This is Part 5 of our 9-part Super Bowl XLV Preview series. In this installment, we’re going to take a look at the running backs on both teams.
To read the other parts of this series, click the appropriate link below:
Thus far, we’ve seen that the two teams are very evenly matched at most positions. However, that’s not the case at running back.
The Packers have struggled all season to find a viable running threat. Ryan Grant was the Packers’ most talented running back. Unfortunately, Ryan got injured in week 1 of the season and had to be placed on injured reserve (IR).
Brandon Jackson carried the load for the rest of the regular season for the Packers. He is a very average back who lacks breakaway speed. He also doesn’t have very good hands, so he’d not much of a threat out of the backfield. His shortcomings are a big part of the reason that the Packers were 24th in the NFL in rushing during the 2010 regular season.
Jackson rushed for 703 yards and 3 touchdowns during the regular season. He averaged 43.9 yards per game. That’s certainly not going to intimidate anyone.
Those rushing numbers definitely won’t intimidate the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. The Steelers allowed only 62.8 yards per game on the ground. That was the lowest average in the NFL. The next lowest was the Chicago Bears, who allowed 90.1 yards per game. Suffice it to say that the Packers have not faced a defense that is as stingy as the Steelers’.
During the playoffs, the Packers have discovered a new rushing threat. James Starks has been the NFL’s top rusher during the playoffs. He has gained 263 yards during the playoffs. However, that’s only 87.7 yards per game, so his performance hasn’t been as impressive as it initially sounds.
Starks is a rookie running back out of the University of Buffalo. He was drafted in the sixth round and started a grand total of zero games during the regular season. He had only 101 yards during the regular season. So the Packers are placing their hopes on a rookie who has run for less than 400 yards in his NFL career. Yeah, good luck with that.
To make matter worse, the Packers 2nd leading rusher during the regular season and the playoffs has been Aaron Rodgers. So they really don’t have a lot of quality depth in their backfield.
Their starting fullback is John Kuhn. Steelers fans will remember him……from the practice squad.
The Steelers, on the other hand, feature Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall is a former 1st round draft pick, and he was 7th in the NFL in rushing this year with 1,273 yards. To put that into perspective, he was sandwiched right between Adrian Peterson (#6) and Steven Jackson (#8) among the NFL’s top rushers. That’s pretty impressive company.
Anyone who watched the AFC Championship game knows exactly what Mendy can do. He absolutely shredded the NY Jets’ defense. And they were the #3 ranked defense against the run during the regular season. Yet he ran through them like a knife through butter. The Packers’ rushing defense ranked 18th in the NFL during the regular season, and is not in the same class as the Jets’ defense.
To complement Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers bring in either Isaac Redman or Mewelde Moore. Neither gets a lot of carries, but both are very competent players. So when they get on the field, the Packers shouldn’t take them lightly.
Redman, in particular, is even harder to bring down than Mendenhall. He is the Steelers’ “go to” guy when they need to get the tough yards. And Redman almost always delivers.
So if I could give one piece of advice to the Packers, it would be to use sound tackling technique and wrap up the Steelers’ runners. They’re just as likely to try to run through you as they are to run around you.
I’ve tried to keep my position-by-position analysis as fair and unbiased as I possibly can. However, in this case, I truly believe that the Steelers have a significant advantage over the Packers when it comes to their running backs.
The Steelers have also faced 7 teams who have better rushing defenses than the Packers have. They’ve faced 10 if you count the fact that they played the Ravens 3 times and the Jets twice. Contrarily, the Packers have yet to face a defense like the Steelers’. So in the running game, I have to say that the Steelers have a decided advantage.
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