Originally Published: February 4, 2011

Sunday Countdown: Your weekly NFL guide

Weekly Picks

Mike DitkaKeyshawn JohnsonCris CarterTom Jackson
Pittsburgh @ Green BayPackersSteelersSteelersPackers
Conference championship Record1-11-11-11-1
More picks: Experts' picks | Mike & Mike | SportsNation: Pick SB XLV

Countdown Confidential

By Ed Werder

Rodgers safe from harm? Twice this season, Green Bay quarterack Aaron Rodgers has suffered concussions, and the Packers have suffered the consequences.

They are 0-3 this season in games in which Rodgers suffered a concussion or was unable to play because of one. Their Super Bowl challenge is protecting Rodgers from James Harrison -- whose illegal hits, many to the head, have made him the NFL's most heavily fined player (13).

[+] Enlarge
Kim Klement/US PresswireContaining James Harrison is a daunting challenge for the Packers' offensive line.

"I don't think he's out there to knock guys out of games or give them concussions or injuries,'' Packers rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "I mean, that's not what it's about. He's a physical player. He wants to inflict a little pain on people.''

Rodgers has spent a lot of time in his hotel room at night watching tape of the Steelers' defense. Much of his pre-snap attention will be used to determine where safety Troy Polamalu and Harrison will be positioned and whether they will be used to pressure or drop into coverage. Harrison is one of three NFL Defensive Player of the Year winners who will be on the field Sunday. Harrison has proven his big-play ability in Super Bowls.

"I'm glad it's Chad Clifton's job and not mine,'' guard Daryn Colledge said of stopping Harrison. "That's not a guy you want to be facing every day. That's a hard job.''

Clifton agreed

"[Harrison] comes into each and every game looking to impose his will on people, to dominate the offense, so my work is cut out for me, no doubt,'' Clifton said.

While refraining from making accusations, the Packers have not deluded themselves into believing the Steelers want Rogers to finish the Super Bowl against them.

"I doubt they do,'' Bulaga said. "But I think it's more than saying we want somebody to get hurt, hurt. Nobody wants somebody to get hurt. But I'm sure they wouldn't mind it.''

Wide receiver Greg Jennings said he hopes Harrison will think about the $100,000 in fines he's accumulated this year before lowering his helmet against the Packers.

"Think about the fines,'' Jennings pleaded. "Definitely tell him to think about the fines so he can let up a little bit.''

Harrison made few plays and drew no fines when Rodgers threw for 383 yards against the Steelers in a Green Bay loss last season. Clifton handled Harrison so well in that game that if anybody would have fined the Steelers' most feared player it would have been Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Super Bowl XLV: Number Crunching

By Aaron Schatz, FootballOutsiders.com

Steelers vs. Packers, Sunday, 6:29 p.m. ET

It's hard to think of a better and closer Super Bowl matchup than this one. The Pittsburgh Steelers finished second overall in the Football Outsiders ratings this season, while the Green Bay Packers were third. Pittsburgh also led the league in defense, with Green Bay second. And Green Bay led the league in pass defense, with Pittsburgh second. (You can learn more about the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings here.)

The biggest difference between the two teams is run defense, in which Green Bay was only average and Pittsburgh led the league. The Steelers allowed an absurdly low 3.0 yards per carry and just 2.8 yards per carry on first down. (Green Bay, by comparison, allowed 4.9 yards per carry on first down.) You may have read a lot of reasons why the Packers might want to spread things out and use a pass-heavy game plan -- the game is on turf, Aaron Rodgers is red hot, the Steelers cornerbacks are not the strength of their defense -- but the biggest reason why Green Bay wants to pass the ball -- by far -- is that running against the Steelers will likely prove fruitless. The Packers need to run a couple times to keep the Steelers defense honest, but not much more.

It may even make sense to take to the air in short-yardage situations, because Green Bay only converted runs in those situations 55 percent of the time (25th in the NFL) and Pittsburgh allowed a conversion rate of just 59 percent (10th).

(Lest you protest that James Starks has brought a new dimension to Green Bay's running game in the postseason, I will mention that Starks is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry on first downs and really has not played well since the first game of the playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles.)

Green Bay should make sure to leave in extra protection against the Pittsburgh pass rush, particularly on first downs. Green Bay's adjusted sack rate on offense (sacks per pass play, adjusted for situation and opponent) went from 6.0 percent in Weeks 1-9 to 8.7 percent in Weeks 10-17. The Green Bay offense and the Pittsburgh defense have a significantly higher sack rates on first down than on second or third down.

• More Packers-Steelers: Intel Report | Madden Sim

More Super Bowl XLV analysis from Football Outsiders Insider


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?