2011 Super Bowl: Rashard Mendenhall Could Trample Packers

The Green Bay defense is a nasty unit, sure. In Super Bowl XLV, they'll field outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who finished second to Steelers safety Troy Polamalu in Defensive Player of the Year votes, cornerback Charles Woodson, who won the award in 2009, and B.J. Raji, one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the game. And that's just to name a few Packers playmakers on defense. In the regular season, they finished 5th against the pass (194.2 ypg) and second in points allowed per game (15.0). 

But here's the dirty little secret about the Packers: you can run on them.

At first, they look like a middling squad against the rush, as Green Bay ranks 18th in terms of yards allowed per game (114.9). However, only four teams were more generous in terms of yards per carry: the Packers allowed an eye-popping average of 4.7 yards per rush.

The reason you don't hear anybody reporting about this is that teams typically didn't run against the Pack this year. (They were sixth in the league in terms of opposing rush attempts per game with 24.7.) In the games they won, Green Bay usually jumped out to a big lead thanks to the arm of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and their high-octane aerial attack, so the opposition was usually struggling to keep up and limited to the pass themselves.

But there's no reason you can't have a good ground game against the Pack if you stick with it. The Dolphins, Lions, and Vikings proved that in the regular season.

Enter Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who carried Pittsburgh on his back against the Jets in the AFC Championship. He didn't perform well when these the Steelers and Packers clashed last year (38 yards, 3.5 ypc), but I expect that to change in Super Bowl XLV. The (presumed) absence of rookie center Maurkice Pouncey is a concern, yes, but replacement Doug Legursky should fill in nicely in the ground game. (Pass protection might prove to be a different story.)

The main concern, in my mind, is that the Steelers have had most of their success running right behind tackle Flozell Adams and pulling left guard Chris Kemoeatu. Green Bay knows this, and they will have planned for it. Granted, Pittsburgh knows that Green Bay knows this...so the key could be how they adjust with misdirection to stay unpredictable on the ground.

I've said before that Super Bowl XLV is a matchup of premier pass rushers and premier quarterbacks. But don't be surprised if Mendenhall comes up big for Pittsburgh this Sunday. All signs point to that possibility - now it's just up to execution.

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