2009 NFL Season: Preview – Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

When the Pittsburgh Steelers look back on the devastation of the 2009 football season, they should take particular note of this Sunday’s contest with the Green Bay Packers.  Commentators, fans and historians may well recall shocking losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns.  After five consecutive losses, it may be difficult for anyone to actually see the Packers coming.  The NFL does — and so do advertisers.  The game has been moved to the national television spotlight (4:15 p.m. broadcast), and if the Steelers are not careful, they could get separated from their egos in embarrassing fashion.

Here are 7 simple reasons the Steelers could be in real trouble on Sunday:

  1. Aaron Rodgers. The Steelers have to get pressure on Rodgers to stop him from throwing the ball all over Heinz Field.  Rodgers has been sacked far more than any elite QB in the NFL this season.  Before the 8 sack debacle on Lake Erie last week, Rodgers had been sacked 33% more than Ben Roethlisberger.  The Vikings enjoy a 2-0 season series advantage over the Packers precisely because they were able to pressure Rodgers.  On the season, Green Bay’s QB is 291-444 for 3,579 yards.  He has 25 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions.
  2. Packer Defense. The Packers are second in overall defense, 9th in points allowed and first in takeaway/giveaway differential.  This defense is led by former Steelers defensive coordinator (’92-’94) Dom Capers and they are running a 3-4 defense featuring two young, fast outside linebackers.  Kevin Greene is on the staff and probably influenced the hair style of USC rookie Clay Matthews.  Does any of this sound familiar?
  3. Charles Woodson. The former Michigan standout and Heisman winner is doing it again.  He had 8 interceptions, two sacks and four forced fumbles.  He is in the middle of everything that happens for the Packer defense.  He is becoming a trendy pick for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Just because he has become popular doesn’t mean he is not worthy.  Woodson is making plays and providing leadership on and off the field.  
  4. Jermichael Finley. The Steelers have often had trouble covering talented tight ends deep down the field (or even in short spaces).  Finley smoked the Baltimore Ravens for 79 yards on 7 catches, including two touchdowns.  He was also instrumental in the Packers win over the Bears.  This isn’t a good matchup for James Farrior or Keyaron Fox.
  5. Jordy Nelson. The second-year player out of Kansas State was drafted by the Packers in the 2nd round (36th overall — before DeSean Jackson, Eddie Royal, Limas Sweed and Mario Manningham).  Nelson hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.  James Jones is also in the fold.  Nelson, however, has done a credible job returning kicks, and at 6’3″, 215 pounds, he’s going to be tough to bring down.
  6. B.J. Raji vs. Justin Hartwig and Trai Essex. The rookie nose tackle weighed in at 337 during the summer.  He may be playing higher or lower than that right now, but he’s having his way with opposing centers and guard combinations.  Justin Hartwig is going to have a long game.  Chris Kemoeatu will be fine when he pulls to the right side on blocks — but only if Hartwig isn’t three yards in the backfield.  If Rashard Mendenhall is able to get going, it probably won’t be on runs that require Hartwig and Essex to hold the line.
  7. Deja Vu All Over Again.
    1. Charles Woodson is Rod Woodson.
    2. B.J. Raji is Joel Steed.
    3. Nick Barnett is Hardy Nickerson.
    4. Clay Matthews is Kevin Greene.
    5. Aaron Kampman is Greg Lloyd.
    6. Al Harris is Carnell Lake.
    7. Brad Jones is Chad Brown.

This is not going to be a fun game.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery — only, this isn’t imitation…it’s replication because the architects (Capers, Greene) were in Pittsburgh in the early 1990’s.  If the Steelers aren’t very careful, they could catch a beat down at home because someone else had jumped inside their time machine.  If I were them, I’d skip the tape of this Packer defense and get a long, good look at those old Steelers video.

I know…there is only ONE Greg Lloyd…one Rod Woodson, etc.  The thing is, these Packers don’t have to be the genuine article to beat these Steelers…and what could be worse than getting thrashed at home by your mirror image?

— And check out the INT at the 6:22 mark.

36 comments

  1. i like your analysis, a few comments on your points above (you will quickly realize i am a packer fan):

    1. pressuring rodgers is a must, but he also will pressure himself by holding the ball too long. if you look at the weekly stats you will see the majority of his sacks were earlier in the year when he was pressing and his offensive line was terrible. they have come around since.

    2. the packer defense has also improved significantly over the year. earlier they had absolutely no pressure on the qb, but have since fixed that problem. ironically, since they lost both kampman and harris for the year during the same game they have really come together. clay matthews is playing very well!

    3. woodson is having the best year of his nfl career while playing several different positions in capers defense. he has become a sexy pick for nfl def player of the year, but not without warrant.

    4. finley is a fine te with wr abilities…exactly what they expected when they drafted him highly out of texas. rodgers doesnt use the te like favre does, but finley is still a very good one.

    5. jordy nelson is a good #4 wr, buts its the combination of all of them that make them good. i put the packer wr core up against anyone in the league including indy as the best out there. driver is having a big year while jennings numbers are off, but hes still producing.

    6. raji is becoming the top pick people thought he was…and no chance hes 337…probably closer to 350.

    7. with all due respect the packer defense does play a 3-4 and is coached by dom capers, but thats about where the similarities stop. charles woodson is a cb while rod was a safety. raji has only played well in a few games, so the jury is still out. aaron kampman was lost in the 3-4 and was having his worst season. al harris was basically left on his own and played as the cover corner before his injury. and the brad jones is playing in kampmans old position…jury is out on him. i think woodson and matthews are driving this defense…and matthews play has elevated that of former top pick aj hawk

    anyway, cool post!

  2. Long time no see A. Hope all is well up there in cheese land. You should know that Woodson played corner for the Steelers for a full decade. That’s the foundation of his Hall of Fame career. I think you’ll see and hear more comparisons to the 90’s Steeler defenses if this Packer defense can win playoff games and become a solid Top 5 defense. You’ll see. But you never know who reads this blog…they may be working on the storylines already.

  3. WOW!

    that last drive was incredible! big ben threw at least three thread the needle passes including that last one… amazing

    nice call on Finley…

    and that Clay Matthews sure is quick coming around that end… Brad Jones is also no slouch

  4. I’m speechless…..

    Big Ben is clutch….what else can you say? Mike Wallace is gonna be a stud. He may be the “steel” (steal) of the draft.

    It was a great win but they still have a LOT of work to do in order to become one of the elite teams again. I know that Tomlin is gonna take some heat from the fans about that onside kick. To be honest, I don’t blame him because the defense can’t stop anyone and has given up big leads late in games.

    Can’t wait for T3’s and kos’s observations. 😉

  5. GN-

    I’m saving my observations for the morning. Rest assured, I’ll be critical. Right now, I will just say, look up those articles that T3 published about QB’s throwing over 40 times a game and how much it diminshes a team’s chances of winning and you’ll know how I truly felt about this game. 🙂 I have some things that I have to do this evening. I will just say, it’s nice to get the monkey off of the Steelers backs. Their chances for making the playoffs are still slim, but at least slim is just opening the door and hasn’t walked out yet.

  6. GN, i think that if troy palamalu doesn’t get hurt, we are talking about Pittsburgh as an elite team that is probably 10-4 instead of 7-7.

    In the end you can also make a slight case for the onside kick because he might have been factoring time left on the clock afterwards for ben to work his magic. there are some parallels between this game and the infamous 4th and 2 belichick call

  7. I agree MODI…..

    I actually think that the onside kick was a great call. Sure, it was risky but I’m sure that Tomlin thought of the possiblity of them not recovering the kick; that is, IF they don’t recover, give the Packers a short field and if they score, there is a good chance there will be enough time left to win it on the last drive. Hey, it worked. I’ll take it. 🙂

  8. We didn’t get the game here in New York City. I saw the final drive. Roethlisberger put the ball where it had to be. I tracked the game on my phone and looked at the box score. It seems alot like several other games they’ve played – including vs. Raiders and San Diego. I’m glad they decided to throw the ball to Heath Miller in the middle of the field. To me, that’s what set the table for the final drive. Miller’s success creates space for everyone else (Holmes, Wallace,etc.) Like kos, I’ll probably have more to say tomorrow.

    I didn’t see the onside call live, but had the same reaction when I heard about it. I think GN and I may have had a verbatim brain sync on that one.

  9. T3, you gotta get the NFL Redzone channel!!!

    no commercials, just three hours of every scoring drive while it is occurring. best thing ever.

    …Miller made a HUGE catch on a perfect throw on that final drive

  10. I have Game Rewind. GN loves Redzone, too. Even without Redzone, you can track the games closely and see all the scoring plays almost right after they happen. I can’t watch Red Zone during the day on the weekends (Daddy Duty). I can watch Rewind during the week. It’s every game from every team (including playoffs) from 2008 and all of 2009 — for the same price as Red Zone (I think.)

    Interesting to see Julius Peppers give Favre what he hasn’t seen almost all season — blind side pressure.

  11. rewind sounds good, but i feel that i need to see it while it is happening. Knowing the outcome seems to spoil the viewing experience…

  12. First off. Great game by almost any standard. Mike Wallace with bookend touchdown catches in the game. (His only two catches in the game.) Still not the kind of game that Steelers fans are used to or likely to like. Listening to Mike Tomlin’s comments, I’d say that if you are a fan of big passing games, you better savor this year. He says he’d like more balance, but then at the same time, says the reason that the Steelers go to an empty set on 3 and 2 or less rather than run the ball is that Mendenhall is only 6 for 12 in those situations. That means that either he’s getting caught doing that spin move, or the line isn’t moving folks back. Might the fullback be back in style in the Steel City next season?

    Now for the game. Bruce Arians is still channeling his inner Andy Reid. Ben loves it. Ben is a QB and QB’s wish they could throw on every down. He made a statement: “We needed every one of those yards today.” Maybe if you wouldn’t have taken sacks at key times, you wouldn’t have needed 500+ yards Ben! Ben dropped back 51 times yesterday. He was 29-46 for 503 yards, with 5 sacks. Rodgers dropped back 49 times was 26-48 for 383 yards and was only sacked once. Neither QB threw a pick. Both teams played stout run defense, with the Packers rushing only 12 times for 60 yards (big runs of 24 yards for Grant, and 14 for Rogers inflate the average and make it look like they should have ran more), and the Steelers 19 times for 65 yards.

    I don’t know the exact number, but the Steelers started the game with at least 5 straight passes. That first one for a touchdown worked because Green Bay thought the Steelers would run or try for a shorter pass and the corner was out of position on Wallace. After that, though, they should have actually tried to run. That play put the Packers on notice. It was almost as if Arians was trying to prove the point that the Steelers could win with a throwing offense.

    As for the usual with the Steelers, in the third and fourth quarters, they settled for 3 field goals and got Wallace’s touchdown reception. At least two of those drives stalled because Ben held on to the ball too long and took sacks.

    The defense was average. They let the Packers get away with some big plays. Greg Jennings caught an 83 yard TD pass in the first quarter. Donald Driver caught a 49 yard pass. The secondary was victimized in this game. Part of the reason why, only one sack for the Steelers front seven. They couldn’t get consistent pressure on Rogers. This despite the fact that early in the game, Rogers got planted by Harrison and Woodley on different plays while getting rid of the ball. Woodley in particular rocked him, but Rogers is a gamer. Will the corners get any interceptions this year??!!

    The only gaffe with special teams this week was when Ike Taylor touched the onsides kick too early. No real long kickoff or punt returns given up this week.

    As for the onsides kick, I understand why Tomlin did it. His defense can’t hold leads in the fourth quarter. His offense is settling for field goals in the second half. I’m glad the team won so he wouldn’t have to answer questions.

    I’ve been to a couple of boards where so-called Steeler fans are taking racist shots at Tomlin. Saying that the man isn’t really that smart or good or he’s just won with Cowher’s players. He won’t last long (which for a Steelers fan to say that given their history of keeping coaches around is absurd). Saying that Cowher would have never have gotten a performance like this out of his teams… Cowher lost five straight in 1998 & 2003 (the Tommy Maddox debacle) and six straight games in 1999. The 1999 losses included: to a 2-14 Browns team at home and a 4-12 Bengals team at home. Also in the streak were losses to the Titans (lost in the Super Bowl that year), Ravens, Chiefs, and Jaguars.

    Bottom line: The Steelers stole this game. One thing that I didn’t mention is that the Packer receivers dropped alot of catchable passes. Aaron Rogers was visibly frustrated by the number of easy passes that his receivers let get away. Had they caught half of them, this game would have had a much different outcome, and today, the question would still be when would the Steelers end their long losing streak.

  13. my bad on rod woodson…not sure why i remembered him as a safety. obviously didnt look it up before commenting. anyway, great offensive game yesterday, not so much for either defense. i thought tomlin was nuts on that onside kick and still do, regardless of how it worked out. had it not and they lose he would be in the bellicheck zone (ie 4th and 2 at your own 30). anyway, well done on the last drive and your hopes are alive for a playoff bid, i dont think anyone will beat indy anyway, but well see.

  14. For those who are newer to the board that didn’t get a chance to read this, I’m posting this link to an excellent T3 article about QB’s who throw too many times a game and their chances of winning diminishing. If I remember correctly, in today’s NFL, the sweet spot is between 25 and 35, with little change up to 40. Anything over that and winning percentages in big games and playoff games diminish greatly. Both Rogers and Roethlisberger threw over 45 times yesterday, so one of them had to win.

    https://temple3.wordpress.com/2009/01/22/donovan-mcnabbs-round-table-talk-with-the-legends/

  15. Thanks kos.

    When I did the math, the 45 number didn’t mean anything (not as much) in the regular season. Elite QB’s still win regular season games with 45 passes. Many have done it with 50. Those playoff games are substantially different. The defenses are better. The games are more intense. The margin for error is smaller.

  16. Arleen –

    You’re probably remembering Woodson after Pittsburgh. I think he played corner in his one year for the 49ers. I know he played safety for the Ravens and the Raiders. He was on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team in 1994 as a corner.

    Indy is beatable. They always start off this way. One thing that I like that Caldwell did in the last game, is even though they have the AFC sewed up, he played his team like any other week. Notice the one time that Indy won the Super Bowl, the team had to play its way into the playoffs and didn’t get to rest the players. San Diego has the best chance of beating them and always seems to give Indy a run for their money because they can put pressure on Manning and their corners give the Colt’s receivers fits.

  17. Arleen:

    Thanks. I liked Tomlin’s call. Our defense has one stud player under 28. In the 4th quarter and late in the season, they don’t have the legs or the inexperience or the ball hawks to shut teams down. Tomlin has seen this script before and he took the bull by the horns to give the team a chance. The call actually DID work because it was intended to offer a DUAL benefit. Either the Steelers would get the ball OR have enough time to score. They had enough time to score. The kick was not intended to guarantee a score — but it did exactly what Tomlin hoped. It gave his team the best chance to win.

    And that makes it different than Belichick’s decision because NE was not going to get the ball back. With 2:08 left, Belichick decided that the game would be decided there. In essence, he shortened the game to one play. Tomlin actually did the reverse. He extended the game. Moreover, whereas Belichick’s decision increased the pressure on his defense to stop Peyton Manning, Tomlin’s decision actually DECREASED the pressure on the Steelers to stop Aaron Rodgers. If the Packers scored, it wasn’t fatal — as long as the Steelers’ offense had time.

    Tomlin’s decision was genius born of an understanding of his team’s strengths and the game situation. Belichick’s decision was far from that. By the time the Pats got the ball back, there were :09 remaining.

  18. kos:

    If Indy loses to San Diego in the playoffs for 3 consecutive seasons, it’s going to be time to re-tool the team. The Colts have been dominant in the regular seasons, but in the early part of the decade, they were unable to beat New England — and if the Chargers beat them this time…they’re going to have to look at a new approach. Indy probably believes they’ve already made some significant changes (new DC, bigger d-line, younger corners, new safety Bethea who has been best Sanders replacement, etc.). That’s a game I’d like to see — unless the Steelers make the playoffs.

  19. Wow, kos. I see why you waited until the morning to post this one.

    That’s a great break down. I’m going to do a piece on Mike Tomlin soon — and this team. There are clearly parts of Steeler Nation who think Tomlin is to blame for most of their failings this season. But, if you want to blame him for this season, you have to give him credit for last season. Those were more than just “Cowher’s guys” in that locker room and Bill was in the comfort of the booth when the “53” were pounding the rock and beating the dog shit out of the Ravens and Cowboys and Chargers. So…I have to dismiss comments that want to reduce what Tomlin has accomplished of his own accord.

    The biggest problem that the Steelers have in rushing the ball, in addition to the absence of a fullback is the center-guard combination of Justin Hartwig and Trai Essex. You will seldom see these two blow up the defense or get a great push on short yardage. When the team has struggled on pulling plays to the right, it has been because Kemo has to navigate around Hartwig who has been pushed into the backfield. Neither is adept at pass protection. So, the teams options have been limited to power runs to the left side (which they don’t do enough of) and counters/pulls to the right. They have had very little success with dive plays.

    The foundation of the Steeler run game has always been the pulling center — not the pulling guard (until Faneca). We used to have centers who could get out to the edge and create running lanes for backs. When Stapleton went down before the Titan game, I knew this would be a problem. I think Essex has improved, but I simply think he lacks elite athleticism for the position and is inconsistent in his technique. If you want to see the Steelers offense improve markedly, they have to go out and get a center — and hope that Stapleton is ready to play next season.

    And the coaches have to hammer home the principle of taking what’s there. I think the Steelers need to get an explosive 3rd down back. Mewelde is reliable, but he’s not a game-breaker. Willie Parker can’t catch. So, they need to look at deploying someone who really makes check-downs more attractive to BR.

  20. Another thing I wanted to add is that Max Starks had a bad game. Clay Matthews and Cullen Jenkins were having their way with him. On one play (the one where Matthews caused the fumble, but it was ruled a forward pass 🙂 ), Matthews blew by Starks so fast that he left him standing in his tracks. I haven’t seen Starks play this bad in a while.

  21. One of the reasons I like to wait ’til Monday to post my thoughts on games are to take some of the emotion out of it. I try not to be one of those fans that thinks my team is perfect. Also, waiting a day allows for some of the games key points to be processed in my brain better.

    One thing I forgot to post was how lucky Ben was. He stayed away for the most part from Charles Woodson. But, on the couple of plays that he did go towards him, Woodson wasn’t in position to intercept. I saw what the announcers meant about Woodson. He didn’t just stay in one place. On some plays he defended Ward, others Holmes, rushed the QB, and even played a bit of safety.

  22. GN:

    The guy who wrote the article for Yahoo gets it. I don’t recall when that’s been done before, but Belichick did the equivalent of that when he gave the Broncos a safety a few years ago, free kicked, got a stop and scored a touchdown. That was some ballsy stuff too.

    It’s the only way to coach — and it keeps pressure on the other team. Every team that plays the Steelers will have to think that Tomlin will pull that again if the situation is right. They’ll have to plan for it. It may mean putting a different return team out there — it may mean holding guys a second longer on the kick. It could mean all of that — either way, it plays to our benefit and allows us to dictate terms. That’s what its all about.

  23. you also have to take recent games into account where the Steelers lost thre game on the opponents last drive. Tomlin wasn’t trying to see that script unfold again…

  24. “Tomlin has seen this script before and he took the bull by the horns to give the team a chance.”

    No doubt.

    Now, if you had the time, wouldn’t you really like to watch the Dolphins-Titans again and just relax and focus on play in the trenches — without worrying about the score or other games or your fantasy team or even the announcers? Rewind is the way to go!!

  25. Anyone else check out the schedule for the AFC wild card contenders this weekend:

    Chargers (11-3) at Titans (7-7) on Friday @ 7:30pm
    Broncos (8-6) at Eagles (10-4) on Sunday @ 1 pm
    Texans (7-7) at Dolphins (7-7) on Sunday @ 1 pm
    Jaguars (7-7) at Patriots (9-5) on Sunday @ 1 pm
    Ravens (8-6) at Steelers (7-7) on Sunday @ 1pm
    Jets (7-7) at Colts (14-0) on Sunday @ 4:15 pm

    Broncos, Jaguars, and Jets are all going to have rough games on the road. The Eagles are still playing for the possibility of a first round bye, so the Broncos. Not sure if there is any scenario where the Patriots could steal the bye from the Chargers. Jim Caldwell seems like he wants the perfect season which is bad news for Rex Ryan’s boys.

    The Titans get a tough draw having to play the Chargers, but at least it’s a home game. Unfortunately for the Titans, the Chargers are playing their best ball right now. Texans-Dolphins is an elimination game. I don’t know which scenario of one of them winning helps the Steelers more, though. The Steelers can definitely beat the Ravens.

    This is going to be a weekend that eliminates some of the contenders. If the Steelers didn’t have a poor 4-6 records against AFC competiton, they’d be in better shape in case of multiple way ties.

    Personally, if I’m the Steelers, and they really want to get to the playoffs, I’d rather have the 6th seed anyway. The Pats or Bengals in the Wild Card, then getting Indy the next week are all winnable games if they can keep their mistakes down, and possibly get Polamalu back.

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