One of the headlines surrounding the Super Bowl in the week off was the deal Packers linebacker Clay Matthews signed with a hair product company. That agreement rivaled a sponsorship deal Steelers safety Troy Polamalu has with a similar product, and the golden-locked linebacker received plenty of attention for the deal. Though both players are fantastic and receiving headlines leading up to the big game, I question how much they’ll be able to influence the contest next Sunday.
Looking strictly at Polamalu, the safety has seven interceptions in 16 games in addition to 70 tackles (playoffs included). He made a game-changing play against the Baltimore Ravens in week 13, sacking Joe Flacco and creating a turnover that helped his team win the game. A week later he picked off two passes against the Bengals. There’s little doubt that Polamalu is one of the finest safeties in the league, but how much of an impact will he have on this game?
Pittsburgh’s defense is the best in the league against the run, and a historically good defense against the run. They only allowed 62.8ypg during the regular season and even less in the playoffs. They held the Raiders to three points despite Oakland having the second-best running game in the NFL. They allowed just 19 points in two games to the Browns, a team whose best weapon was Peyton Hillis. Contrarily, two of their regular season losses came to the Saints and Patriots, teams that had top 10 passing games.
The Packers had the fifth-best passing game during the regular season in terms of yardage per game. In the playoffs, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been even better. Though running back James Starks did well early in the playoffs, Green Bay will be wise to keep the ball in the air and give their MVP-candidate quarterback a chance to win it, meaning Polamalu’s biggest chance to impact the game will be in pass defense, where interceptions against Aaron Rodgers are infrequent. I’m guessing 43′s impact on this one will be limited for that simple reason.
Similar to Polamalu, second-year linebacker Clay Matthews is invaluable to his team’s defense. Matthews had 14 sacks during the regular season, tying him for third in the league. The game he missed because of injury early in the season was a loss at home to the Dolphins. Contrarily, he’s had 3.5 sacks in his team’s three playoff games, not coincidentally all wins.
Though there’s little doubt that Matthews is a premier pass rusher, the quarterback he faces next is the one who is probably least effected by sacks and pressure than any other in the NFL: Ben Roethlisberger. Though Big Ben takes more sacks than almost anyone in the NFL, he plays with broken noses or even broken feet, and stays in games no matter how beat up he is. Roethlisberger is also at his finest when improvising mid-play, scrambling around until one of his receivers pops open. Clay Matthews may be able to get to Roethlisberger, but the difference is Big Ben won’t be effected or intimidated by the hits the same way many other quarterbacks would.
Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews are big-time players who may be the most recognizable stars on their respective defenses, but don’t be surprised if the Pro Bowlers are kept quiet on Sunday. The advantage in this regard goes to Green Bay.