The cornerback blitz by the Packers worked very well against Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie, but I don’t know if cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields can do anything with Pittsburgh’s Big Ben Roethlisberger when they arrive unblocked on a blitz in this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Getting to him is the easiest part of the job. Getting him the ground seems to be nearly impossible.
We’ve heard all the talk about pass rushers going after the football and raking it out of Roethlisberger’s hand, but the Jets were talking about doing that before the AFC Championship game. How did that work out for them? Big Ben escaped a few times and sent them on vacation.
Roethlisberger knows how to sling tacklers off of him. He will fight with his off arm and some how he uses the pass rusher’s momentum to get them off balance, then his tremendous size and strength enables him to escape.
I’ve heard NFL Network football analyst Matt Millen describe Roethlisberger’s skill as “awkward athleticism”. Big Ben doesn’t look athletic when he escapes from the pocket. You’re sure the rushers are going to get him down, but he maintains his balance and keeps the ball in position to throw in his right hand, then makes an accurate throw to an open receiver.
He fearlessly looks downfield in search of an open receiver, despite the fact that he’s surrounded by big, angry and relentless pass rushers. His escapability makes the opposing defensive backs go crazy because it’s impossible to cover a wide receiver for six or seven seconds. You can’t draw up a defense to stop his adlibs, you can only depend on your players to make plays against him.
Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers who is one of the developers of the zone blitz, which tricks offensive blocking schemes by dropping a defensive lineman or two into pass coverage, while sending a safety or cornerback on the pass rush, will need to find somebody who can get Roethlisberger on the ground. He can design a defense to get Williams or Shields to Roethlisberger, but can they get him down.
Capers knows that getting a defensive back free and on Roethlsiberger’s back is the easiest part of the assignment. How can they get him to the ground? Who can get the ball out of his hands?
I think the answer might be “Mr. Do-It-All”, Packers Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson. I believe he might be smart enough and strong enough to get the ball out of Roethlisberger’s hands or at least pin his right arm down so that he can’t throw the ball.
This will be the key to the game when Pittsburgh offense is on the field. I think Green Bay’s defense will put their big guys out there when the Steelers are in a run formation with Rashard Mendenhall in the game. The Steelers might go to two-tight ends to increase the size of their run blockers in running formations. They must contain that Steelers ground game and I think they will.
The challenge will switch on second and longs or third and longs when Pittsburgh goes to three and four wide receivers. Green Bay will have to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket after they prove they can stop the Steelers running game.
The Packers have gifted pass rushers on their defense, who can put pass rush pressure on Roethlisberger without the aid of a blitz. They can go big with a three or four man defensive line or they can go small and leave only two defensive linemen on the field.
Capers changes his game plan every week. Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte described it best by saying, “It takes a full half to understand what the Packers defense is doing”.
You can believe that Capers will throw the kitchen sink at Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
MVP runner up linebacker Clay Matthews will be hot on Roethlisberger’s tail. Matthews is a tenacious, even maniacal pass rusher, who will be exploding out of his stance from one side of the defensive line or the other, in pursuit of Roethlisberger. They can’t afford to double-team Matthews because he’s got help on the Packers defensive front.
Standout defensive tackle B.J. Raji could dominate the game if Pittsburgh’s Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey isn’t able to go. If Pouncey can go, he’ll be playing on a badly injured ankle. If he can’t go, then backup center, Doug Legurky will be the starter at center. You can believe that Capers and Raji will try to find a way to dominate the game against Legursky.
Regardless of which center plays, they won’t be able to single block Raji one-on-one, so the Packers will be able to anticipate double-teams on number ninety on running and pass plays. This will allow them to send Matthews and defensive backs on blitzes up the middle into Roethlisberger’s face.
Another problem for the Steelers will be talented defensive end Cullen Jenkins. He’s healthy now and far too talented to be blocked one-on-one by the Steelers slow and non-athletic offensive tackles. Roethlisberger will have to either get the ball out of his hands or find a way to escape the pocket and buy time for his receivers to get open.
Again, the Packers pass rushers and blitzers will get to Roethlisberger but what happens then. Will they strip the ball and force a turnover ? Will they find a way to get him to the ground? Will they pin his arm to his side and not allow him to throw the football?
Or will they miss him and slide off of him? Will they slip and misjudge his strength? Will they try to kill him and find themselves off balance and unable to get him to the ground before he has thrown the ball downfield for a completion and another third down conversion?
This game won’t be decided when the Packers get a free pass rusher or blitzer to Roethlisberger, it’ll be decided when they get the ball out of his hands, get him to the ground or join the ranks of defenders who almost got him, but let him get away and were beaten with key touchdown passes and third down conversions.