Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011
By John Mullin
The Super Bowl has had its high points in drama, ranging from the St. Louis Rams stopping the Tennessee Titans a yard short of a goal line to David Tyree making a fourth-down Velcro catch against his helmet for the New York Giants to sustain a winning drive over the New England Patriots.
And it has had its other, well, games, events where the only drama was settling on a final score in a contest won by double-digit margins. Of the last 10 Super Bowls, five have been decided by 11 points or more, including three of the last five.
But when the two best defenses in football against scoring (Pittsburgh No. 1, Green Bay No. 2) are on the field, chances rise exponentially for a smash-mouth game likely to be decided by one play, whether due to excellence or forced error, in the final 5 minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in their third Super Bowl in the past six years, all behind Ben Roethlisberger, who will assume his spot among the games elite quarterbacks past and present regardless of outcome. The Green Bay Packers were in the NFC Championship in 2007, Brett Favres last game as a Packer, but have been in the playoffs two of their three seasons behind Aaron Rodgers.
The Steelers command the high ground of experience with Roethlisberger, but Rodgers has played significantly better in playoff games than in regular-season games, the hallmark of a great quarterback.
And the hallmark of a great defense is playing to its strength, which the Steelers do, regardless of quarterback.
Our game plan never changes, said safety and defensive player of the year Troy Polamalu. Its always about applying pressure. Its about tackling after the catch. You know Rodgers receivers are going to get the ball because hes such an efficient quarterback. Tackle the guys and then not give up big plays and not let the ball get over our heads.
Games between two good teams are the most difficult to assess. Both can play to their levels, which usually guarantees something close. Or ones strength takes away one element or enough of the others to put distance between the two on the scoreboard.
That could happen Sunday but elite defenses are rarely trampled and the guess here is that wont happen to either Green Bays or Pittsburghs. Ironically, the last time the two teams faced each other was in late 2009 when Pittsburgh defeated Green Bay in the final tick of the clock when Ben Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace on a 19-yard touchdown pass for a 37-36 win.
I think defensively, based on watching their body of work throughout the season, and I know firsthand that our defense has improved, so with that, their defense has improved, said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. I look for the defenses to impact this game more than they did in last years game.
Indeed, the only offenses to put major points on the Packers since October were New England and Atlanta, and Pittsburgh isnt in the firepower class with either. The Steelers were burned for 39 by the Patriots, then 24 by Baltimore and 19 by the Jets in the playoffs but are still the NFLs best at keeping numbers off scoreboards.
The Packers were No. 2 in the NFL in points differential and this is the tipping point, so to speak. The Steelers have the defensive base to pressure Aaron Rodgers out of a comfort zone and game plan but the big-play potential in the Green Bay offense rates the edge over the Rashard Mendenhall power-running option in the end.
Green Bay 17 Pittsburgh 16
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.