By: Josh Gentry
I remember December 20, 2009 like it was yesterday. Here’s a recap of one of the best memories a guy could ask for. Ben Roethlisberger broke a Steelers record for passing yards in a single game with 503. Aaron Rodgers threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns while running for another score. Any guesses as to what happened on this date? Yep, you guessed it. It was Packers vs Steelers, at Heinz Field.
It was the first time these two historic teams had played in years and it was epic. Epic for obvious reasons, but even more so because I was there. Watching these two teams go up and down the field with zero regard for the opposing defense was enough to make a guy forget his extremities were numb.
Yes, there have been changes since that game. We’re talking about two different teams — two winning teams — that have had time to make changes, and because the best cannot improve — they’ve kept what they need. Isn’t this what we all love about football — to see our favorite teams stick to tradition but embrace innovation? With the Packers and Steelers, we get the best of both worlds. This year, the two paramount teams are in the Super Bowl because they know how to dominate the game. And taking this a step further, the Steelers and Packers similarities and differences in the 2009 game might lend clues to what we can expect at their imminent meeting.
The 2009 game was a win-or-go-home contest for the Steelers and a chance for Green Bay to clinch a playoff berth. At that game, these two teams were fighting for playoff survival. On February 6, 2011 these two teams will be fighting for the Lombardi trophy.
While every game is in its own right a new entity, it’s very possible this Super Bowl is going to be very similar to the game played in 2009.
I am hearing that the Steelers plan is to shut down the run game of Green Bay and force Aaron Rodgers to beat them through the air, but they may want to rethink their strategy. In the game from 2009, Ryan Grant ran for only 37 yards, hence Aaron Rodgers had to throw for 330 yards and three scores, while running for another. Not because the Packers were behind or couldn’t run the ball. In fact, they never trailed by more than seven points and there were five lead changes in the final nine minutes. Such moves were necessary because the Steelers had gaping holes in the middle of the field, and McCarthy found plenty of mismatches. If the Steelers still have holes in the middle of their defense, Rodgers will have a repeat performance from the meeting in 2009.
While Rodgers has proven to be lethal on opposing defenses outside of the pocket, Ben Roethlisberger is second-to-none while throwing on the run. He has proven time and again that he is hazardous to tackle and has made as many plays with his feet as he has with his arm.
The Packers have a relentless pass rusher in Clay Matthews, who in their last meeting hit Big Ben on numerous occasions, but this could actually be a detriment to the Packers if they aren’t careful. In the 2009 game, Big Ben made tremendous plays outside of the pocket; look for him to try and duplicate that in two weeks. The one glaring difference in Green Bay’s favor this time around is the play of rookie cornerback Sam Shields. Ben torched Greenbay’s nickel defense last year and Shields’ speed may be a huge distinction.
These two teams have enough similarities on their defensive sides that it would only be fitting to expect explosive offense from both. Pittsburgh is number one in defense; Green Bay is number two. Pittsburgh led the NFL in sacks; Green Bay is tied for second. So, what happens when you have two dominating defenses and two insanely good quarterbacks? As I said, explosive offense — just like the game in 2009.
I believe 2009’s game was a rare glimpse into the future. The now near future. However, I believe the outcome of the final Showdown will have a different outcome; offset by a slight shift. On February 6, 2011, the past will repeat itself same teams, some similar strategies. And it’s possible that the last team possessing the ball could win — just like the Steelers did in ’09. . . but really.. this time it’s the Packers turn to bring Lombardi home. Packers win 31-27.
Email me at [email protected] or follow me on Twitter @jgent41