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02-06-2011, 12:51 AM
Steelers key matchups

By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
Sunday February 6, 2011 12:03 AM


Steelers free safety Ryan Clark believes the key to stopping the Packers’ offense is “cutting off the head of Aaron Rodgers.” The Steelers must bring the heat on Rodgers, who’s been nothing short of sensational this season especially in the playoffs.

No doubt, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has schemed up blitz packages that he hopes will disrupt and frustrate Rodgers. In leading the NFL in sacks this season, LeBeau sent blitzers from all angles. In fact, five Steeler defensive backs have sacks, and cornerback Ike Taylor had a big one in the AFC Championship Game when his hit on Mark Sanchez forced a fumble returned 19 yards for a touchdown by corner William Gay.

But if the Steelers are to “cut off Rodgers’ head,” the men most likely to do so are James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. There isn’t a better tandem of outside linebackers in the NFL.

Harrison, still bitter about the four fines he received this season for flagrant hits, would love to use the Super Bowl as the platform to prove once and for all that he's still a menacing force despite the league’s sanctions against him. But Harrison, a four-time Pro Bowler, does have a tough match-up against Chad Clifton, the Packers’ left tackle who was named to his second Pro Bowl this season.

On the other side of the Steelers’ defense is Woodley, who’s recorded 10 sacks in the six post-season games he’s played in. He’ll go against rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the Packers’ first-round pick in this year’s draft.


Mike Wallace isn’t afraid to speak his mind. So when asked who will be named Most Valuable Player of tonight’s Super Bowl, it’s no surprise that he said, “Me. That’s the plan. I hope so.”

A second-year wide receiver, Wallace is one of the NFL’s fastest players and best deep threats. Last year, he led the NFL in yards per catch. He was second this year at 21.0 yards per reception. He also led the NFL with seven 100-yard receiving games.

But so far in the playoffs, Wallace has been silent on the field. He only caught three passes for 20 yards in the divisional-round win over the Ravens. In the AFC Championship Game victory over the Jets, Wallace only caught one pass for 6 yards. Obviously, he had a tough time getting open against Antonio Cromartie, who’s the Jets’ fastest cornerback.

Against the Packers, Wallace will be guarded by either starting cornerback Tramon Williams or nickel corner Sam Shields.

Williams is a big-time play maker who had six interceptions during the regular season and three more in the playoffs. But Shields is the Packers’ fastest defensive back. The Packers don't usually assign a corner to guard a specific receiver wherever he goes, but there’s a chance that may happen tonight. It could be Wallace vs. Shields for much of the game.

“I'm a fast guy and he's a fast guy," Shields said. "It's going to be a big challenge and I can't wait."

Can Shields or Williams stick with Wallace like Cromartie did two weeks ago?

“They say so,” Wallace said. “But I don’t think so.”

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Is there a chance Clay Matthews has extra incentive?

Does he have a chip on his shoulder after coming in a close second to Steelers safety Troy Polamalu in the vote for NFL Defensive Player of the Year?

“It is what it is,” Matthews said. “I congratulated Troy. He had a fantastic year. He’s very deserving. The great thing about it is that we have a team goal to achieve. So with a win here, individual accomplishments don’t really matter.”

Like Polamalu, Matthews is a former Southern Cal star who was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft (Polamalu in 2003, Matthews last year). Both are two of the best players at their positions. Polamalu has been named to six Pro Bowl teams, and Mathews two. And they were bombarded this past week with all kinds of questions about their famous heads of hair.

“He does a great job, and I think I do, too,” Matthews said of their play on the field.

Tonight, it will be the job of Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams to lock down on Matthews. It’ll be a tough task. Matthews ranked fourth in the league this season with 13.5 sacks and he’s had 3.5 more during the playoffs. But Adams, the wily 35-year-old veteran, has his own personal incentive to get the job done. He’s playing in his first Super Bowl, and he’s playing it in North Texas where he worked the past 12 years as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

Adams didn’t join the Steelers until July 30 when he was signed to replace Willie Colon, who suffered a freak off-season injury in mid-July. If the Steelers win, there's a chance Adams will retire by ending his career with a Super Bowl win.


Ever since Maurkice Pouncey suffered a severe high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship Game, Doug Legursky figured he’d be the man starting at center for the Steelers in the Super Bowl. And he is. Unfortunately for the Steelers, there's a huge drop off in talent between Pouncey and Legursky.

Pouncey, the Steelers’ first-round pick in this year’s draft, is already being compared to former Steelers’ great Dermontti Dawson. Pouncey played so well this season that he made the Pro Bowl, the only member of the Steelers' offense to do so.

Legursky, who was on the practice squad in 2008 when the Steelers last played in the Super Bowl, is making his first pro start tonight at center. He did start four games at right guard earlier this season but didn’t play well enough to keep the job when Trai Essex returned from an anke injury. And when Essex was demoted in mid-November, it was Ramon Foster and not Legursky who moved into the starting role.

Legursky’s Super Bowl assignment is a daunting one. He’ll line up across nose tackle B.J. Raji, the Packers’ first-round pick in the ’09 draft. At 6-foot-2 and 337 pounds, Raji is a load who has a size advantage over Legursky, whose 6-1 and 315.

But Legursky is confident he can get the job done. Coach Mike Tomlin agrees.

“The NFL is made up of lots of players like Doug Legursky, guys who somehow got an opportunity and seized it,” Tomlin said. “We’re completely confident that he will seize this opportunity and play well. That’s why we’re not changing what we do.”