Say Cheese: Ball Security Betrays Steelers, Not Pack

Prior to Super Bowl XLV, I picked the Packers to beat the Steelers to win for a couple of reasons: on offense, Green Bay’s receiver depth vs. the Steeler secondary, and Green Bay’s stellar defensive backfield.

I was partially right. If third and fourth receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones would have held on to the five balls that Aaron Rodgers threaded to their hands, Green Bay would have won in a blowout. Jones dropped a sure touchdown pass, and both let sure first-down conversions slip out of their hands.

The Packer defense forced three turnovers that led to 21 points. Nick Collins’ interception return for a touchdown to make it 14-0 was a devastating blow to the Steelers, as was Rashard Mendenhall’s fourth-quarter fumble that set up Green Bay’s last touchdown – a drive the Packers only had to move 55 yards to reach pay dirt on. The Packers only had to move the ball 108 yards to score their last three touchdowns.

It also became evident in this game that Ted Thompson has assembled a coaching staff that can change on the fly, and a roster that has the depth to adapt. Charles Woodson is probably Green Bay’s most important defender. He blitzes, he plays the run, and he covers. He is to the Packers what Troy Polamalu is to the Steelers. Yet, when Woodson, along with rookie corner Sam Shields, went down, the Packers adjusted.

Jarett Bush and Pat Lee came off the bench to effectively replace the injured guys, with Bush assuming Woodson’s blitz role. Even though he didn’t come up with a sack, Bush caused enough havoc in the backfield that Ben Roethlisberger rushed some throws incomplete.

Dom Capers and the defensive staff had enough confidence to run some of the same plays Woodson runs with him out of the game. On offense, Mike McCarthy recognized that the way to beat the Steelers is through the air, and so the Pack called only 11 rushing plays to 42 passing plays.

Ultimately, Green Bay won because it played cleaner ball than Pittsburgh. The three Steeler turnovers were bad enough, but turnovers turned a second-and-1 into a second-and-6 that they didn’t get a first down on, a second-and-6 into a first-and-16 they got nothing out of, and a late unnecessary roughness forced them to start from their own 13 rather than their own 26.

Even in the Super Bowl, it comes down to mistakes. And in this one in Dallas, Pittsburgh made the mistakes that allowed the Packers to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy home to Green Bay.