By The Associated Press/NEMS Daily Journal
1. Aaron Rodgers
• Down the stretch and in the postseason, he has been the NFL’s best quarterback. Rodgers is excellent against the blitz, which is an essential defensive element for the aggressive Steelers. Rodgers works every day against a defense designed and coached by people who helped develop the vaunted Pittsburgh scheme; hard to see the Steelers fooling him. The Packers’ receiving corps can run four and five people into patterns, and keep Pittsburgh from stacking the line against the run; Rodgers shouldn’t be forced into throwing the ball 50 times.
2. Pittsburgh might be more rested, but Green Bay is more tested
• Unlike the Steelers, the Packers didn’t get a first-round bye. They had to win five games in a row to get here, starting with two weeks left in the regular season. Sixteen Packers are on IR, a half-dozen of them starters. This team finds a way. By comparison, Pittsburgh has rarely been pushed out of its comfort zone. The Packers are a much better team than the fluky Arizona bunch Pittsburgh defeated in the Super Bowl two years ago; not really sure the Steelers get that. The Jets beating the Patriots in the divisional round was a huge, huge break for the Steelers.
3. B.J. Raji
• More likely than not, the Packers’ huge, athletic nose tackle will be working against sub Pittsburgh center Doug Legursky. This is a crucial mismatch for a Steelers offensive line that is just adequate. Much of the buildup here has gone to the No. 1-ranked Steelers defense, but the Packers’ defense ranked third, and it is working against the ninth-ranked offense. Packers’ offense ranked third, just like the D. The Steelers led the league with 48 sacks? Gosh, the Packers only had … 47.
Watch out for this guy
• Running back James Starks has made the team with the league’s 24th-ranked rushing offense extremely balanced in the postseason. After talking to the Steelers the past few days, I’m not sure they understand how big a shift this has been for a Green Bay offense that was one-dimensional and flawed at midseason. Starks’ 70 postseason carries for 263 yards don’t completely tell the story of how he has made play-action work better for Rodgers and taken pressure off the QB.
• Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and nobody begrudges him that honor, but Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III would have been every bit as good a choice. Just ask Kevin Kolb. Matthews mostly lines up on the left side, where he would work against right tackle Flozell Adams, but he often moves to the right, which would put him against unimpressive Jonathan Scott. Either one of them is going to need help. Ben Roethlisberger is renowned for being hard to tackle, but if Matthews grabs Big Ben, Big Ben is going down. Hard.
Philadelphia Daily News (MCT)