Monday, January 31, 2011

Will Experience Be a Determining Factor in Super Bowl XLV?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have 14 starters with Super Bowl experience and 11 of those guys have played in two Super Bowls. [That doesn't include back ups like Larry Foote and Antwan Randal El, who both have Super Bowl experience. That's just the starters listed on the offensive and defensive depth charts.] The Packers, meanwhile, have just two starters with Super Bowl experience -- the amazing Charles Woodson and defensive end Ryan Pickett, who played his rookie year with the 2001 Rams.

Tomlin has coached in two Super Bowls (one as an assistant with the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs and, of course, as the head man for the 2008 Steelers.) Green Bay's head coach (and the pride of Greenfield!) Mike McCarthy has been to zero.

If experience were the sole determining factor, the Steelers would win in a landslide. But then, if experience were a determining factor for success in life, we would all watch "Murder She Wrote" reruns instead of "The Jersey Shore," AOL would still rule the internets, and Marv Levy would still be coaching.

Recent SB history is pretty mixed in terms of experience versus inexperience, so much so that you have to wonder if experience counts for anything at all. The Packers won SB XXXI, then promptly went out and lost XXXII to the Denver Broncos. The St. Louis Rams won SB XXXIV, then lost to the New England Patriots in XXXVI. Of course, those Pats won a couple more, but lost to the Giants in XLII. The Indy Colts won XLII, but lost XLIV to the New Orleans Saints. On the flip side, the Pats did win two more SB's after their first win. The Broncos defended their title and, of course, the 2008 Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals for a second title.

Clearly, experience does not equal a win, but what it might mean is that the Steelers can dispatch their jitters more quickly, or at least that's what I hope.

The Super Bowl, no matter how much coaches and players may want to treat it like a run of the mill game, is no run of the mill game. It's weird. It's crazy. Halftime is way longer. Big stars show up for the National Anthem. There are reporters there from all over the world. When a guy with a microphone and a podcast in the Republic of Palau can get media credential, rest assured it's an out of control spectacle.

Beyond that, the players know that all NFL eyes are on them. Guys play just a bit harder on Monday Night Football, knowing that the rest of the league is at home watching them play. They want to perform for their peers. They most certainly don't want to embarrass themselves. If there's that much more additional pressure on a Monday night in October, what must this feel like?

I don't believe there is any way to anticipate what this stage is like if you haven't played on it before. Hines Ward puked his guts out during introductions before SB XL. Pig Ben said that, in most games, he has butterflies at the start, but that they go very early on, but in XL, they never went away.

There's no question that Aaron Rogers has been riding a hot streak for the last month and a half and has made long stretches of the post-season look like a 6 on 6 scrimmage. At times, he has been more accurate than Brady, more mobile than Vick and cooler than Montana. But if the nerves get to him at the start, if the lights and glitz and media glare, not to mention Jerr'Jones' death star HD screen hanging above him, gives him a fit of the yips early on, the Steelers might have the crack they need.

It's reasonable to expect that Rogers and the Pack will have at least some nerves. And while they work through the butterflies and twitches, the Steelers need to dig the Packers' grave and push them into it.

We know the Packers can score. In the regular season, they averaged 24.3 points per game and have averaged 30 per game in the post-season. Nobody's putting 30 points up on the Steelers defense, but I don't think you can keep them out of the endzone all night, nerves or not. So the Steelers defense needs to create opportunities early and keep the Steelers offense on the field throughout the first half. Oh, and they need touchdowns, not field goals. Touchdowns just aren't going to do it in this one.

If the Steelers can build a big enough lead at the start, it could be all the difference end. Just ask the Jets.

No comments:

Post a Comment