A Super Bowl of Super Bowls
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By Aaron Stern
Analysts like to deride low-scoring games by saying the two teams involved just set back offensive play by so many years. This game could end 3-0 and be a masterpiece that advances the game years ahead. For football purists, who wins is irrelevant.
Packers-Steelers is a showcase and celebration of what makes pro football great, and it's hard not to slather on the hyperbole: Blue-collar teams hailing from gritty, all-American towns. Crushing defenses, power running attacks, rifle-armed, cold-blooded quarterbacks.
But it's better than that. It's not just two old school teams battling it out in old school ways. It's old school and new school all in one. Offensively, the Packers are as high-flying as it gets, yet they've cobbled together the fourth-ranked rushing offense with a smattering of no-name runners. In Rashard Mendenhall the Steelers have one of the best pure tailbacks to come along in years - big but nimble, fast, aggressive - but are balanced by a deceptively potent passing game.
Aaron Rodgers may be about to create a Green Bay legend bigger than Brett Favre's and cement his status as one of the league's elite passers, but Ben Roethlisberger may be the most undervalued quarterback in the league (being universally regarded as a sexual assault waiting to happen will do that to your playing cred).
But it's the defensive side of the ball where the real magic is in this game. Dick LeBeau is the best defensive coordinator of this generation; Dom Capers isn't far behind. The two once worked together, popularizing the 3-4 attack, and revolutionizing defense with the zone blitz. Neither panned out as a head coach but both have carved out niches as feared tactical masterminds.
The rest of the league is once again falling in love with their creations, rushing to install 3-4 defenses of their own (even if they, say, have to scrap a perennial top-10 4-3 defense to do it, and without any of the personnel to boot... but Super Bowl week is hardly the time to talk about the Redskins).
LeBeau and Capers have moved on: The 3-4 may still be their base alignment, but both men are now running something else altogether - the 2-4-5. And they're doing it with a mix of top draft picks and undrafted players alike - the Packers, in particular, would be nowhere without less heralded players like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. The defenses are complicated, constantly shifting, and depend upon players who sit behind veterans, marinating in the schematic complexities before they get a chance to make their mark.
You'll hear a lot as you watch the game about the physical battle being waged on the field - and you might hear a little about the growing and troubling body of evidence that these men are doing permanent damage to themselves - but you'll hear less about the incredible strategy behind it all. But it will be there, evolving from play to play, blossoming across the field in increasingly intricate machinations as two defensive masterminds attempt to confound two of the best quarterbacks in the game - and to outdo one another.
So enjoy it: A game like this comes around a lot less frequently than just any old Super Bowl.
Richard Boadu & Claude Clayborne
February 2, 2011; 12:58 PM ET
Green Bay Packers
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Posted by: Kenna2 | February 2, 2011 2:56 PM