Pregame Zone Blitz: Packers at Steelers

Here's another piece of mail for Mr. Ryan Clark.

Hello, Mr. Clark. I must say I'm a big fan of yours. Always have been. Definitely one of the better free agents this team has picked up in several years. While you've consistently been a great fit for our defense and an inspiration for the fans, I must say I'm somewhat disappointed with your recent tirade about the media treating you unfairly, and no one outside the team being able to understand what's going on.

I fully admit, those inside the locker room can paint a more accurate picture as to what is going on inside that locker room. Could you, maybe, help us with that, since we don't know anything? I mean, let's be honest. You guys aren't exactly playing at a high level. I watch every game twice and pour over statistics, replays and analysis. All I can come up with is the fact you guys aren't playing well. Your suggestion that I don't know anything is acceptable. So what am I missing?

If I'm not missing anything, and I'm, at best, only entitled to my opinion, I'm going to stick with "you aren't playing well."

Please prove me wrong this week. You've got a helluva task in front of you. That Packers offense is pretty potent. Feel free to make the game-winning interception (you guys haven't had a pick in like six games) or the show-stopping hit, and dance for the camera, telling me how wrong I've been.

Seems like a fair trade-off, right?

Thanks, Ryan! Good luck!

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Brandon with the Acme Packing Company says Green Bay and Pittsburgh are headed in two different directions than they were after Week 8.

Pittsburgh's looking to play spoiler on the Packers this week.

Green Bay has held teams under 90 net rushing yards 10 times this year.

The Green Bay Gazette has a nice look at Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers

Last Game

From the start, it felt like it'd be the same thing we had seen for the last four weeks.

It didn't fail to disappoint. Well, no more than usual, at least.

Somehow, the Browns turned into a defensive group that resembled the 1985 Bears, and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger felt pressure the likes of which he hasn't seen all year. More missed tackles, more blown coverages, it was just a nightmarish game.

Ironically, in a season where the Steelers can't find a way to compete in the fourth quarter, the sagging AFC can't find a way to put the Steelers away. A Jacksonville loss Thursday against Indianapolis, Pittsburgh remains alive in the playoff hunt. Of course, they'll have to win their final three games, and all of them are against playoff-caliber teams.

But then again, after losses to Cleveland, Oakland and Kansas City, maybe playing a good team is exactly what the Steelers need.

Opponent Spotlight: QB Aaron Rodgers

PZB went with the draft-jilted QB last week, Brady Quinn, over a slew of other players who ended up having better games than Quinn did with his 90 yards passing. We're gonna tab another QB who suffered the "embarrassment" of sitting around at the NFL draft, taken much later than they or their agents planned.

In case you didn't hear it, and unless you live in Kreplakistan, you did, Rodgers replaced BRETT FAVRE in Green Bay. The Packers haven't really looked back since, and Rodgers is putting to rest any issues with the previous passer at Lambeau. He's at worst top 10 in every major passing category, and he's been red hot during the Packers current five-game winning streak.

In those five games, he has nine touchdowns to just two interceptions, and considering the Steelers haven't had an interception during their five-game losing streak, Rodgers should feel plenty secure throwing the football, even in the adverse weather conditions he's likely to face.

Not only that, but the Packers' offensive line, which played terribly in their first nine games (43 sacks allowed), has given up seven in their last four games. Much of that is on Rodgers' improvement in terms of pocket feel and knowing when to get rid of the ball, but their line has been beaten up, and it seems as if they've now found a combination with which they can protect their Pro Bowl passer.  

In a great match-up of premier QBs, at the very least, we know who the fans like more.

 

Steelers Spotlight:  OLB James Harrison

Conversely to the Packers ramped-up passing attack, the Steelers have fallen off a bit in terms of sacks.

This is the kind of game where Harrison will pin his ears back and get after the quarterback. He's been shut out his last three games, much of which was the result of short three-step-and-throw offenses (Baltimore and Cleveland in particular also have strong offensive tackles). Rodgers likes to get the ball down the field, and while Harrison has been as disruptive as always, to give the Steelers a chance, he's going to have to be responsible for backing the Packers up 30 yards over the course of the game.

Harrison is as relentless as anyone in the league, and the Packers' tackles, although they've ramped up their game in the past few weeks, are still among the weaker pass blockers Harrison will have seen this season. LT Chad Clifton didn't allow a sack or a pressure last week against Chicago, but gave up a few QB hits and pressures to Baltimore in Week 12. He's going to have his hands full with Harrison (in most cases, literally, because the best defense on Harrison is to hold him).

I See You

I see you, LaMarr Woodley. You've been the defensive show-stopper in the second half of the season, piling up at least one sack in each of your past five games. After a "slow" start in terms of sacks, you've jumped up to nine overall, one behind Harrison for the team lead.

Your effort has always been there, but even better, you've always kept your head up, never losing confidence or moving your eyes off your assignment each play. As Coach LeBeau always says, it's not about sacks, it's about pressure. Pressure leads to turnovers. It should, anyway. You and the rest of the defensive front seven have forced plenty of turnovers, it's just that our defensive secondary isn't catching them.

The good news is, LaMarr, we know you'll ride your current hot streak with the same even and balanced approach you were riding when you only had two sacks in the first seven games. Teams are paying less attention to you, now, and more to Harrison. This is the kind of match-up where both of you guys can get 2+ sacks.

Key Stats

  • Green Bay is +18 in turnover differential.
  • Pittsburgh is -5.
  • Green Bay clinches a playoff berth with a win today and a Giants loss at Washington
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