Packers bring defense to classic matchup
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CHICAGO -- The names Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace still make many Green Bay Packers cringe.
A little more than 13 months ago, that duo hooked up on a memorable 19-yard touchdown as time expired to give the Steelers a 37-36 win against the Packers.
"I hate thinking about that play," Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett said. "I hate thinking about that game."
Like it or not, Pickett and the Packers will be reminded about that game several times over the next two weeks. That's because these storied franchises will meet in Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 in North Texas.
The Packers defeated Chicago, 21-14, in the NFC championship game to advance to their fifth Super Bowl. The Steelers defeated the New York Jets, 24-19, in the AFC title game to reach their eighth Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh is 6-1 all time in Super Bowls and has more wins in that game than any other organization, while Green Bay is 3-1.
"I'm numb," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who grew up in Pittsburgh and was an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh from 1989-92. "It's a great feeling. I'm just so proud of our football team.
"As I said, we have a goal of playing 16 quarters and we've completed 12. We're fired up and getting ready to go to Dallas, Texas."
It certainly wasn't easy for the Packers to win their first conference championship since 1997.
Green Bay raced to a 14-0 lead behind a razor sharp offense.
In the Packers' first four possessions, they rolled up 181 total yards, had 12 first downs and averaged 7.9 yards per play. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went 8 of 11 for 138 yards and a 114.7 passer rating in that stretch.
Rodgers led a seven play, 84-yard march on Green Bay's opening possession that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Packers a 7-0 lead. Just four minutes into the second quarter, Packers running back James Starks scored from 4 yards out to make it 14-0.
From that point forward, though, Green Bay had just 175 total yards, 11 first downs and averaged 3.9 yards per play. And the Packers' lone score came when nose tackle B.J. Raji intercepted Bears third string quarterback Celeb Hanie and went 18 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
"I don't know what happened," Packers right guard Josh Sitton said. "We were just really out of sync and lost all of our momentum. Thankfully, our defense stepped up and made sure we're still playing."
That defense is the No. 1 reason these Packers have advanced to face the Steelers. And when the 45th Super Bowl commences, two of football's finest defenses will be on display.
Pittsburgh finished No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed (14.5) and Green Bay ranked No. 2 (15.0). The Steelers were also No. 2 in total defense (276.8 yards per game) and the Packers finished fifth (309.1).
Green Bay was first in football in opposing quarterbacks passer rating (67.2) and the Steelers were second (73.1). The Steelers also ranked No. 1 in sacks (48), while the Packers tied for second (47).
Green Bay was second in interceptions (24) and the Steelers tied for fifth (21). The biggest difference between the two defenses is Pittsburgh ranked No. 1 against the run (62.8 yards per game) and the Packers were 18th (114.9).
Still, chances are the teams won't combine for 73 points like they did last year.
"They scored a lot of points on us last year," Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett said. "We were a different defense then and we're definitely a better defense right now.
"They moved the ball on us, but our offense did a good job of moving the ball on them, too. It was like a shootout and they had just a little more firepower."
Green Bay's defense is coordinated by Dom Capers, who held that same position in Pittsburgh from 1992-94. Now in his second year with the Packers, Capers has turned a mish-mash unit into one of football's finest.
"One thing that's been consistent I think is we've had people that can take the ball away and we've been fairly consistent in taking the ball away," Capers said. "We've been a lot more multiple this year because the players' understanding of the defense."
Green Bay's offense has been one of football's finest, as well, despite its struggles Sunday. The Packers finished fifth in passing offense (257.8), ninth in total offense (358.1) and 10th in points (24.3).
Green Bay has adjusted to life without standout running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley, has won five consecutive games and is averaging 30.0 points per game this postseason. Still, the Packers know the Steelers are likely to be the best defense they've faced this year.
"They've got a really good defense," Packers wideout James Jones said. "They put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks and it's hard to run against them. Great team."
Which could make for a great Super Bowl.
"They're just a team that knows how to finish," Packers running back Brandon Jackson said of the Steelers. "Those guys, they play four quarters hard every game, every day. You have to come strong against those guys or you won't beat them. We have to come out and play four quarters to have a chance."
First Published January 24, 2011 1:01 am