Keys to Victory: Steelers

By The Associated Press/NEMS Daily Journal

1. The wideouts
• Much is being made this week about the Packers’ deep and talented WR corps and how they will be able to spread the Steelers out with four- and five-WR sets. But the Steelers’ WR corps also is pretty good. Thirty-four-year-old Hines Ward’s numbers were down this year, but he’s still a very good pass-catcher, particularly on third down. Then there is the Kiddie Korps second-year speedster Mike Wallace and rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Wallace is a DeSean Jackson-like vertical threat. He averaged an AFC-best 21 yards per catch, had 10 TD receptions and had a league-best 10 receptions of 40-plus yards. Sanders and Brown have combined for nine catches in the Steelers’ two postseason wins. Brown’s 14-yard reception on third-and-6 against the Jets with less than two minutes left in the game clinched the victory.
2. The Steelers’ pass rush
• Aaron Rodgers was sacked four or more times in a game just three times this season, but the Packers lost two of those three. This will be the best pass rush he’s faced all season. The Steelers had a league-best 48 sacks. Linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for 20 sacks and nine forced fumbles and have notched five more in their two playoff wins over the Ravens and Jets. Harrison and Woodley will present major challenges for Packers offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga. And then there’s inside linebacker James Farrior (six sacks) and safety Troy Polamalu, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Nowhere to run
• After finishing 24th in the league in rushing, the Packers have received a big lift from rookie James Starks in the playoffs. Starks has rushed for 263 yards in the Packers’ three postseason wins, which has been a big help to Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. But Rodgers likely will have to do it all on his own Sunday. The Steelers own the league’s best run defense. They gave up the third fewest rushing yards per game in league history this season (62.8). In four of the Packers’ six losses this year, they rushed for fewer than 78 yards.
Watch out for this guy
• Doug Legursky: With rookie Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey not expected to play because of an ankle injury, Legursky will be the Steelers’ starting center. He’ll have his hands full against Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji. But he started four games this season, albeit at guard, and held his own in three-plus quarters of work two weeks ago against the Jets with the exception of a couple of bad snaps. He doesn’t have Pouncey’s athleticism, but is a tough guy.
Key matchup
• Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. Packers RT Bryan Bulaga: Bulaga is a still-learning-the-ropes rookie who will be primarily responsible for keeping Woodley off of Aaron Rodgers. Woodley had 91/2 sacks this season and has 10 in his first six playoff games. Bulaga gave up six of the Packers’ 12 one-on-one sacks this season, and if he struggles with Woodley, it’s going to force the Packers to make protection adjustments that could affect Rodgers’ ability to attack the Steelers vertically.