By Mo Nuwwarah, Opinion Editor
Two of the NFL’s most storied franchises will clash on Sunday in Arlington, Texas in Super Bowl XLV.
Either the Pittsburgh Steelers will cement their status as the NFL’s premier franchise by adding a record seventh title or the Green Bay Packers will capture their fourth championship.
The 2010 teams each have a lot in common.
Pittsburgh’s second-ranked defense is the latest in a long line of great Steeler units. In the 1970’s, the Steelers’ famed “Steel Curtain” led the team to four championships. Then in 2008 the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh’s strategy on defense is clear. They force opponents to be one-dimensional by taking away their rushing game. They have done this more effectively than all but two defenses in the modern era, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Pittsburgh gave up just 62.8 yards per game on the ground, an average that would make even the Steel Curtain of yesteryear green with envy. By comparison, this year’s second-best rush defense, the Chicago Bears’, allowed 90.1 yards per game.
Intimidation plays a major role in the Steelers’ game plan. Receivers who dare to cross the middle of the field often pay a price, most notably in the form of linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu.
The Packers are no slouches on defense either, ranking fifth in the NFL at 309.1 yards allowed per game during the regular season. They specialize in making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks, starting with linebacker Clay Matthews’ 13.5 sacks. He also added 3.5 sacks in the playoffs.
The Packer secondary led the NFL in pass efficiency defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to a mere 67.2 passer rating against them. Cornerback Tramon Williams led the unit with six interceptions. Safety Nick Collins added four picks, and Green Bay’s 24 total ranked second in the league. The opportunistic Packers have picked off six more passes in the playoffs, including three by Williams.
Another similarity between the Packers and Steelers is on offense, as playmaking quarterbacks lead both teams.
Aaron Rodgers is well on his way to a possible Hall-of-Fame career, following in the footsteps of two Packer greats. Bart Starr won the first two Super Bowls with MVP honors and had his number retired before being enshrined in Canton. Brett Favre, before he became known for waffling on retirement decisions, broke most major passing records playing for the Packers, won a Super Bowl of his own, and is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Rodgers ranked third in the NFL with a 101.2 passer rating in the regular season. He completed 65.7 percent of his passes while throwing for 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the playoffs, the third-year starter has stepped his game up a notch, posting a 109.2 passer rating while completing over 70 percent of his passes. Rodgers has also shown good athleticism, scrambling for two touchdowns and several key first downs in the playoffs. He also chased down Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher after throwing an interception, saving a touchdown on a play which many quarterbacks would have given up or been unable to catch up.
Ben Roethlisberger returned from an early-season suspension to toss 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His quarterback rating of 97 ranked fifth in the league.
However, Big Ben has struggled a bit in the playoffs, completing just 56.9 percent of his passes and throwing two picks along with his two touchdowns. He’s also been sacked eight times. These struggles can be partially attributed to facing the Jets and Ravens, two of the league’s best defenses, in his two games. When his team needed him most, Roethlisberger came through in both games, completing two late third-down passes to put away the Jets and throwing for 70 yards on two passes in the go-ahead drive against the Ravens. That kind of clutch play will be key if Roethlisberger hopes to match Steeler icon Terry Bradshaw’s record four Super Bowl wins.
Sunday’s battle between two of the NFL’s greatest franchises appears to be a closely matched contest on paper, featuring two suffocating defenses and a pair of excellent quarterbacks.
Whether the Steelers capture their third Super Bowl since 2005 or Aaron Rodgers begins writing his own championship legacy, new chapters will be written Sunday in two storied NFL histories.