When the Green Bay Packers line up across from the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLV, much will have changed from the last time these two teams met. Pittsburgh will have added a game changer in their secondary in the form of Troy Polamalu and the Packers will be minus a game changer in their receiving corps in the form of tight end Jermichael Finely.
Several other differences are sprinkled throughout the rosters but the biggest one will be, without question, the talent available to Dom Capers in the defensive secondary. When these teams faced off last year, what killed the Packers more than anything was the way their lack of depth at the cornerback position was repeatedly exposed by Ben Rothelisberger when he was able to extend plays, ad lib and find receivers downfield who were trained to keep plays alive as long as their quarterback was upright.
Take a look at the play below for an example of what I'm talking about. Jarrett Bush, the nickel back at the time, gets caught watching Rothelisberger and completely loses track of Hines Ward, who sees Big Ben escape the pocket and bolts up the sideline, past an unaware Bush:
The initial coverage and push from the pass rush are great. It's the quarterback's ability to extend the play that kills the Packers here. Bush grows passive, just for a second, watching the quarterback move up in the pocket, which is all the time Ward needs to get behind him. In the endzone shot you can see the fantastic job Roethlisberger does of keeping his eyes downfield while sidestepping the collapsing pocket.
Making matters worse is that this play, and several others like it, came on third down. The Packers kept getting the Steelers into what should have been favorable situations for the defense, only to blow it by not making the play on third down.
All the talk all week about the Packer defense needing to get Roethlisberger down to the ground when they get to him is just that - a lot of talk. Yes, they will have opportunities to sack the quarterback, especially if they are able to expose the middle of the line with Maurkice Pouncey out. But Roethlisberger will find ways to extend plays, and when he does the Packers simply must do a better job in the secondary of taking away the improvised big plays that absolutely killed them last year.
The Packers improved play and personnel in the secondary could end up going a long way in determining the outcome of the Super Bowl.
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