This is Part 6 of our 9-part Super Bowl XLV Preview series. In this installment, we’re going to take a look at the defensive lines of both teams.
To read the other parts of this series, click the appropriate link below:
Okay, we’ve finished looking at the offenses of the two teams, now it’s time to turn our attention to the defenses.
Both teams play a base 3-4 defense. This should make the game interesting, since both teams are used to facing a 3-4 in practice. Moreover, Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau were the architects of the 3-4 zone blitz defense back when both were on Bill Cowher’s staff with the Steelers. Because the two defenses have similar roots, we should see even more similarities between these two 3-4 defenses than we see when the Steelers face 3-4 teams like the Ravens or the Patriots.
The backbone of a 3-4 defense is their three down linemen. The two defensive ends and the nose tackle are responsible for occupying blockers so the linebackers can roam free to make plays. They’re also responsible for stuffing the run.
Both of these units are extremely talented. But they’re very different. So it’s hard to compare them.
The Packers are built for size, while the Steelers are built for speed. They use two different philosophies to achieve the same result.
The Packers have the biggest front 3 of any 3-4 defense in the NFL. Those guys are tanks.
Typically, a 3-4 nose tackle is going to be the biggest guy in the group. That’s not the case with the Packers. Ryan Pickett is the Packers’ left defensive end. He weighs 340 lbs. That’s about the same as what Casey Hampton weighs. Howard Green is a back-up at nose tackle, but he has also sometimes plays right defensive end for the Packers. He also weighs 340 lbs. Those two are the strongest of the Packers’ linemen. Green has bench pressed 495 lbs. He’s very strong. Fortunately, he’ll primarily be a substitute in this game.
Nose tackle B.J. Raji weighs 337 lbs. He’s young, and he’s still learning the position. But he’ll be one of the best nose tackles in the NFL in a few years.
The starting right tackle is Cullen Jenkins. He’s the midget of the group. He weighs a mere 305 lbs. Tiny, isn’t he?
The Packers use their jumbo size to occupy blockers, just like 3-4 defensive linemen are supposed to. In 2009, the Packers were the #1 defense in the NFL against the run. So they obviously do something right. However, in 2010, the Packers became much more susceptible to the running attack. Their defense dropped to #18 in the NFL against the run, so I’m sure the Steelers will try to test their stoutness.
Unlike the Packers, the Steelers front 3 are built for speed. Right defensive end Brett Keisel made the Pro Bowl this year. He was unable to play because the Steelers are in the Super Bowl. Keisel only weighs 285 lbs. That’s tiny by Packers’ standards. But Keisel is fast. He’s much faster than any of the Packers’ defensive linemen.
Left defensive end Ziggy Hood is also very fast. Ziggy only weighs 300 lbs. But he’s right up there with Brett Keisel in terms of his speed. He may even be slightly faster. Both Keisel and Hood play much more like Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts than they do the Packers’ mammoth defensive ends. They’re not quite as small or quick as Freeney, but like Freeney, they use their speed as their greatest weapon.
Don’t get me wrong. Keisel and Hood are strong too. But they’re not the type of jumbo Players that the Packers seem to favor. But if we had a race between the Steelers’ linemen and the Packers’ linemen, Hood and Keisel would definitely win. Moreover, their speed allows Dick LeBeau to use them in ways that Dom Capers can’t use his big guys.
Casey Hampton is the Steelers’ nose tackle. He’s officially listed as 325 lbs. But let’s just say that the folks who publish the Steelers’ media guide are being kind to Hampton. He may have weighed 325 when he was in college, but he certainly doesn’t weigh that now.
Hampton has been a Pro Bowl nose tackle on multiple occasions. His accomplishments speak for themselves. Yet despite Hampton’s size, he is surprisingly quick. Moreover, Hampton is helped by his short stature. He’s officially listed as 6’1″, but he’s more like 6’0″. So he has a very low center of gravity. His legs are the size of tree trunks. And football is a game of leverage. Low man wins. And Casey Hampton almost always wins.
The fact that the Steelers were #1 against the run in 2010 just shows how effective their defensive line is. The 62.8 yards per game that they allowed on the ground in 2010 would be an all-time Packers’ record.
It’s hard to give a big advantage to either of these two units. As I mentioned, they’re different. But both are effective at what they do.
If I had to pick one unit, I’d say the Steelers are slightly better. However, the Packers will be facing a Steelers offensive line that has been a M.A.S.H. unit all year long. And now they’re probably going to be without Maurkice Pouncey. So that match-up may give the advantage to the Packers.
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