versus Packers' offensive line: The 2010 Steelers' line is Steel Curtain redux, leading the league in several categories including sacks (48) and rushing yards allowed (62.8). There are several potential mismatches in the Steelers' favor here, most notably Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga on Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, and Packers left tackle Chad Clifton trying to hold off all-world OLB James Harrison. Packers running backs James Starks and John Kuhn have shown explosiveness, but it's going to take QB Aaron Rodgers picking apart the blitz to contain these guys. Advantage: Steelers.

Packers' defensive line versus Steelers' offensive line: While the Steelers may have the league's best defensive line, the Packers are a close second with 47 sacks and an intense linebacker named Clay Matthews. (Ever hear of him?) The Steelers already had a feeble line, and now it gets worse with the news that rookie center Maurkice Pouncey is officially out due to injury. Backup Doug Legursky will have a tough time with the Packers' 340-pound nose tackle, B.J. Raji. Advantage: Packers.

Aaron Rodgers/Packers' passing game versus Steelers' secondary This is the matchup that should make Packers fans most relaxed heading into Sunday. Sure, the Steelers will likely try their usual zone blitz, but demolishing blitzes is Rodgers' specialty. And while Steelers safety Troy Polamalu can cover deep or run corner blitzes, cornerback Ike Taylor and the rest of the Steelers' secondary will have a hard time keeping up with Rodgers' precise passing. Advantage: Packers.

Ben Roethlisberger/Steelers' passing game versus Packers' secondary I already discussed Charles Woodson's hybrid abilities in this six players to watch piece, but the key matchup is Packers cornerback Tramon Williams versus Steelers wideout Mike Wallace. Wallace is faster than a speeding bullet, but Williams is having a tremendous year and is on fire in the playoffs with three picks. Big Ben, who will be pressured often, can be clutch (especially on third downs), but he may just have difficulty navigating this top-5 secondary. Advantage: Packers.

Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians versus Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers: Remember five years ago when Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El threw a 43-yard touchdown to Hines Ward to help solidify a Super Bowl XL victory? Well, after a four-year stint in Washington, Randle El is back with the Steelers and perhaps ready for some more trickery. Arians, the coordinator in both of the Steelers' recent Super Bowl victories, is known for the trick play, particularly in big games. But Capers is a mastermind himself and has the solid players on defense to take advantage of such game-playing. Advantage: Steelers (barely).