The number seven is Steeler Nation‘s new favorite numeral. When the clock strikes midnight on Sunday (making it officially February 7th), number seven Ben Roethlisberger, in his seventh professional season, will have led the Pittsburgh Steelers to an unprecedented seventh Super Bowl championship.
In the spirit of good sportsmanship, I reached out to Monty over at the excellent Green Bay Packers website Total Packers.Com. Naturally, we agreed to exchange seven questions in anticipation of Super Bowl XLV. My questions are in the little gray box with the quote marks, his answers in Green Bay Green.
"Your team has impressive wins over many quality teams this season but they also lost to the Patriots as well as the lowly Lions and Redskins. Any common threads we can take from those losses?"
The common thread in the Patriots and Lions losses is the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers.
He only played one half against Detroit because of a concussion and didn’t play at all against New England for the same reason. I suspect those outcomes may have been different had Rodgers been in the game.
That being said, if you look at the rest of the Packers losses — all of which were by four points or fewer — there are some common threads.
The Packers Achilles’ heal is special teams. They have a knack for giving up big returns and Mason Crosby has a knack for missing big field goals.
For most of the season, the Packers were also bad in short-yardage situations. Over the latter 1/3 of the season and the playoffs, John Kuhn and James Starks have helped correct that problem, though.
"Last year, I know your offensive line was leakier than a computer at the Pentagon. How would you evaluate their performance this year?"
The line gets a lot of credit for protecting Aaron Rodgers this season and rightfully so.
Green Bay was 19th in sacks allowed this season, with 38. That’s not great, but it’s a big improvement over the league-leading 51 they gave up last season.
While they were adequate in the passing game, the Packers offensive line was terrible in the running game. Left tackle Chad Clifton is a liability as a run blocker and left guard Daryn Colledge isn’t much better. Center Scott Wells is average. If and when the Packers run, look for them to run right more often than not. Their strength in the running game is right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
Overall, the Packers offensive line isn’t terrible, but they are below average. Rodgers’ ability and Mike McCarthy’s play calling disguise their deficiencies.
"Relatedly, Rodgers got smacked around like Charlie Sheen and a hotel room full of hookers. A-Rod also missed some time this season. Talk about his health and ability to play through injuries."
As I mentioned earlier, Rodgers missed a game and half with a concussion — his second of the season.
I know if it were up to him, he would have played against New England, but the Packers were cautious with him. They should be. He’s the franchise.
Since the concussion, Rodgers has made a concerted effort to take fewer hits when running. He’s also wearing a specially-designed helmet that’s supposed to decrease the likelihood of getting a concussion.
There was some question as to whether he suffered another concussion against Chicago when Julius Peppers hit him helmet-to-helmet, but he’s shown no sign of injury.
At this point, there’s no reason to believe he’s not 100 percent and I expect they’ll have to scrape him off the field with a shovel for him not to finish the Super Bowl. After all, we’re not talking about Jay Cutler here.
"We know about your big three of Rodgers, Driver, and Jennings. If one lesser known offensive player was going to surprise us in the Super Bowl, who would it be?"
Receivers James Jones and Jordy Nelson.
The Packers best bet to win the game is to spread the Steelers out because their passing game is superior to Pittsburgh’s secondary.
As a No. 3 receiver, Jones can beat any nickel back in the league and as a No. 4, Nelson can beat any dime back. Both have the speed to break the big play and they’re playing in conditions that give them a big advantage over defenders.
"In a similar vein, we know about Cheesehead Fabio (Clay Matthews), Charles Woodson, and BJ Raji. Who could be a surprise hero on defense?"
Cornerback Tramon Williams has been lights out in the playoffs.
He sealed the Packers victory over the Eagles with an interception. He intercepted Matt Ryan twice in the divisional round and returned one for a touchdown, which essentially ended the game at halftime.
Williams also developed into the Packers and one of the league’s best cover corners, this season. And yes, I do know Charles Woodson plays on the other side. Williams is close to being mentioned in the same breath as Darrelle Revis when it comes to shutdown corners.
"Speaking of the D, how is Woodson still playing at such a high level at that age? I’d have to think Bruce Arians would like to get him matched up with Mike Wallace at some point."
Charles Woodson had more natural athletic ability than just about any football player I’ve ever seen to begin with, so it makes sense he should be able to play at a high level longer than most guys.
Beyond that, Woodson studies film non-stop. He knows the game and he knows his opponent.
It also helps that Dom Capers is the Packers defensive coordinator. Capers knows how to utilize Woodson’s talents and consistently puts him in place to make plays.
"Obligatory prediction for the game:"
Everything being equal, the Packers spread the Steelers out like the New England Patriots did during the regular season and win handily. Of course, everything isn’t equal. These Steelers have been to the Super Bowl before. These Packers haven’t. I don’t expect a Mike McCarthy team to get distracted, but experience counts for something — or so the media keeps telling me.
Packers 28, Steelers 20