Re-Focused: Super Bowl XLV, Packers 31, Steelers 25

| February 7, 2011

So there we have it.

The Super Bowl, over. The season, finished. The Packers, World Champions.

And while it may have lacked that last-minute mayhem, it was quite some game. The heir to the Favre throne cemented his status with one of the truly great Super Bowl performances. The fallen hero unable to guide his Steelers to an improbable comeback. And just maybe a new dynasty born.

If you’re Pittsburgh you have to be kicking yourself. The turnovers. Wrong use of personnel on defense. Under the Super Bowl spotlight, they made these mistakes and it’s why they’ll end the season with what ifs.

But it was a fitting end to a great season, and the Packers proved themselves worthy champions. They overcame injuries, withstood the Steelers surge from an 18 point deficit and even had the luxury of taking a couple of knees before bringing the Lombardi Trophy home.

And Aaron Rodgers showed with little doubt that he was the best player of the 2010 season, flashing a +10.6 rating that was the best of the postseason and one of the best all year.

Packers: 3 Keys To Victory

Turnovers - All three of them turned into touchdowns. When you can do that and not turn the ball over yourself, you’re going to win games.

Dealing with the blitz – The Steelers got aggressive and Green Bay responded by moving the ball. The Packers were faced with the best of Blitzburgh on 66.67% of all offensive plays and turned it into 192 yards. They dealt with Dick LeBeau.

Character – It would have been easy for Green Bay heads to drop. Whether it be any one of the six dropped passes, or the gut-wrenching feeling that the Super Bowl was slipping away from them as Pittsburgh poured on 14 points in rapid fire. But they showed their character, overcoming injuries to two of their most experienced players (Charles Woodson and Donald Driver) and just kept on rebounding. This was summed up by the rollercoaster display of Jordy Nelson (-0.3) who dropped four passes, made one incredible catch, and made a key third-down completion on the Packers’ penultimate drive (directly after dropping a ball).

Steelers: 3 Explanations For Defeat

Personnel Decisions – And in particular where defenders were lining up. If you look at the second and third touchdowns the Packers scored (as well as the key third-down conversion Green Bay made to Jordy Nelson in the fourth) you’ll notice some things. Pittsburgh had the wrong men on the wrong guys, and the Packers exploited matchups on linebackers. Worse still was the left-sided corner blitz (that saw Bryant McFadden and William Gay blitz from the left to leave Nelson completely open to pick up 38 yards). At key moments the Steelers were outcoached and it undid some rather good play from their defense.

Big Name, Quiet Game – While we’d dispute the notion he was the Defensive Player of the Year, you won’t find us arguing about the importance of Troy Polamalu as a galvanizing, larger than life force on the field. He is big for the Steelers defense, just not in this game. Struggling in coverage and making just three tackles is more likely to causes gasps of shock than have a galvanizing effect.

Bad Decisions – We’re looking chiefly at the decision to try a field goal from 52 yards when your kicker barely looked like he could hit an extra point. Three points would have been big, but it was a pipe-dream from there. The loss of field position and ultimately time left the Steelers with too much to do.

Packers: Performances of note

Where else can you start? Aaron Rodgers (+10.6) did nearly everything right, even when those around him had their basic motor skills fail them. Rodgers threw the ball 38 times and threw only four bad passes. Just four. Wow. One overthrow, one bad decision, one underthrow and one throw behind his receiver. Everything else was pretty much on the money, including some of the most beautiful throws you’ll ever see. That’s what it takes to earn an MVP and win a Super Bowl.

If Aaron Rodgers cemented his reputation as the best offensive player of the post season, Tramon Williams (+3.7) matched him on defense. His game-clinching pick against Philadelphia and game-changing picks against Atlanta may live longer in highlight reels, but his all round play in the Super Bowl was key in the Packers winning. Williams made plays to break up third down plays, and fittingly ended the contest with his fourth down pass break up. Just keep him away from returning punts.

One guy who didn’t play so well? Charlie Peprah (-5.4). But how can that be…he had nine tackles, surely that indicates his impact? Well in a world where tackle counts reign supreme then perhaps. But back in the real world Peprah missed two tackles, was fortunate Big Ben overthrew Mike Wallace deep when he was wide open and was manhandled on at least three occasions by Hines Ward in run support (one so badly that he was practically thrown to the ground). So remember, tackles don’t mean everything (especially when you only make one that is a defensive stop).

Steelers: Performances of note

So where did it go wrong for the Steelers? Well if Chris Kemoeatu (-4.5) had a better game that would have helped and taken at least seven points off the board for the Packers. While the pull block that aided a TD was impressive lateral agility from a big man, it was one of only four positive plays we graded from Kemoeatu. How many negative plays? 13. His presence made Doug Legursky (-1.4) look positively brilliant by contrast. The most troubling thing is how much pressure he gave up, seeing his QB hit twice (including one that led to a Nick Collins touchdown) and pressured a further six times. If you can’t step up in the pocket life is going to get a lot harder as a quarterback.

We mentioned it earlier, and we’ll mention it again since it’s gone largely unnoticed. What a great day by Hines Ward (+5.2). He consistently got open, catching all seven of the balls thrown his way and bamboozling Jarrett Bush to pick up his TD. More so Ward lived up to his (at times overhyped) run blocking reputation. He had four big blocks on the Packers safeties and really assisted the perimeter running of the Steelers.

A last word saved for Ben Roethlisberger (+6.1). There was a feeling all his trials and tribulations had led to the moment where, down six points, he would lead the Steelers to a famous victory. But it wasn’t to be. His first interception can be attributed to his guard getting him hit, but his second one was a poor decision by anyone’s standards. More troubling was the missed opportunity deep to Mike Wallace, as in a game of this magnitude, small margins like that make the difference. Outside of this Big Ben was practically perfect, making a number of superb throws that made a comeback possible. On a different day it would have been enough to win, but on Super Bowl Sunday, he was outplayed by his Packer counterpart.

Rookie Watch

They’re hardly rookies anymore, but the Packer first-year players struggled. Bryan Bulaga (-3.2) had a tough day with LaMarr Woodley getting the better of him. He gave up a hit and five QB pressures … Running back James Starks spent almost as many snaps pass blocking (11) as running (12) … Jermichael Finley he may not be, but Andrew Quarles (+0.0) would have had a more impressive day if he wasn’t the victim of one of Rodgers poor throws … Sam Shields (-4.0) left the game and came back in late on. He shouldn’t have as he missed a tackle and got beat for a TD … Even though he picked up a sack, Frank Zombo (-3.8) was largely ineffective and had some issues in coverage.

Steeler receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were non factors. Sanders was injured while Brown showed his lack of experience and playing time, failing to work from the same page as Roethlisberger on more than one occasion.

Random Notes

Aaron Rodgers’ grade was the highest of the postseason … All of Big Ben’s balls thrown over 20 yards (five of them) were thrown to the left side of the field.

  • ncoolong

    You mentioned LaMarr Woodley, but more in reference to Bryan Bulaga. I feel he should have been mentioned right up there with Ward as far as big performances from the Steelers. You gave him a big grade, which he deserved, but I think he was the most outstanding Steelers player. He dominated Bulaga from the start of that game, and the rookie smartly held him on a few plays that, had he not, could have ended up in Matt Flynn’s first Super Bowl appearance.

    • Nathan Jahnke

      We agree that Woodley had a very good performance, it was his highest rated game of the year.