Just as past great Packers and Steelers teams have boasted defenses that dominated their opponents, so do the Packers and Steelers of Super Bowl XLV. Only now the young guns have taken over. The Steelers defensive line relies on James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Lamarr Woodley, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu. The Packers defense counters with Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Nick Collins, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. Both have come together just this season as injuries and attrition have forced a veritable ground-up rebuild since training camp.
Both offenses can score points, but it’s each team’s league-leading defense that keeps opponents off the field and out of the end zone. Because both defenses play the 3-4, each of the offenses is extremely familiar with the nuances of the 3-4 formation. This will put the pressure on defensive coordinators Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau to change it up and keep the opposing offenses off balance. This will be a game of cat and mouse. Both of these defense gurus will have to create a perfect game plan, but it will be up to the playmakers to take advantage of the situation.
The Steelers secondary on defense plays exactly how you would expect a Steelers defense to play: tough. While Polamalu leads the team with 7 interceptions, Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark all are tied for second on the team with 2 apiece. And they all are sure tacklers, with McFadden third on the team with 81. They do not give up many yards after the catch, and they make you earn every yard in the air.
A New Hope
The Packers defense is all about schemes, and the fact that defensive coordinator Dom Capers has two full weeks to develop a game plan should concern the Steelers. The Packers defensive secondary is as solid as they come in the NFL. Veteran Charles Woodson is used in so many different stunts/positions that teams have a hard time figuring out where he’s coming from. With 92 tackles, Woodson leads the team in forced fumbles with 5. Because of the caliber of play of Nick Collins and now Tramon Williams, the Packers are able to use Woodson in many different sets. As an undrafted rookie out of Lousiana Tech, Williams, in his fourth year in the NFL, has certainly blossomed under Dom Capers, leading the Packers with 6 interceptions.
Inarguably, another player who’s certainly come into his own this season is second year nose tackle B.J. Raji. He’s been living up to expectations since the Packers drafted him in the first round in 2009. Playing nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive scheme is a thankless job, but one of the most important. Stabilizing the point of attack is the main duty for this position, taking on two offensive linemen to allow the remainder of the defense to make the play. But Raji is much more than that, chasing down running backs, and sacking opposing quarterbacks 6.5 times during the regular season, not to mention his critical interception in the NFC Championship game. I loved his touchdown dance, by the way, but could’ve done without his holding the football out from the 10 yard line in.
But the Packers defensive super-weapon is Clay Matthews. The second year player out of USC comes from football lineage. He is an absolute beast. I have never seen a motor like his on anyone, ever: Matthews is non-stop from the moment he steps onto the playing field. He leads the team with 13.5 sacks to go along with his 60 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. The Steelers will need to know where he is on every play.
By the numbers
The Packers and Steelers have more than heritage in common. Check out some defensive numbers from the regular season:
- Points Given Up per Game – Packers 15.0, Steelers 14.0
- Yards Allowed per Game – Packers 309, Steelers 277
- Total Interceptions – Packers 24, Steelers 21
- Total Sacks – Packers 47, Steelers 48
- Total Defense Rank in NFL – Packers 5, Steelers 2