Super Bowl 2011 forecast: 60 minutes of chaos
Super Bowl 2011 features two defenses unrivaled at creating havoc and two quarterbacks uniquely equipped to handle it.
(Page 2 of 2)
But it is on the field where these mirror images could intertwine so intriguingly. Pittsburgh and Green Bay come in as Nos. 1 and 2 in quarterback sacks, as well as for fewest points allowed.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Steelers have linebacker James Harrison, a player who would probably play in a studded collar if the league would allow it. When the NFL announced midseason that it would start clamping down on violent hits, he briefly considered retirement. He is a wrecking ball in black and gold, an earthquake on two feet.
He is countered by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who was recently voted the Sporting News defensive player of the year because no one has yet devised how to stop him. He is a ball-seeking missile, attacking not so much with raw power but with the speed and elusiveness of a tailback, golden hair flying like a comet's tail.
Among other Packers-Steelers similarities: Steelers defensive back Troy Polamalu, whose freakish natural instincts have led him to leap an entire offensive line to sack the quarterback, finds a reflection in Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, who is perhaps the closest thing to a football bird of prey, blitzing the quarterback and picking off incautious passes.
"Both defenses come from the same family tree," says Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders, a website. They are fast and they are versatile, and that means they can be deployed in any number of mind-bogglingly bizarre ways.
For instance, in the decisive play of the NFC Championship game Jan. 23, the Packers had 337-pound nose tackle B.J. Raji drop back to cover receivers half his size and twice his speed. The sheer oddity of the decision confused the Chicago Bears quarterback, who never saw Raji and mistakenly threw the ball right to him.
Raji ran the interception back for a touchdown. The Packers won by those seven points.
In many ways, the Packers will meet their match in Roethlisberger. A behemoth of a quarterback at 6-foot 5-inches and 241 pounds, he often appears to be a Gulliver of the backfield, toting hapless defenders on his back as he shuffles around the pocket before at last heaving the ball downfield.
For his part, Rodgers is less monster-truck rally and more artful dodger, eluding trouble long enough for passing lanes to open downfield.
A year ago, this quarterback Oscar-and-Felix act resulted in one of the most remarkable games of the 2009 regular season: a 37-36 Steelers win, with Roethlisberger throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass on the game's final play.
It was, perhaps, a hint of things to come. "Both of these guys are really great after the play breaks down at making something out of nothing," Mr. Kaberon says. "Their improvisational skills will play a big factor."
Adds Mr. Tanier: "These two guys are going to do something truly different."