Wow, crazy evening last night. So interesting in fact that I couldn't get to some of the writing I had hoped to. Now's not the appropriate time to explain in much detail, but my cab driver last night after dinner was a man who had left Egypt less than a week ago. He was a highly educated man with two daughters in college in Cairo, and he spends a few months each year in the States. Needless to say, I was interested to hear his take on what was going on in Egypt, and what he believed would unfold in the days, weeks, and years to come both there and throughout the Middle East. He allowed me to tape our conversation, and then gave me his number to call him later for another ride. This was equally great news as there's a huge scarcity of cabs in Dallas this week. Anyway, when he picked me up again later in the evening to go out, he allowed me to interview him again for another hour or so. I suppose he enjoyed the conversation as much as I did because I wasn't even charged a fare for the ride.
Anyway, like I said, here's neither the time nor the place to go into any more details....
Back to Super Bowl XLV. I'm taking a break from wandering around Radio Row to give my five keys to a Pittsburgh Steelers win on Sunday. This is not by any means a comprehensive list of what the Steelers must do well in order to win their seventh Lombardi. Obviously winning the turnover battle, special teams, et al are of paramount importance. But here's give keys to discuss that I think would help Pittsburgh add yet another piece of hardware to its already crowded trophy case. Let's get to them.
Sustain Drives - 48, 78, 75, 65, 43, 57. That's the number of plays the Green Bay Packers defense faced in the team's six losses. Obviously those 48 and 43 play games are outliers, but my sense is that you can beat Green Bay by wearing down their defense with methodical, sustained offensive series. Easier said than done of course, but after watching what the Steelers did to the New York Jets two weeks ago, I'm cautiously optimistic that the Steelers will again run the ball very well. Green Bay's rush defense was inferior to New York's in the regular season, but then again, Rex Ryan probably thought the Steelers would take to the air early and often in the AFC Championship Game. Conversely, you'd imagine that the Packers are preparing for a fairly heavy dosage of Rashard Mendenhall, so maybe there will be more opportunities to throw the ball down the field vertically. We'll see, but even if the Steelers are throwing the ball, I'm hoping that it's largely short and medium range passes that keep the clock moving and the Packers offense off the field.
Get Heath Miller Involved -- This one's obvious. Get No. 83 the ball in any way possible. Heath Miller played outstanding all year, and defending the tight end is the one area that the Packers defense really struggles with. The Packers have a highly ranked pass defense, but it's largely the product of shutting down guys on the perimeter. Tight ends however have had quite a bit of success against Dom Capers unit. My favorite prop bet this year is the over/under on Heath Miller's receiving yards. I believe it opened somewhere around 35 yards or so at most books, only to quickly escalate after just about every sharp in Vegas poured their money in on Miller exceeding that total. Anyway, you can count on Capers trying to limit Miller's effectiveness, but Miller's the type of guy that's extremely difficult to defend even when the coverage is good. And when plays break down and Big Ben escapes contain, Miller does a tremendous job of sensing where to go to help Roethlisberger out.
Contain Cullen Jenkins -- Sure, Clay Matthews Jr. is the guy that's giving me nightmares. He'll be very tough to slow down on the edge and almost certainly will have one or two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger. That's okay though provided the defensive line of the Packers doesn't have a field day as well. The guy I'm keeping an eye on is defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who reminds me a lot of Jarret Johnson of Baltimore. I don't need to remind Steelers fans about the impact that Johnson has had in Baltimore's biannual games with the Steelers. Anyway, Jenkins is a load to handle -- both big and quick. Seven sacks from his position is no joke. The left side of the Steelers offensive line will have their hands full limiting his effectiveness while also focusing on slowing down the explosive Matthews.
Utilize Screen Passes -- A great way to slow down a heavy pass rush is with well-designed and properly timed screen plays. Bruce Arians has done a very solid job this year in my opinion, but I still wouldn't contend that he's all that great at designing screen plays and then calling them at the right moment. Yes the Packers were up 14 in the second half of their NFC Championship Game win over the Bears, but I noticed just how effective Matt Forte was catching the ball on screens and then picking up positive yardage after the catch. I'd like to see Rashard Mendenhall have several opportunities to do the same, and not just in obvious screen situations (2nd or 3rd and long for example).
- Hit Aaron Rodgers Early -- A lot of praise has been heaped on Aaron Rodgers this season and during the Pack's playoff run in particular. For good reason too. Rodgers is an exceptional quarterback, and I've been very impressed with just how competitive and tough he is. I had kind of thought that he was perhaps a bit soft mentally a year or two ago. No longer. That said, I do think his mechanics waver a bit when he gets knocked around early on in a contest. The Steelers certainly have the horses to get after Rodgers and put him on his back frequently. Even if they don't get a sack, it's important in my mind to make him even just the slightest bit skittish in the pocket as the game progresses. Go get him LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison!
Back with more updates about what's going on here in Dallas in just a few.