The Superbowl Preview – Green Bay Packers

How They Got Here

The packers have had a pretty bumpy ride to the Superbowl, and for a while they were in danger of not even making the playoffs. After starting strong, with wins against Philadelphia & Buffalo, they went on a 4 game losing slide as they seemingly were getting to grips with an injury crisis that saw them lose starters Jermichael Finley (Tight End), Nick Barnett (Linebacker) & Ryan Grant (Running Back) among others.

After a week 6 loss to the Dolphins, the Packers won 7 of their next 10, including a 45-17 demolition of the New York giants (who were competing with Green Bay for the last Wild Card) which ultimately put them in the playoffs.

Going into the post season, the Packers dispatched the Eagles (it still hurts) with a late Tramon Williams pick to seal the game, and then faced the NFC’s best Atlanta Falcons, where Aaron Rogers played a game in what will go down in history as one of the best quarterback performances in the playoffs. Green Bay did not punt once, Rogers completed 31/36 of his passes and accounted for 4 touchdowns in a 48-21 rout.

The Packers completed their journey to the Superbowl with a 21-14 win over division rivals, the Chicago Bears, in a slow, defensive game. Once again though it was Rogers early precision (9/9 on the Packers first drive) that set Green Bay on route to victory, and put the Packers into the Superbowl for the first time since 1998.

The Strengths

The Packers key strength is their potent passing game. Aaron Rogers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league and at his disposal, even without Jermichael Finley, is perhaps the NFL’s best recieving corps. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson & James Jones the Packers can stretch the field as well as anyone.

Its difficult to pick out the specific strengths of the Packers defensive unit, as they are solid everywhere. To pinpoint one aspect, they have a very strong pass defense, ranking 5th in the league during the regular season. Charles Woodson is probably the best ‘do-it-all’ cornerback in the league and Nick Collins is coming off another good season.

The Weaknesses

Picking out weaknesses in a team that has made it to the Superbowl is tricky. The only 2 aspects that raise concerns for the Packers, and both have improved somewhat in the post season, are as follows:

The Run Defence – Green Bay ranked 18th in the regular season in rush defence, allowing an average of 114.9 yards per game. During the post season they’ve brought that down to 69.7 yards per game, but having seen what Rashard Mendenhall did to the Jets a couple of weeks ago, the Packers are going have to keep it very tight.

The Rushing Game – We know Green Bay are a pass first offence, and they do it well. Still, they ranked 24th in the league on rushing yards per game. They can lean on Aaron Rogers and his WR’s to put points up, but balance is key for any offence, and if they cannot get anywhere with their ground attack then it could cause problems for them.

That said, James Starks has come to the fore as the leading rusher in the post season, putting up 263 yards and 1 TD in 3 post season games. He could be a key man on Sunday night.

Key Players

On the offensive side of the ball, perhaps quite obviously, Aaron Rogers is the man. It’s perhaps unoriginal to say a quarterback is the key player, but as the Packers are (likely) going to rely so heavily on their aerial attack, Rogers is going to need to be at his best. After going 14-0 up against Chicago, he struggled to keep the offence moving. However, if the Aaron Rogers that played against the Falcons turns up at the Superbowl, it’s going to be very difficult to stop him.

Defence wise, keep watching Clay Matthews. Even if he doesnt do anything, his hair is wonderful. The outside linebacker, who missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year by 2 votes (out of 50 voters), had 13.5 sacks in the regular season, and has added another 3.5 in the playoffs and is quite simply a dominant edge rusher. I mentioned earlier the Packers less than perfect rush defence, and while Matthews isn’t typically the guy who stops the A-gap runs, if he can stop Mendenhall for a loss a couple of times on outside rushes, that could be enough to swing this game in Green Bay’s favor. He’s also my tip for Superbowl MVP…

The Packers will win if…

They can get an early lead and the running game comes alive to eat the clock when it matters.

Oddly, I actually think theres a better chance for the Packers to win if the Steelers take the lead and Green Bay are forced to throw, then grab the win late in the game. While I’m sure the Packers would want the more standard, safer route to victory I stated first, the latter would be much more fun for us to watch, right?!

Andy Stuart

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