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Super Bowl XLV Preview: The Running Backs

January 30, 2011 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

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:

Part 1:  Super Bowl XLV Preview -  Team overviews

Part 2:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The quarterbacks

Part 3:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Offensive Lines

Part 4:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Receivers

Part 5:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Running Backs

Part 6:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Defensive Lines

Part 7:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Linebackers

Part 8:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Defensive Backs

Part 9:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - Putting it all together

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.

Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall

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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6 Comments to “Super Bowl XLV Preview: The Running Backs”

  1. Good post.

    Yes, RB is the weakest spot on GB’s roster. Kind of like your CB’s. ;)

    But I take issue with your treatment of Jackson. His value is out of the backfield and in pass protection. Both of those things he does at pro bowl level. I know we don’t play too much, so naturally both teams fanbases are hurriedly trying to learn enough to at least attempt to sound educated when talking about the upcoming game. So I understand - but now you stand corrected! :)

    Jackson is dangerous out of the backfield, on sprint draws, pitches, screens, wheel routes, swings, etc…. things that get him to the edge quickly. I see him being big in this game (if not on the stat sheet, in his unseen contributions at least).

    Starks is going to be a stud in the future, but I don’t see GB going to a full house backfield and trying to run up the gut. Ain’t gonna happen against PIT, and MM isn’t dumb enough to try.

    And yes, I like Mendy a lot. Real good RB who can do serious damage.

    The big question is this: Dom has GB playing about 75% nickel D this year because Wood is SO good in the slot and to get Shields on the field more….But if you look at the teams where GB was more concerned about the run, they went to straight 3/4 with Pickett, Raji and Green on the D line. That over 1,110 lbs of man there… and when GB did play base NO ONE ran on them…. so to me, it’s pretty clear - with the Steelers, you pick your poison. If they go after Big Ben early and Mendenhall starts picking them apart, they’ll go to straight 3/4 and stop the run. Yes, that will mean less pressure on Ben then, but I’ll take Wood, Tramon, Collins, Sheilds and Peprah any day over the Steelers skill players… so GB will still be able to defend the pass.

    I don’t think Mendy will be able to run on the interior of GB’s D line at any rate. Too much bulk and muscle. If you look at how teams have been successful running the ball against GB, it’s been on the edges only. If GB is more concerned about the run, they’ll keep Mendy under control and take their chances with Ben in base 3/4. If not, they’ll take their chances stopping the run in nickel and shut down the passing game.

    Both teams are good - that’s why they are in the super bowl! Epic matchup!

  2. Fraser Muir says:

    I like this segment, I really do. However, I feel you comparing stats too much, I mean with Qb’s it’s easy, Roethslisberger clutch, no problem there. But against Zone Blitz D’s, Wallace has a tendency to dissapear, because he can’t get behind the safeties as much as he’d like to. You look at our O-line, they’ll play so much better against a D they face 5 times a week in practices, theres no need to run scout D. Mendenhall Struggles against 3-4 D’s, because often the Nose tackle is pluggin his gap and he’s a lot better when you get to the outside, which is hard with Clay Matthews playing contain.

  3. The Cheesehead Bearmeat should not be so quick and cavalier to dismiss the Steeler receiving corps.

    The Steelers now boast three receivers with that skill you can’t teach. SPEED.
    Wallace is the fastest and deservedly gets the most accolades but Sanders and Brown are gas turbines in their own rights. Beyond that we all know what Heath Miller and Hines Ward are all about.

    Still when all is in the aftermath I would like Mendenhall to get the MVP. That would mean a Steeler victory, ball control, and solid O line play.

    Doug Legursky making a heroic start at Center may be the card we have to play but what a story that will make if he does the job.

  4. We shall see Jeff, we shall see. The reason GB got to the super bowl was the play of their secondary, and their WR’s. They are both the best groups in the league. Period. You’ll get no argument from national media on this for a good reason. It’s pretty obvious.

    I’ll admit, I don’t know much about PIT’s WR’s. From what I’ve read they are good - but we’ve seen just as good or better numerous times this year: PHI twice, NYG, DET twice, MIN twice, etc…

    I don’t see why trends that have taken a season to play out would change now. I think that’s reasonable, don’t you?

    To me, the only way PIT does damage in the air is through the scramble drill or to 3/4 WR’s against our dime back.

  5. Simple……
    EDGE: Steelers (but they better mix it up well)

  6. I’m with Tony. There is no question about this one.


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