NFL’s storied franchises face off in Super Bowl XLV

Defense wins championships.

The phrase has been slung around for quite a long time. While not a perfect method of prediction, the saying does act as a good barometer for success.

Just use this year as an example.

As the high-scoring NFL juggernauts, like the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, sit at home, the NFL’s two top defenses, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, will play for the Super Bowl.

So which monster defense will claim the championship?

Throughout the regular season and playoffs, the Steelers and Packers treated quarterbacks like ragdolls, collecting 48 and 47 sacks, respectively. Both teams employed creative blitz packages and defensive studs like James Harrison and Clay Matthews to constantly disrupt opposing offenses.

When teams tried to take pressure off of the quarterback by running the ball, Pittsburgh would have none of it. The Steelers posted a ridiculous 62.8 rushing yards per game, best in the NFL by almost 30 yards. The Packers, meanwhile, were in the middle of the pack, giving up 114.9 rushing yards a game.

Green Bay made up for the average run stopping with stellar pass defense. The Pack allowed 194.2 yards per game through the air, picking off opposing quarterbacks 24 times with the help of arguably the NFL’s best cornerback duo, Tramon Williams and last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson.

The Steelers allowed 214.1 passing yards per game, collecting an impressive 21 interceptions. Of course, when it comes to the Pittsburgh secondary, all eyes are on newly anointed DPOY Troy Polamalu, who constantly threatens to make game-changing plays.

Defensively, Pittsburgh and Green Bay are strikingly similar. So, perhaps deciding a winner shouldn’t be decided by who the better of two superb defenses is, but which team is better suited to weather a strong storm of blitzes.

One surprising item about the teams in Super Bowl XLV is that both of them feature relatively weak offensive lines. Green Bay, which until the emergence of rookie James Starks, normally stuck with the passing game as the rushing attack didn’t always pan out in short yardage, with the exception of the bulldozing John Kuhn.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw his pass coverage improve over the year, but still got sacked 31 times in the regular season.

Rashard Mendenhall had a surprisingly good year, given the lack of depth and talent on the Pittsburgh front, for which the third-year running back deserves a fair amount of praise.

The Steelers’ offensive line has outperformed itself this season, mainly because of Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey’s stellar first season. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the lone shining light on the offensive front is likely to miss the Super Bowl with a high ankle sprain, despite the rookie’s insistence that he’ll play, really damaging an already thin group.

Even with the better-than-expected play, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was actually sacked more times than Rodgers – 32 to 31 – in three fewer games.

With both suspect offensive lines facing high-octane, blitzing defenses, which quarterback will be able to make enough plays to bring home a ring?

In a battle of Rodgers versus Roethlisberger, Rodgers owns the regular-season advantage in QB rating, touchdowns, receivers and running ability. Roethlisberger, however, has extensive Super Bowl experience and an uncanny ability to escape from the clutches of extremely large men.

Normally, the prognosticator would err on the side of what’s been proven. However, Rodgers has been the hottest quarterback in this year’s playoffs. Even after replacing a legend in what seemed like no time at all, Rodgers is still proving to fans that he is, indeed, the real deal.

After Feb. 6, Rodgers won’t need to wrangle any more doubters to his side.

Green Bay 24 – Pittsburgh 23.

ALEX BIELER

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