Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers warms his hand during practice, Wednesday in Dallas.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Ryan Clark cut to the chase. You want to slow down the Green Bay Packers' offense?
"The thing is, we have to get to Aaron Rodgers and cut the head off," Clark said at another Super Bowl media scrum Wednesday on the floor of the TCU basketball court.
Before the NFL thought-police try to write up Clark for his violent plan, the Steelers' free safety did not mean that literally. At least, those who heard him said they did not think he meant it literally.
But they must get to the Green Bay quarterback, rough him up, rattle him Sunday night the way they did the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco in the second half and the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez in the first if they are to make their third sweep of postseason play in six years. They must get him on the ground, even if his head remains in place while doing so.
"We'll have to get back there at Aaron Rodgers and put some pressure on him," linebacker Lawrence Timmons said, "because you can't let him sit around in the pocket and nickel-and-dime us all day."
They were unable to do that the last time they faced Rodgers, and he owned them as if his name were Tom Brady. On Dec. 10, 2009, in Heinz Field, Rodgers completed 26 of 48 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers sacked him once and did not intercept him. The 37-36 victory was a product of the Steelers' offense.
Of course, safety Troy Polamalu did not play that day and, as his NFL defensive player of the year award shows, he can provide the difference.
"He's the best defensive player in the league, so his presence is always a good thing," cornerback Anthony Madison said.
Madison believes he could play more often Sunday. If he does -- discounting injuries -- it would mean the Steelers would be deploying six defensive backs, something they do not do much anymore. They prefer their nickel package of five defensive backs, adding William Gay to the mix.
Madison's entry as a sixth back would mean Timmons would go to the sideline. It also would be in deference to the Packers' preferred use of four wide receivers -- starters Greg Jennings and Donald Driver joined by Jordy Nelson and James Jones.
"They're good players," Clark said. "They're basically all the same guys except Jordy Nelson is Caucasian. Other than that, all are around the same body type, very physical, strong guys, great hands. You look at them make a lot of plays, run after the catch.
"The thing that's amazing about them, everybody can play every position. ... So, it makes a matchup problem.
"It's a very good crew, and it all starts with the quarterback."
That is why it is so vital the Steelers, who led the NFL with 48 sacks, make it a not so beautiful day in the neighborhood for Mr. Rodgers.
The Green Bay quarterback, however, has another tool, a Ben Roethlisberger-like talent in that he can escape the rush. Rodgers had 356 yards rushing in 2010 on 64 runs/scrambles.
"He's so mobile," Clark noted. "That's the hard part. He's not one of those guys who sits back there and lets you tee off on him.
"He takes a hit the last game from Julius Peppers and continues to play."
Clark said the Packers' passing style differs from New England's, which chewed the Steelers up at midseason with short passes from Tom Brady.
"The way Green Bay uses Aaron, it's about getting the ball downfield, hitting seams, taking your shots when you have them, him scrambling and making plays. Even though they have the personnel to spread you out in the same way, they go about it in different ways.
"They're a good team. They have the weapons to definitely go [to] four and five wides and throw the ball around the field."
The Steelers know one way to stop it, and it's not by dropping everyone into coverage.
"We have to get pressure on the quarterback, make him throw the ball quick, and be physical with the receivers," Clark said.
Cut the head off.
Waiting for offers
Three starters could be playing their final game as Steelers Sunday, yet all three not only want to return but believe new contracts could be worked out before either free agency or a lockout occurs March 3.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, injured offensive tackle Willie Colon and cornerback Ike Taylor all said the disappointment of not receiving long-term contract offers before the season started has not deterred them from a desire to stay put with new contracts over the next several weeks.
"Yes, there's enough time," said Woodley. "We'll see. We'll see. The Super Bowl is Feb. 6 and March 3 [ends the NFL calendar year], that's a big gap between there. We just have to wait and see.
"I haven't even thought about it. You know what, I have no control over it, but, at the end of the day, you know something's going to happen so you just have to sit back patiently."
Taylor alluded to hearing from Steelers executives about getting a contract done for him before March 3.
"I've been having some talk, nothing major, just talk from the top guys, some good talk with the top guys. I'm sure we'll get talking a lot in the offseason."
Colon lost millions he might have made by becoming a free agent last year, but new rules that kicked in during the final year of the collective bargaining agreement made him a restricted free agent in 2010, his fifth season, rather than unrestricted.
"That's business, and I understand," said Colon, on injured reserve after his Achilles was torn at the end of June.
"Right now, I feel great, I feel about 85 percent. I want to be back here, I want to be back with my offensive line coach [Sean Kugler]. There hasn't been a coach that impacted me more, personally, other than my coach in college."
Colon said he would like to play with center Maurkice Pouncey, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie this season.
"We kind of set a standard and a foundation with Pouncey, and no question he's our future and I want to play with the guy. I want to be back being a force on the line."