The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers square off in Super Bowl 45 in Dallas on Sunday and both teams are finally ramping up final preparations. The Steelers and Packers, just saying the names harkens back to a different time, to the history of the NFL. The Packers won the first two Super Bowls, the Steelers have won six Vince Lombardi Trophies, which are named for the legendary Packers head coach.
We'll start breaking down the match-ups of Super Bowl XLV, starting with a look at the Green Bay Packers offense against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense:
GREEN BAY PACKERS OFFENSE
Packers Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (3922 passing yards, 28 TD, 11 INT) had already cemented himself among this era's elite regular-season quarterbacks by averaging over 4,100 passing yards and nearly 29 touchdowns in his three years as Brett Favre's successor, but the 27-year-old has proven himself to be a big- time performer in the postseason as well. In four career playoff tilts, the former first-round pick has thrown for 10 scores and amassed a stellar 113.0 passer rating, the highest in NFL history among signal-callers with at least 100 attempts. Rodgers also easily navigated Pittsburgh's accomplished defense in the previously-mentioned 2009 meeting at Heinz Field, throwing for 383 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers in a 37-36 Green Bay loss.
Packers Running Backs: The 6-foot-2, 218-pound James Starks (101 rushing yards) offers a tantalizing combination of power and speed to the Packers' backfield and fresh legs as well, having been given only 29 regular-season carries prior to his vastly-increased role in the playoffs. The rookie's emergence has rendered leading rusher Brandon Jackson (703 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 4 total TD) into a supporting capacity, with the fourth-year pro's primary duty to serve as a receiving outlet for Rodgers in third-down situations. Also in the mix is John Kuhn (281 rushing yards, 6 total TD), a versatile 250-pounder and one-time Steeler who also possesses solid pass-catching skills and is often utilized in short yardage, as well as a co-lead blocker along with squatty fullback Quinn Johnson in McCarthy's creative three-back sets.
Packers Wide Receivers: The Packers boast possibly the deepest collection of wideouts in the league, with the excellent foursome of Greg Jennings (76 receptions, 1265 yards, 12 TD), Donald Driver (51 receptions, 4 TD), Jordy Nelson (45 receptions, 2 TD) and James Jones (50 receptions, 5 TD) all surpassing 500 receiving yards during the regular season. Jennings ranks as the dangerous deep threat of the bunch and scorched the Steelers for 118 yards and a touchdown in last year's bout between the teams, while the 35-year-old Driver is a savvy veteran who gives Rodgers a tremendously reliable option out of the slot. Jones is the most inconsistent of the group, having struggled with drops at times, but his 15.7 yards per reception average and two touchdowns during the playoffs shows he still must be accounted for.
Packers Tight Ends: The tight end hasn't been a big part of the Green Bay passing game since field-stretcher Jermichael Finley was forced to injured reserve after undergoing knee surgery in mid-October. Rookie Andrew Quarless (21 receptions, 1 TD) has been serviceable as a starter, though, and practice- squad promotee Tom Crabtree contributes as both a blocker and core special teamer.
Packers Offensive Line: Green Bay will attempt to combat a ferocious Pittsburgh pass rush with a sturdy and seasoned front wall that deems pass protection as its strength. The five-man contingent is headlined by steady left tackle Chad Clifton, who's started 164 times (including playoffs) since being taken by the Green and Gold in the second round of the 2000 draft and earned a second career Pro Bowl nod this year. Many insiders believed Josh Sitton deserved the same distinction after putting together a banner season at right guard, and he anchors a sound interior cast that also contains trusted mainstays Scott Wells (center) and Daryn Colledge (left guard), both of whom have locked into their present positions since 2006. The newbie of the corps is rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga, a first-round selection who's gradually began to justify his lofty draft status after replacing injured vet Mark Tauscher after the season's fourth game. The Packers did a very good job of keeping Rodgers upright in last season's skirmish with the Steelers, allowing only one sack in 49 pass attempts.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS DEFENSE
Steelers Defensive Line: Pittsburgh's No. 1 overall ranking in run defense (62.8 ypg) was in large part due to the work of the large men along the team's three-man front. Veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton (20 tackles, 1 sack) is an immovable force in the middle with five Pro Bowl citations to his credit, while fellow longtime starter Brett Keisel (33 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) was named an alternate to this year's all-star game for his steady play on the right side. 2009 first-round draft choice Ziggy Hood (20 tackles, 3 sacks) has filled in ably for mainstay Aaron Smith (15 tackles), out since late October with a torn triceps, at the other spot. The Steelers have kept Smith on the active roster in the hopes he'd be able to make it back for the Super Bowl, though that seems like an iffy proposition at this point.
Steelers Inside Linebackers: Though neither were chosen to the Pro Bowl, it's hard to find a more formidable duo of inside linebackers than the Steelers' outstanding combo of 14th-year pro James Farrior (109 tackles, 6 sacks) and emerging star Lawrence Timmons (135 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT). While best known for excelling at filling gaps and stuffing the run, the pair are also adept at pressuring the quarterback, with Farrior posting the second-highest sack total of his long career at age 35.
Steelers Outside Linebackers: The Steelers are equally as strong on the edges of their linebacking corps, boasting two tremendous pass rushers in 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison (100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 INT) and LaMarr Woodley (50 tackles, 10 sacks, 2 INT), a top-notch tandem and the main reason Pittsburgh led the NFL with 48 sacks in the regular season. Both have a knack of coming through on the big stage as well. Harrison, named to his fourth straight All-Pro team, delivered one of the signature moments of Super Bowl XLIII when he intercepted a Kurt Warner pass at the end of the first half and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown -- the longest play in the game's history. Woodley has registered at least one sack in all six postseason tilts he's appeared in, having racked up 10 over that stretch.
Steelers Cornerbacks: This is the one area that will have its depth tested by the Packers, who extensively employ multiple-receiver looks and figure to test Pittsburgh frequently through the air on Super Bowl Sunday. Physical vet Ike Taylor (66 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) can be a shutdown cover man and is likely the secondary member Rodgers will look away from, as opposite-side starter Bryant McFadden (81 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and slot specialist William Gay (48 tackles, 2 sacks) are best suited as nickel backs and dime defender Anthony Madison (24 tackles, 1 sacks, 1 INT) makes his living on special teams. This is a group that can makes plays, however, with the quartet combining for six sacks and five of the Steelers' regular-season sum of 21 interceptions.
Steelers Safeties: Troy Polamalu's (63 tackles, 1 sack, 7 INT) remarkable abilities as both a tackler and in coverage make Pittsburgh's last line of defense an obvious strength, but backfield mate Ryan Clark (90 tackles, 2 INT) can hold his own as a playmaker as well. The sometimes overlooked free safety was hard to ignore in the Steelers' come-from-behind win over Baltimore in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, producing an interception and a forced fumble that helped spark the second-half rally. The two's mixture of intelligence and experience were clear factors towards Pittsburgh placing second in pass efficiency defense this season.