About the Author
Recent posts by Mike Wilkening
Second in a six-part series
Here’s a look at a key matchup heading into the Super Bowl XLV showdown between the Packers and Steelers Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Packers' wide receivers vs. Steelers' cornerbacks
Here is a matchup that could define the 45th Super Bowl game.
The Steelers' defense doesn't have many weaknesses, but its ability to handle a strong passing game with several capable targets is somewhat questionable. To wit: Saints QB Drew Brees (34-of-44 passing, 305 yards, two TDs, one interception) and Patriots QB Tom Brady (30-of-43 passing, 350 yards, three TDs, no interceptions) successfully attacked the Pittsburgh pass defense in two of Pittsburgh's four losses this season.
And, of course, we only have to look back to the recent past to find an instance of the Packers riddling the Steelers' defense with the pass, too. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers completed 26-of-48 passes for 383 yards and three TDs in Green Bay's 37-36 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 20, 2009. Three Green Bay wideouts — Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson — accumulated 71 yards receiving or more in that game, and James Jones added a 24-yard TD catch.
Look for the Packers to put Rodgers back in the shotgun formation and spread the field with those wideouts. The approach has several benefits. For starters, Rodgers operates so well from this formation. Secondly, it can potentially afford him a little more time and space to deal with the Steelers' imposing pass rush.
Thirdly — and perhaps most importantly — the Steelers aren't particularly deep at cornerback. Their best corner, Ike Taylor, lines up on the left side. At his best, he can play with the league's best. Tough, physical, rangy and fast, he's an underrated performer.
However, the Steelers have concerns at the other CB spots. RCB Bryant McFadden is a solid starter, but he's been bothered by an abdominal injury recently. Their third cornerback, William Gay, is best in a nickel role. Anthony Madison, the fourth cornerback in the pecking order, is primarily a special-teams standout, and if he's on the field much, the Packers could go after him. The same would be true if second-year pro Keenan Lewis, a corner in the mold of Taylor but a prospect still coming into his own, is forced into action.
The Packers' WR corps has had an exceptional postseason. Jennings is the standout, possessing the speed to get deep and the quickness and elusiveness to be dangerous after the catch. Rodgers connected with him on an 83-yard TD in the last meeting between the teams. On the play, Jennings, who was lined up in the left slot in a four-WR set, drew ILB Lawrence Timmons in coverage and ran right by him. When Steelers S Tyrone Carter couldn't tackle Jennings, he made Pittsburgh pay, scoring Green Bay's first TD of the game.
Tough and sure-handed, Driver still remains a capable performer in his own right. Were Jennings and Driver where the opposition's problems stopped, the Packers' passing game might be containable, while still not exactly a pleasure to defend. However, Jones and Nelson are tough covers, too. Both can get deep, and both can make the difficult catch look routine.
What a test this will be for the Steelers' corners. That said, the Steelers' pass defense was much better in the second half of the regular season. Besides, any analysis of the Packers' passing game against Pittsburgh's efforts to stop the pass must include a mention of the playmaking SS Troy Polamalu, who will have had two weeks to rest an injured Achilles, as well as Pittsburgh's robust pass rush. Of course, Packers observers will surely note that the Steelers, in addition to having a world of problems with Green Bay's wideouts in the last meeting, struggled to stop TE Jermichael Finley. With Finley out for the season because of a knee injury, replacement Andrew Quarless has made some plays in his absence, although he clearly doesn't possess the skills of Finley.
In short, there are no shortage of compelling story lines in this key matchup.
Wednesday's matchup of the day: Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. Packers' linebackers
Follow our coverage of Super Bowl happenings and a preview of the big game all week long, with news, analysis, commentary and timely videos.