Monday, February 07, 2011

The Morning After: Super Bowl XLV

Photo Courtesy - Terry Porter

The 2010 season has been put to bed with a very entertaining game that came down to two historic franchises and a 2-minute drill with a 6 point margin and the Lombardi Trophy hanging in the balance.

In the end, the Green Bay Packers' defense - which was the wildcard in this entire season on a squad that often made offense look easy - that had to get the stop to preserve a game they led from wire to wire. In fact, the story of the 2010 Green Bay Packers had two consistent threads from the game itself yesterday.

1) - The team never trailed at any point of any game during the entire season by more than 7 points. In the last 48 years, that has never happened. It certainly an odd statistic, but, it certainly demonstrates the overall strength of the team in some way. On the other hand, they did lose 6 games, so it would seem it does not tell the entire story.

2) - The team had to overcome one of the more injury-filled seasons of any Super Bowl Champion ever. They put 15 players on injured reserve this season, including 9 starters. And then, during the game yesterday, they had two pillars of their team hurt in the 1st half. Charles Woodson and Donald Driver both left the game in the 2nd Quarter - never to return. Losing Woodson, who is the tip of the spear of Dom Capers' defense, caused the Packers defense to bend quite a bit in the 2nd half. But, because of the ability to get a timely takeaway on the first play of the 4th Quarter, the Packers were able to survive.

Meanwhile, the Steelers will live with a great deal of regret as they must delay their pursuit of Super Bowl Championship #7. Their proven QB, Ben Roethlisberger, missed quite a few throws that we are accustomed to seeing him make. Surely a player who does not require a lot of excuses given his fabulous post-season record, on this day, he was certainly the 2nd best QB on the field.

The two things that you cannot overcome in a Super Bowl both bit Pittsburgh last night. You cannot usually win if your QB is substantially outplayed and you cannot win a game when you are a "minus 3" in the turnover margin.

And yet, there they were despite both of those items. The Steelers had the ball down 6 with 2 minutes to go in the game. Anyone who can remember Super Bowl 43 had to have an extremely strong reference point for what the Steelers were capable of in this situation. If they could simply duplicate that amazing feat, they would have won their 3rd Super Bowl out of 6.

But, like we had seen earlier in the game, it did seem like the Steelers passing game was largely uneven. Big Ben was not on the same page with Mike Wallace for much of the evening, and for the first time during their playoff run, you questioned the trade of Santonio Holmes. Hines Ward had a nice game and Wallace did catch 9 passes and 89 yards, but it took 16 passes to do so.

Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, completed a 4-game stretch for the ages, during his post season run. In 4 games, all away from Lambeau Field, Rodgers threw 9 TDs against 2 INTs, a playoff QB rating of 109.8, 1094 yards, and a Super Bowl MVP. The story of his transition from Cal Bear to Favre backup to Super Bowl MVP is well documented and phenomenal. But, the way he is the focal point of the Green Bay offense (Green Bay only attempted 11 run plays the entire game, and the 13 rushing attempts was a Super Bowl record) makes his performance all the more amazing. And if you like statistics that could win bar bets, please know that Bart Starr was 27 when he won his 1st NFL Title in the 1961 season, Brett Favre won his only Super Bowl at the age of 27 in Super Bowl 31, and Aaron Rodgers is 27 as he grabbed Lombardi's Trophy.

Other notes that are on my mind from the Super Bowl:

* It is surely a game of inches as both teams had close calls that would have either turned the game into a Steelers victory or a Green Bay blowout. The number of drops on the Packers receivers was quite shocking. Both James Jones and Jordy Nelson had drops that likely would have had 7 points at the end of the play had they caught the ball. Meanwhile, Tramon Williams casual punt fumble in the 1st Quarter might have really helped the Steelers off to a fast start. And, of course, if it were not for Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett's ability to cause Rashard Mendenhall to cough up the 1st play of the 4th Quarter, there is no telling how the game's story would have been written. At the time of that fumble, the Steelers seemed to have 100% of momentum on their side. But, that play, on a 2nd and 2 at the Green Bay 33 with the Packers up 21-17, swung the entire game back to Green Bay as Rodgers quickly made the Steelers pay for their generosity and drove the team 55 yards on 8 plays to move the lead back to 28-17.

* I felt that the score dictated a lot of strategy yesterday, including a point of emphasis for the Steelers which appeared to pound the ball right at Clay Matthews. Matthews is a very elite talent who can rush the passer with great success, but there are times where he does not seem able to set and hold the edge on running plays right at his side. He was collapsed on numerous occasions by Steelers blocking, but the score did not allow the Steelers the patience or time to continue to go back to that well. Down 18 did not fully allow them to run at Matthews. There is no doubt if the score would have been different, Mendenhall and the Steelers seemed to really have the ability to challenge the ability of the Packers to stuff them.

* Jarrett Bush is the 4th DB for the Packers and Patrick Lee is the 5th. But, because of the injuries to Charles Woodson and Sam Shields, they both saw significant snaps in the biggest game of their careers. Bush has been incredibly maligned for his less than stellar play in the Packers' secondary. But, when Woodson went out with a broken collarbone, Dom Capers asked Bush to do a lot of the blitzing that Woodson usually would do. Given all the conversation we have about the Cowboys not having the personnel to carry out the techniques of Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau's playbooks, I give you Jarrett Bush as an example that everyone has the personnel to figure out aggressive defense. And full marks to Bush for having the guts to jump a route in the 2nd Quarter that he actually was able to intercept. His biggest moment of redemption has no doubt softened the Packers fan's views on his work.

* Very amazing to see that both offensive lines seemed to have their hands full yesterday. Could the Steelers hold off the interior push of the Packers with their backup center? Could the Packers tackles figure out how to protect Rodgers from Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison? No and No. And yet, we saw 56 points scored. Dominating defenses have a very hard time containing top QBs. It just shows you that we have to recalibrate success for a defense in this era. It is no longer stringing together shutout after shutout like the '85 Bears. Instead, it is getting a few takeaways and a key 4th Quarter stop. Rule changes and the evolution of the passing game have changed the sport. Last night, we saw receivers who were well covered and yet the ball was placed right on the hands from 30 yards away. Impossible to defend.

* You never want your kicker to find the "coffin corner". Former Cowboy Shaun Suisham almost did.

* For all of the penalties yesterday, I thought the refs did a nice job of "letting them play" in the secondary. I hate to see the touch fouls on a pass where both players are going for the ball. The Steelers 4th Down to end the game was one of those marginal contact scenarios where you almost expected a flag. But after reviewing the play a bit, it seemed the proper no-call was made. Meanwhile, both teams took very unwise special teams personal fouls that did not help the cause at all.

* I had never attended a Super Bowl before yesterday. What struck me is the electricity and the amazing amount of things going on around the game. The focus on these players is off the charts to be able to perform with the largest TV audience in our nation's history looking on. It makes you appreciate the Cowboys dynasty and how Troy Aikman always seemed to save his best days for the post-season. It takes truly remarkable performers to step up when the spotlight it the hottest, and the job Aaron Rodgers did was certainly historic and unforgettable.

Now, we don't know when we see NFL football again. The looming labor situation is not something anyone wants to focus on, but at least we had a memorable final game to remember for a while as the billionaires and millionaires sort out the money.

Hurry back, NFL. 2011 Opening Day is scheduled for 213 days from today.


Dagromm said...

Congratulations on your dream day. The Packers win the Superbowl at your home and Liverpool wins against Torres and Chelsea.

Santiago Valenzuela said...

Bob, thanks for this. You're the guy who got me into football period (moved to Dallas from LA, where football is a dirty word.) It was great to see such good football - it was even better to be able to understand some of the cat/mouse going on between the lines thanks in large part to you.

Glad GB got the win, glad you got to go.