What the Green Bay Packers offense must do to be successful against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl (Feb. 6, 3:30 p.m. PST, Ch. 11):
Mike McCarthy has been the hottest playcaller in the postseason, and he gives Aaron Rodgers free rein to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage if he sees something better. The Packers will need that flexibility because on Pittsburgh's side is Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, among the more creative minds in league history. Rodgers must slow the Steelers' defense by audibling out of runs to quick slants and screens, but also must find running opportunities for rookie James Starks, who has kept opposing defenses honest in the postseason with carries between the tackles. That should help offset Pittsburgh's outside speed.
The Packers don't give much pass protection help to their tackles, so they must win these outside battles for their high-flying pass offense to take off. Left tackle Chad Clifton had some rough outings early in the season, but since has returned to his Pro Bowl form. Good thing, because he's got a huge challenge in Pittsburgh's James Harrison. Low and forklift-strong, Harrison presents a daunting challenge for tall tackles who can't get low enough to get leverage on him.
The other tackle/outside linebacker matchup will be equally watchable: Green Bay rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga versus disruptive Lamarr Woodley. The aforementioned quick screens, slants and inside runs also would help the tackles keep the Steelers' outside linebackers at bay.
Green Bay finished the regular season with the league's fifth-ranked passing offense, and that's not just because of Rodgers. The Packers go a solid five deep at receiver, and they are basically interchangeable. They can all make the tough passes over the middle, and all have enough speed to stretch the field. That's fertile ground for mismatches.
The Packers' hope is to use formations and motion to alter defensive alignments on the fly and force defenders to cover outside their comfort zone. Because of the Packers' versatility, they aim to attack based on the defender instead of the receiver.
Despite having the best safety in the game, the Steelers are occasionally susceptible to a letdown at corner. In two playoff games, Pittsburgh has been largely respectable against the pass but has given up three touchdowns with one interception.
When these teams played last season, Pittsburgh won in a 37-36 shootout. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards — including the decisive 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace — and Rodgers threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The difference this time? The Steelers have Troy Polamalu. The Packers must be aware of where Polamalu lines up and make him accountable for coverage, because when he is able to run free he creates havoc.
John Madden on Rodgers: "His escapability, to me, has been amazing. You don't think of Aaron Rodgers as that kind of guy. He's got that little spin move that John Elway used to have. You'd go in to tackle him, and he'd kind of spin and go out the other way. Rodgers does that too."
NEXT: Steelers defense