This is Part 8 of our 9-part Super Bowl XLV Preview series. In this installment, we’re going to take a look at the defensive backs on both teams.
If you haven’t read the other parts of this series, click the appropriate link below:
I’ve pointed out how evenly matched these two teams are throughout this series. They’re both very talented. But the Steelers have a clear advantage at the Running back and linebacker positions.
Well, the Packers enjoy a similar advantage when it come to their defensive backs. In fact, the Packers may have the best group of defensive backs in the NFL.
Everybody knows about Packers’ cornerback Charles Woodson. He’s the only collegiate player to ever win the Heisman Trophy as primarily a defensive player. He’s been a defensive standout for years in the NFL, and was last year’s AP Defensive Player of the Year.
Woodson is no longer the cover cornerback that he once was. Instead, Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers uses him much like Dick LeBeau uses Troy Polamalu; he’s his secret weapon. Capers moves him all over the field. He’s just as likely to blitz as he is to actually cover a receiver.
It may come as a surprise to some, but Woodson is the second best cornerback on the Packers’ team. The best cornerback on the Packers (in my opinion) is Tramon Williams.
Williams led the Packers in interceptions and passes defensed during the 2010 regular season. He’s also the NFL’s interception leader in the 2010 post season. Both Williams and Woodson were named to the Pro Bowl this year (Williams was named as an alternate to replace Philadelphia Eagles’ CB Asante Samuels).
Free safety Nick Collins is also rock solid. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the 3rd consecutive year in 2010.
Strong safety Charlie Peprah is the most pedestrian member of this group. He’s competent, but not outstanding. But with 3 Pro Bowl caliber defensive backs in the Packers’ starting lineup, somebody has to be the weak link.
Dom Capers likes to use lots of nickel and dime packages. When he does, the Packers’ backup DB’s also do a very good job.
The strength of their defensive backs is one of the key reasons Green Bay’s defense was ranked #5 in the NFL against the pass. They limited opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of only 67.2 this season. That ranked #1 in the NFL. Moreover, their 24 interceptions was 2nd best in the NFL.
The Steelers’ defensive backs are the exact opposite of the Packers’. Instead of having 3 Pro Bowl players and a weak link at strong safety, the Steelers have a Pro Bowl strong safety, and less talented players at the other 3 DB positions.
Strong safety Troy Polamalu was recently named 2010 AP Defensive Player of the Year. He’s obviously the Steelers’ superstar defensive back. Need we say any more about him?
Ike Taylor is still a very good cornerback. He’s much better than he gets credit for. He’s the guy who will probably be shadowing Greg Jennings on Sunday. If Ike could catch, he might even have a Pro Bowl or two to his credit. But Ike has hands of stone, so he’ll never be given the credit that he deserves for defending the opponent’s best receiver week after week.
Bryant McFadden is the weak link among the Steelers’ starting DB’s. He runs hot or cold. Mostly cold. He’s great in run defense (which is important when you play cornerback for the Steelers), but he’s scary to watch in pass defense. If you polled Steelers fans about which starter on the defense they’d like to see replaced next season, McFadden would probably be the unanimous choice.
His back-up, William Gay, isn’t much better. He has played very well this season as the nickel back. He’s even made some game-saving plays this year (like his touchdown against the NY Jets in the AFC Championship). However, I don’t think there are many Steelers fans who want to see him in a starting role.
Free safety Ryan Clark is the final member of the Steelers starting defensive backfield. He’s a solid player who is an excellent complement to Troy Polamalu. Clark is not Pro Bowl caliber, but he’s dependable, and it’s that dependability that allows Troy to roam the way that he does. Clark has good hands, and can make interceptions when needed. But Clark is probably best known for delivering the most vicious hits among the Steelers’ defensive backs. Just ask Wes Welker.
The Packers have a clear advantage in pure talent among their defensive backs. However, even the most talented DB will have difficulty when the Steelers start playing sandlot football. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Packers handle that situation. It may well be what determines who wins the game on Sunday.
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