Key matchup: Packers NT B.J. Raji vs. Steelers C Doug Legursky
February 4, 2011 10:00 AM
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Of all the problems Bruce Arians has to worry about preparing for the Green Bay Packers, the replacement for injured center Maurkice Pouncey isn't one of them.
"I got much bigger headaches than that," Arians said. "I trust him totally."
The reference was to Doug Legursky, an undersized center at 6 feet 1 who will start for Pouncey in Super Bowl XLV.
Not only will Legursky, listed at 323 pounds, be making his first professional start at center since signing as a rookie free agent in 2009; he will be lining against nose tackle B.J. Raji in the Packers' 3-4 defense. At 6-foot-2, 340 pounds, Raji is harder to move than a grand piano.
When the Packers switch out of their base defense, Legursky will have to help on defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who is probably their best run-stuffing lineman.
And Arians isn't worried?
"He's bright and he's tough," Arians said. "That's all you can ask for in an offensive lineman -- bright and tough. He handles calling out the defense for our scout team guys every day and, it's so similar to Green Bay, he's identifying this front and telling guys what assignments they got."
Pouncey, who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, will not play against the Packers after he sustained a high-ankle sprain and a broken ankle bone in his left leg in the AFC championship game against the New York Jets.
The Steelers have not officially ruled out Pouncey, though coach Mike Tomlin conceded for the first time Thursday that it is looking less and less as if his rookie center will play.
Nobody, though, seems concerned, mainly because the players and coaches believe Legursky knows opposing defenses as well, if not better, than any player on the team, even Pouncey.
"It takes a lot to learn the game of football and I've prided myself knowing defenses, inside and out," Legursky said. "I feel like that's an edge I can bring to the table as an offensive lineman."
Plus, recognizing the defensive looks will not be as difficult because the Packers employ the same 3-4 defense with many of the same schemes and philosophies as the Steelers. That's because Green Bay's defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, is the person who brought the 3-4 defense to the Steelers in 1992.
"They're kind of like our defense -- we're rarely in a stack 3-4 base defense so they do some of the same things," Legursky said. "We're ready for their nickel packages and 2-4 looks. Whatever they present us, we'll be ready for."
Raji, a No. 1 pick in 2009, has gained a lot of attention at the Super Bowl after he intercepted a pass for touchdown in the NFC championship game in Chicago. His celebration dance in the end zone has received almost as much acclaim as the interception return.
But he is not celebrating because he does not have to face Pouncey.
"Let me get one thing straight," Raji said. "I know that Pouncey is not playing, but the guy that is behind him is no slouch. He is a pretty good player. He is physical. ... I watched some snaps of him when he was at guard. He is very physical and finishes to the whistle.
"That is what I give these guys credit for -- they are not going to just let you get off blocks. You are going to have to tear off blocks. To think that [anyone is] underestimating him or that he's not a good player would be a sad mistake."
"He plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers," Pouncey said of Legursky. "How many lineman do you know that aren't good and play for the Pittsburgh Steelers?"