We did Part I, focusing on the Packers key players, and yet even more evidence how it's the Steelers against the world. Part II is coming after you with a few key items for the Steelers.
And we've even got another special "Us Against The World" for the last PZB of the season.
T-Minnus 33 hours and counting...let's make this happen.
Steelers Spotlight: RB Rashard Mendenhall
PZB's crack scouting department labored for hours over the key Steelers player before the AFC Championship game. Pulling what's left of its hair out, PZB finally determined Hines Ward, not Rashard Mendenhall, would be the determining factor against the Jets.
Then Mendenhall went out and shredded the Jets for 121 yards - 95 in the first half - and was the catalyst to a 24-0 lead in the first half.
Sure part of Mendenhall's selection before Super Bowl XLV is because we don't want to ignore him again, but for the most part, there may be a small crack exposed in the Packers' mighty defensive armor. Something ever so slight that may not be counted on by most.
Mendenhall has excellent vision, and his speed to the outside is what makes him an outstanding running back. Without C Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers will not be able to hold the center of the line of scrimmage on offense - Doug Legursky gives away about 35 pounds to NT B.J. Raji. The Steelers were able to pound the Jets straight up front, even at times with Legursky.
Maybe the advantage is zone blocking, and bouncing him outside.
Legursky doesn't have to block down on Raji every snap. LG Chris Kemoeatu is considerably bigger, and is a better run-blocker. The Steelers could see clear running lanes by shifting the line together in one direction, and relying on precision instead of brawn to keep the Packers dominant defensive line at bay.
PZB wrote about OLB Clay Matthews' skills as a pass rusher, but not as much against the run. Using TEs Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth to reach Matthews in the run game is a winnable battle.
The key is Mendenhall's ability to get the ball and hit the hole. Hard.
That's the kind of scheme he ran when he was a collegiate stud at Illinois. He has the feet to be able to run that style consistently. Legursky is definitely quicker than he is strong, and he plays better when he's on the move - in other words he's got the skill set of a guard but the body of a center. Looking to attack with Mendenhall frequently on the outside could wear the Packers' secondary down, leaving them vulnerable to play-action passing.
More than anything, it will keep the Packers offense off the field, and keep the Steelers defense rested. Green Bay does not have a similar advantage against the Steelers in terms of their running game, and they'll hand off to James Starks for the formality of showing they'll call those plays. Aaron Rodgers will throw quick, short and effective passes all game (with at least one home run pass in the first five plays of their possession, guaranteed), so keeping him off the field and Pittsburgh's defenders rested will be critical.
Mendenhall's just the guy to do it.
Us Against The World
How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.
After weeks of lobbying for the concept of the Steelers taking the sanctions imposed on them by the league, it looks like it may have gone public during Super Bowl Week.
Taken from an excellent piece written by Fox Sports' Mark Kriegel, James Farrior brings the spirit of Us Against The World to prominence.
"It definitely brought us closer together," Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior said of Harrison's fines. "Like everybody was against us."
Everyone against the Steelers. Us Against The World. Thank you, James. Thank you.
One more test remains, and it's the biggest one. With the Packers installed as 2.5 point favorites, and the majority of the football world gushing over how awesome Aaron Rodgers is, I feel it's only fair to pause for a second and ask a sobering question.
How well did Rodgers play in the second half of the NFC Championship game?
Or, perhaps more pointed, are you sure the praise Rodgers is receiving is including every playoff game, or are you just looking at how he did against the Falcons?
Rodgers first half performance, including a rushing touchdown: 10-for-15, 156 yards and an interception. Packers up 14-rip.
His second half: 7-for-15, 88 yards, another interception, no touchdowns. What's more telling is what Rodgers was able to do with the offense over the final two quarters. Their drive chart, not including the kneel-down at the end:
Interception, punt, punt, punt, punt and punt.
Green Bay was 1-for-7 on third down in the second half. They only had three first downs, not including what they got on penalties.
I saw another quarterback in a conference championship game who didn't play a great game, either. I saw that quarterback throw for two first down completions with the game on the line. That quarterback didn't need a defensive touchdown to close out a win.
And that quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, wasn't going up against a third-string QB in the second half.
Ben closed the door. Rodgers couldn't. Are we still excited about Rodgers? Apparently we are supposed to be, and I suppose that's easy to do, considering approximately zero attention was paid to Rodgers' futility with the game on the line. We were all too busy offering up our opinion on Jay Cutler's toughness, so we never looked at the fact Rodgers was outplayed in the second half by a third-string quarterback (Caleb Haine) no one had ever heard of before.
So what makes everyone choose to ignore Rodgers at his worst, and pay attention only to games he played well? PZB isn't sure, but what it's factual is Rodgers is going to see a much more intense pass rush in the Super Bowl, and if the alleged "fast track" advantage the Packers have improves their blocking and blitz recognition, then maybe you've got an argument.
If you want to let yourself believe LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison having strong footing is less of a factor than the Packers receivers having a "fast track," then go ahead. If you think what Peppers did to Rodgers is bad, keep in mind he came off the edge with frozen turf under him.
What's Woodley going to do to him, considering there's a rookie standing between he and Rodgers?
Here's to the last "Us Against The World" test, one more chance to let the haters hate, while the Steelers win.