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Super Bowl XLV matchup of the day: Thursday

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Recent posts by Mike Wilkening

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Posted Feb. 03, 2011 @ 9:08 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a key matchup to watch in Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and Steelers on Sunday.

Steelers OLBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley vs. Packers OTs Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga

Harrison and Woodley form one of the NFL's top OLB tandems playing in a 3-4 scheme. Both are outstanding pass rushers and run defenders. Also, both are capable in pass coverage as well. Woodley has a pair of interceptions this season, and Harrison authored one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history two seasons ago when he dropped into coverage, intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown against Arizona. 

The 6-foot, 242-pound Harrison had an exceptional 2010 season, notching 100 tackles and 10½ sacks. In the postseason, he has added 14 tackles and three more sacks, with all of the QB take-downs coming in the second half of Pittsburgh's comeback victory vs. Baltimore in the divisional round. Powerful and explosive, the 32-year-old Harrison, who did not become a full-time starter until 2007, can throw a passing game off rhythm.

However, in the Steelers' last meeting with the Packers back in December 2009, Harrison notched just one assisted tackle and no sacks. The 6-5, 320-pound Clifton will draw the assignment of blocking Harrison in the Super Bowl. Clifton, who allowed 8½ sacks this season, according to STATS LLC, has drawn his share of tough matchups in the past, and his experience will serve him well against one of the NFL's top defensive players. The 34-year-old Clifton has 165 career starts (including playoffs). 

On the other side, Bulaga's charge is slowing Woodley, 26, who has recorded at least one sack in all six postseason appearances and has 10 career playoff sacks. He notched four tackles and half a sack vs. Green Bay in 2009 and finished with 10 sacks in the '10 regular season. Bulaga is athletic, but the 6-2, 265-pound Woodley's power could present problems for him. The 6-5, 314-pound Bulaga allowed 11 regular-season sacks per STATS LLC. The former Iowa star does not turn 22 until March. 

Trying to block Woodley in the running game is a challenge, too. Teams averaged just 3.02 yards running off right tackle against Pittsburgh in the regular season, according to NFL statistics. They had even less success attacking off left tackle, averaging 2.76 yards per carry. The Packers averaged 3.78 yards on right-tackle rushes and 4.13 yards on runs off left tackle in the regular season.  

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