With the 2011 Super Bowl, an exciting battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, nearly upon us, let's take a moment to examine one of the game's more enticing individual matchups - especially before Tuesday's "media day," an endless orgy of journalistic rigor and integrity, where reporters hold players' feet to the fire by demanding straight answers to uncompromising questions like, "If you were a candy bar, what kind would you be?"
I'm talking about the Steelers' pit bull at right outside linebacker, LaMarr Woodley versus Packers rookie right tackle Bryan Baluga. I wrote in last week's feature that Super Bowl XLV would be determined by who brought pressure more effectively and who - between quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers - handled it better. Woodley v. Baluga figures to be a big part of that.
Baluga has been good enough this season to take over the starting job from Week 5 forward, but it's hard to say that him lining up against Woodley isn't an obvious mismatch, especially considering that Baluga is still a bit "left-handed" after spending his college career at right guard and right tackle. Woodley is a pass-rushing dynamo, of course, but he seems to really bring his A-game during the playoffs: in six career postseason games, Woodley has an amazing 10 quarterback sacks.
However, what's most important is that if Woodley can effectively rush on the right side of Green Bay's offensive line, this should force Rodgers, perhaps the best scrambling quarterback in the league, to his left in passing situations. Of course, this would sacrifice accuracy by forcing the quarterback to throw "against the grain," (Rodgers is right-handed) or perhaps even deliver him into the loving arms of left outside linebacker James Harrison.
The Packers will obviously give left tackle Chad Clifton all the help they can against Harrison. Green Bay runs a lot of plays out of the shotgun, so I expect there to be a running back lined up on the left to chip-block. (That, or Clifton will just commit holding on every play, which will only draw two flags maximum, as is often the case with Harrison.) However, the Pack will probably need to keep a tight end in pass protection on the strong side if they expect Baluga to survive against Woodley.
If I'm Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau, I'm bringing Woodley on the blitz every time until Green Bay proves they can stop me.