20

December

Packers Periscope: Week 16 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Past: I’ve mentioned notable games of the past in this series (the Ice Bowl, Aaron Rodgers dismantling of the Falcons in the 2010 divisional game), but perhaps the most important game in the last decade for the Packers was their win in Super Bowl XLV in 2010 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Not only did it cement quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ position as one of the NFL’s elite players but it also justified Ted Thompson’s 6 year “draft and develop” philosophy which brought the Packers back from a salary cap nightmare.  Fans will remember Clay Matthew’s “It is time” moment of stripping the ball away from Rashard Mendenhall which preserved a Packers 4 point lead in the 4th quarter, but perhaps the biggest defensive play came from defensive tackle Howard Green, who knocked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s pass into the arms of safety Nick Collins, who returned the ball for a touchdown and at least historically sealed away the fate of the Steelers right then (no team has gotten a interception returned for a touchdown and lost the Super Bowl).

Moving back further, the Steelers and Packers last regular season game occurred in 2009 which quickly became a shootout; Rodgers threw for an impressive 383 yards but Roethlisberger proved even more dangerous, finishing the game with an astonishing 503 yards.  It also marked the rise of Jermichael Finley, who moved from a up and coming player to a serious receiving threat, which would continue until his injury in 2010.

The Present: The Steelers have been effectively eliminated from the playoffs; the Cincinnati Bengals have run away with the AFC North and are almost definitely going to win the division this year.  Baltimore trails behind Cincinnati, but also has a shot at a wild card berth.  Pittsburgh unfortunately only is predicted to get in as a wildcard team .8% of the time according to Football Outsiders, effectively making this game more of a statement game more than anything else.  Furthermore, the Steelers have always been a very deliberate and conservative organization and the coaching staff has not been rumored to be on the hot seat, this game probably does not have much meaning to the Steelers, aside for maybe extracting some revenge against the Packers for their Super Bowl loss.

4

January

NFL Playoff Preview. A Wild Weekend is in the Cards

New York Giant Victor Cruz

Victor Cruz will be a lot for the Atlanta Falcons to handle

The Packers will face the Giants, Falcons or Lions on Jan. 15 in a divisional round playoff game at Lambeau Field. All three teams gave the Packers everything they could handle in regular season games, and lost.

Looking ahead to the divisional round, I expect one of these three teams to again give the Packers a helluva game…and lose.

All three teams present unique challenges for the Packers, but none have enough talent in the secondary to keep the Packers out of the end zone often enough to win.

But before we can focus in on who the Packers will face next week, the wild card round needs to be played. Here is a closer look at those matchups:

Saturday, January 7

AFC: 3:30 PM

Cincinnati at Houston (NBC)

Breakdown: Those of you that are sickened by the lack of defense in modern football should watch this game. Bengals QB Andy Dalton struggled in the second half of the season while the Texans were forced to turn things over to third-string QB T.J. Yates. Yates got the best of Dalton in an earlier matchup, but I think Dalton gets revenge this time around. The Bengals will win and snap the NFL’s longest stretch without a playoff victory (1990, wild-card round).

NFC: 7 PM

Detroit at New Orleans (NBC)

Breakdown: If the Lions couldn’t beat the Packers reserves, how are they going to beat the Saints in a road playoff game? They probably won’t, but when you can score like the Lions can, you’re never out of it. Detroit fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter when these two teams met earlier. The Lions have a knack for winning after falling behind, but you can’t screw around against a team like the Saints. If the Lions don’t come out swinging right away, they’ll get knocked down for good. The Saints win this one.

Sunday, January 8

NFC: Noon

Atlanta at Giants (FOX)

Breakdown: Here’s how the Giants fared after the bye week: Miami (W), at New England (W), at San Francisco (L), Philadelphia (L), at New Orleans (L), Green Bay (L), at Dallas (W), Washington (W), Jets (W), Cowboys (W). That’s a brutal stretch and the Giants survived to make the playoffs. The Falcons have won six of their final nine games, but only one win came against a team with a winning record.

28

September

Forget Passing Yards, NFL Needs New Stat to Measure Quarterbacks

Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rodgers... Passing StatsGregg Rosenthal of ProFootballTalk.com had a short post the other day arguing that passing yards have become the most overrated stat in the NFL.

Rosenthal is 100 percent correct.

After three weeks of play, there have been 33 300-yard passing games, by far the highest total through three weeks since 2009 (21).

I’ve Tweeted on a couple different occasions that every QB in the NFL might throw for more than 4,000 yards in 2011. My tongue was planted in cheek during those Tweets, but maybe it’s not that ridiculous of a statement after all. Every team in the league, with few exceptions, tries to throw the ball all over the field, even if their quarterback isn’t that good. And why not? You can’t touch a receiver past five yards and refs are always looking for a reason to call roughing the passer.

(Side note: How about the TEs in today’s NFL? You used to play DE or OLB if you were big, strong, tall and fast. Now you learn how to catch and play TE.)

Passing numbers are so inflated that you can no longer just look at a box score to determine if a quarterback had a good game. Even with Moneyball now a mainstream movie starring Brad Pitt, and the stats movement becoming more and more prevalent every day, it’s getting increasingly difficult to judge QBs on their passing numbers, specifically passing yards.

Nope, relying too heavily on stats to judge modern QBs isn’t going to cut it. You have to rely on what you see with your own eyes, then go to the stats to fill in the gaps.

For example, lets look at the Packers Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has excellent numbers this season: 917 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT and a 120.9 rating. If you just looked at Rodgers’ numbers, you would assume he’s having a good season, and you would be correct.

But what if you just looked at passing yards? Rodgers is ninth in the NFL in passing yards, behind guys like Matt Hasselbeck (932), Tony Romo (942) and Cam Newton (1,012). I hope in this day and age that most fans are savvy enough to look at more than just passing yards, but you know that there are still a lot of people that look at passing yards and make quick judgements.

9

February

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Super Bowl XLV Edition–World Champion Green Bay Packers

World Champion Green Bay Packers. The Vince Lombardi Trophy is back home.

Here we are, nearly a few days after the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 to win Super Bowl XLV and my feet are still nowhere near to touching the ground.

What a ride. After the 31-27 defeat at Foxboro to the New England Patriots that dropped the Packers to 8-6, things looked bleak. Aaron Rodgers was coming off his second concussion of the season and the defense, depleted by injuries, got burned in a shootout by one of the NFL’s best in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Some fans had doubt as to whether the team could win its last two regular season games to just make the postseason, let alone win 3 road playoff games to make it to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV. It seemed like the Packers, while they fought gallantly all year, would finally succumb to the ridiculous amount of injuries and start preparing for 2011.

After that game however, something magical happened.

Rodgers returned and rode a hot hand all the way to the MVP of the Super Bowl. The defense buckled down and different players rose to make plays on different occasions. Mike McCarthy fell into a zone with his playcalling and suddenly could do no wrong.

I thought this season was special with the Packers just making the playoffs. Now that they’ve won the Lombardi Trophy, the season qualifies as legendary and epic.

Before we look back on the season as a whole, let’s take one final look back at Super Bowl XLV in another edition of Game Balls and Lame Calls.

Game Balls

QB Aaron Rodgers

To borrow a line from CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman, Aaron Rodgers was “ballin’” during Super Bowl XLV en route to the game’s MVP award.

Despite his numbers being lower than they should have been due to some boneheaded drops by his receivers, Rodgers was locked in all day long throwing the ball with the pinpoint accuracy.

Rodgers gets a game ball for another reason as well. All week long, with national and international media present, he was asked multiple times about Brett Favre. Every day since the departure of Favre in 2008, Rodgers bit his lip and turned a question about Number 4 into a statement about the team.

3

February

Super Bowl XLV Preview Part Two: Steelers Offense Versus Packers Defense

Since we took a look at the Packers offense and Steelers defense the other day, let’s “do the Favre” and flip flop.

In part two, we’ll be looking at the matchup between Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers offense against Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers defense. While to some it may not be intriguing as the opposite matchup, this battle still obviously play a big role into which team walks away with the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.

Pittsburgh Steelers offense

Much like the Packers, most of the attention on the offensive side of the ball for the Steelers is focused on their quarterback.

Roethlisberger, who missed the first four games of the season due to a suspension for his alleged role in a potential sexual assault case, plays a game very similar to the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.

Oh, and with a couple notable differences: Big Ben is a bigger player and more powerful. Where Rodgers will burn you with pure finesse, Roethlisberger will beat you sheer power and brawn. In a situation where Rodgers will slide, Roethlisberger will barrel over a cornerback to get those precious few extra yards.

When you throw in the fact that he is a relative accurate quarterback, you find that Roethlisberger is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. He has won two Super Bowls already and will be trying for his third in seven years against the Packers on Sunday. I also don’t have to remind Packer fans that Big Ben is also the toughest in the clutch. If the Steelers have the ball down by less than a touchdown with only two minutes or so to play in the game, Packer Nation ought to be sweating bullets.

Aside from the Roethlisberger, the Steelers normally feature a very solid and powerful rushing attack. Rashard Mendenhall is a solid back, but isn’t nearly as explosive as former Steelers back Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. He faces a stiff challenge against the Packers rush defense on Sunday.

Another similarity between the Steelers and Packers offenses is that of the wide receiver position. Mike Wallace provides Roethlisberger’s deep threat while the physical Hines Ward is at his best in the middle of the field. Sounds a lot like Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, no?

29

January

Packers vs. Steelers in Super Bowl XLV – Get Ready for a Shootout

Roethlisberger and Rodgers are too good to be contained in Super Bowl XLV.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in points allowed this season. So why do I feel that Super Bowl XLV will be a shootout?

The biggest reason I’m leaning toward a total score that easily surpasses the current over/under of 45.5 is the quarterbacks. Both have something to prove. Ben Roethlisberger is already known as a big-time quarterback, but wants to reestablish himself after rape accusations tarnished his reputation. Aaron Rodgers took the next step up the quarterback ladder this postseason, but wants to get all the way to the top. The only way to do that is win a Super Bowl.

The speedy Packers receivers thrive indoors (besides the Lions game) and create matchup problems for any defense, even a defense as stout as the Steelers. The Packers receivers are overshadowing a talented Pittsburgh group, led by the scary-good Mike Wallace.

Both defenses showed cracks in their conference title games, especially in the secondary. The Packers left a few receivers open downfield in the first half, but were bailed out by Jay Cutler’s inaccuracy. Then the Bears third-string quarterback led a second-half rally by connecting on long passes to Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett. Mark Sanchez finished with a QB rating of 102.2 and threw for about 175 yards in the second half against the Steelers.

I just get the feeling that once both of these offenses ditch the run and start spreading the field (probably sometime early in the second quarter), we’re going to be in for an aerial show. Of course, there are several reasons why I am probably wrong:

  • Both team’s pass rushes can force any passing game off track. The Steelers will be especially vulnerable with four of their five opening day lineman injured.
  • Mike Wallace is “scary-good?” Huh? He had one catch for six yards against the Jets.
  • The Packers receivers thrive indoors? What? They couldn’t even reach the end zone against the Lions.
  • Neither team scored an offensive touchdown in the second half of their respective title games. Both quarterbacks didn’t even pass for 100 yards in the second half.

Did I just talk myself out of my shootout prediction…nah. These quarterbacks are too good and their receivers are too talented to be held under 20 points.