Superbowl Preview: The Pittsburgh Steelers.

How They Got Here

Out of the AFC, the Steelers aren’t often left out of most people’s picks at the start of the year, whether to win their division, the conference, or go all the way. This season, the off-season antics of ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger (shown above, and I think the picture says it all) meant they would be without their MVP quarterback for the first four games of the season, and many thought an 0-4 start was on the cards and little more was to follow.
Cue Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch papering over the cracks with a little help from an exceptional running game to start 3-1 and prove all the doubters wrong. Big Ben returned, and the Steelers never really looked back. Defeats followed to the Patriots, Jets, Saints in addition to Batch’s defeat to the Ravens in Week 4, but it could be argued that all four of their losses came to playoff-bound teams during a difficult season.
During the regular season, the Steelers beat the Ravens in a crucial game which essentially decided who would top the AFC North. In the playoffs, it looked like the Ravens would have their revenge, taking a 21-7 lead into half-time.  At the crucial time, however, the difference between a Superbowl-winning quarterback and a shaky one was exposed, as Flacco fell to pieces and the Steelers scored 24 points with little reply to win the game 31-24. In the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets, exactly the opposite applied. The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points to obliterate the Jets in the first half, before failing to score any at all in the second, leaving the Jets to get within inches of a remarkable comeback. The game ended 24-19, with the Steelers advancing to Texas Stadium for the season’s showpiece: Superbowl 45.
The Strengths
Firstly, the experience of the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot be underestimated. Big Ben is a young quarterback in relative terms, but already has two Superbowl rings. Many of this Steelers side return from the team that defeated the Arizona Cardinals two years ago, and some even return from the side that defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl XL. The Packers have little of this experience, with only Charles Woodson playing a big part in a previous season-ender, and on the big stage on Sunday night, this could very well played in the Steelers hands.
There’s no denying that an enormous strength for the Steelers is their…strength! From a quarterback who is one of the biggest and toughest in the league, to a frankly brutal defense, Pittsburgh will see themselves as one of the few teams who can match the Packers pound-for-pound if the game should turn into a dogfight.
The Weaknesses
An issue for the Steelers in any game, and Sunday is no different, is their possible indiscipline. Linebacker James Harrison, outstanding as he is, has been faced with more fines for illegal hits this season than anybody, and isn’t keeping quiet about his indignation at the issue. No matter what Harrison thinks of the rules, they will remain the same against the Packers, and if the Steelers pile up the penalties against a team like Green Bay, they will be punished.
Maurkice Pouncey’s absence from the Steelers offensive line could also present a problem to Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. Pouncey has a slight ankle sprain and is extremely doubtful to play on Sunday night, and any team leaving a Pro Bowl center out of their side may be prone to slip-ups in a high-pressure environment.
Key Players
You simply cannot look past the afore-mentioned Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Ben’s previous two Superbowls were poles apart in terms of performance, having an uncharacteristic yet successful day against the Seahawks in XL, and a game-winning 256 yard, 93.6 rated day against the Cardinals in the thriller that was Superbowl XLIII. This polarising quality that Roethlisberger displays both on and off the field has been particularly apparent in two particular microcosms against the Jets and the Ravens. Dreadful for one half, great for another, and if he were to put in a performance like the one against the Seahawks against Green Bay on Sunday, the Steelers could very well be in trouble. As the first four games of the season showed, they can survive without Ben, but having him at full-strength makes life a hell of a lot easier.
The figurehead of one of the league’s greatest defensive systems is flaxen-haired Troy Polamalu. With seven interceptions in an injury-blighted season, Polamalu is back, fit and ready to rumble. Superbowl XLIII saw one of the most memorable interceptions in Superbowl history, with the safety intercepting a Kurt Warner pass in his own end-zone, before running it back 97 yards to change the entire momentum of the game going into half-time. Aaron Rodgers began to look shaky after bursting out against the Bears two weeks ago, and if any passes go astray, Polamalu will certainly be around to scoop them up. He is a magnet for the ball, a big-game player and could negate the serious passing threat the Packers possess.
The Steelers Will Win If…
…they can find a way to make Rodgers wobble early on. Considering he’s a relatively young quarterback in his first Superbowl, an early pick or an early roughing-up could see the Steelers take control of the game. Similar mental fortitude will need to be displayed by Roethlisberger in keeping a lead should the Steelers go ahead. They almost let the Seahawks back in in 2006, and the Cardinals were inches away from a fantastic comeback in 2009. After the Jets made everyone in Steel-town nervous two weeks ago, gripping a lead by the scruff of the neck will be vital for Pittsburgh. Finally, variety is required. Whilst Starks and Kuhn have performed for the Packers on the ground in recent weeks, their game remains relatively one-dimensional. If the Steelers can mix it up between the pass and the rush, the Packers will work harder, and a tough Steelers will see the game out.
David Dickson.
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