Last in a six-part series
Here's a key matchup to watch in Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and Steelers on Sunday:
Packers LOLB Clay Matthews vs. Steelers ORT Flozell Adams
Matthews, 23, garnered Defensive Player of the Year honors from Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America after a magnificent 2010 season. Matthews, whose career has quickly reached lofty heights — it is an oft-repeated story that he walked on at USC and wasn't a starter until his senior season in 2008 — notched 60 tackles and 13½ sacks in the regular season and has added 13 tackles and 3½ sacks in the Packers' three playoff wins leading up to Super Bowl XLV. He has recorded at least half a sack in all four of his career postseason contests.
The 6-3, 255-pound Matthews' quickness and effort define his game. He is frequently double-teamed, so it's not as if he's getting many free runs to the quarterback. If anything, there's some sentiment that he's best after contact with opposing blockers.
Packers OLB coach Kevin Greene, who was one of the top pass rushers of his generation in a career that spanned 15 seasons, admires Matthews' effort and approach to his craft.
"He is always going to be clawing, and he has just become a true student of the game," said Greene, who notched 160 sacks from 1985-99, leading up to Super Bowl XLV.
Matthews faced Adams last season and beat him for a sack in Green Bay's 17-7 win vs. Dallas. On the sack, Matthews rushed from a stand-up position and ran right by Adams, then the Cowboys' left tackle, taking down Dallas QB Tony Romo. The sack was Matthews' lone tackle of the game.
The Cowboys released Adams, 35, after the '09 season. The Steelers, needing a right tackle after Willie Colon suffered a season-ending injury during the summer, signed him in training camp, and he was quickly installed as the starter.
The right side has suited the 6-7, 338-pound Adams well. He has allowed fewer sacks than a season ago (6½, compared to eight, according to STATS LLC), and he has committed half as many penalties (12 in '09, six in '10, per STATS). He has cut down on his false-start penalties, committing just two this season after having been whistled for six in '09, according to STATS.
Expect the Steelers to run behind Adams, a good run blocker who has a significant size advantage on Matthews, at least a handful of times, and perhaps frequently. According to NFL statistics, Pittsburgh attempted 78 rushes off right tackle this season, fifth-most in the NFL. Those rushes gained 5.33 yards per attempt, second-best in the league, according to NFL statistics. The Packers have defended runs off right tackle well this season, allowing just 3.70 yards per carry, according to the league.
Matthews has the edge in quickness, Adams the edge in stoutness. It should make for some interesting one-on-one battles.
Continue to follow our coverage of Super Bowl XLV this weekend through our real-time coverage of the game and our postgame recap and analysis.