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Old 01-29-2011, 06:54 PM   #1
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Default Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game

Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game
By Jim Corbett, USA TODAY

Mike Wallace and the Steelers defeated the Packers when the teams last played in December 2009.

This time figures to be different, given the stark contrast between those porous Packers finding their way in their first season under defensive coordinator Dom Capers and a faster, tighter, big-play unit that faces Roethlisberger's Steelers on Feb. 6 in Super Bowl XLV.

The sixth-seeded Packers carry their own big "D" to North Texas. It's a resilient, confident and hot unit, riding a five-game winning streak facing win-or-elimination stakes.

When last they saw Roethlisberger, cornerback Tramon Williams had not rounded into Pro Bowl form, and nickel back Sam Shields, who had two of Green Bay's three interceptions in Sunday's 21-14 NFC Championship Game victory against the Chicago Bears, was in college.

That Packers defense didn't have the swagger or the speedy cover corners this edition brings to Arlington, Texas, after stifling Philadelphia Eagles game-changer Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowler Matt Ryan and three Bears quarterbacks to win three consecutive postseason road games.

And quarterback Aaron Rodgers is at his best inside a dome. He posted the league's fifth-highest postseason completion percentage in connecting on 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards with three touchdowns in a 48-21 divisional torching of the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

These road warriors bear no resemblance to the group that leaked points against Roethlisberger and, three weeks later, in hemorrhaging five touchdown passes to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner in their 51-45 wild-card overtime loss.

They've overcome explosive quarterbacks as well as a rash of injuries to make big plays on the biggest stages.

"It was easy for people to write us off because of the injuries," linebacker Clay Matthews says. "But Dom does a great job of putting us into the right positions, and we've bought in.

"Here we are shutting down great quarterbacks and great offenses.

"We keep playing defense the way we know how, it's going to be tough to beat us."

The Packers are 60 minutes from capturing a fourth Lombardi Trophy when they meet the AFC champion Steelers at Cowboys Stadium.

"Just to be able to play in this next game is hard to do," general manager Ted Thompson says.

"We're humbled to do what we did win the last two games in the regular season and then win three road games against the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds. It's a credit to this group of men we have playing for the Packers."

Defensive tackle B.J. Raji dropped into coverage, surprised third-string Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie and returned his decisive fourth-quarter interception 18 yards for a touchdown.

Shields made the game-sealing interception to ice Green Bay's Super Bowl berth.

"How fitting that the Green Bay Packers win the NFC championship with defense," Raji says. "It just sums it up right there."

Third-year backup linebacker Desmond Bishop replaced defensive signal-caller Nick Barnett, Charlie Peprah took over for injured rookie safety Morgan Burnett, and Williams replaced veteran cornerback Al Harris, who didn't return from a torn knee ligament and was released by the team in November.

With undrafted Shields and Williams, the Packers have the matchup cornerbacks to combine with veteran Charles Woodson and safeties Nick Collins and Dallas native Peprah to slow Wallace, fellow Steelers receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller.

"I really like this group," Capers says. "They've hung together and fought through adversity, a lot of player changes.

"It's not just one or two guys. We've got a number of guys who can make critical plays at critical times."

Their depth was epitomized by Raji's and Shields' standout NFC Championship Game performance, testament to a roster built from back to front by Thompson.

"One was drafted in the first round, and one was a free agent," Thompson says of Raji and Shields. "It doesn't matter now where they were drafted.

"What matters is both those guys can play.

"It's important to have playmakers. Guys are stepping up, and from week to week, it's a different guy."

The league's second-ranked scoring defense has 30 interceptions, including six this postseason, along with 57 sacks.

With players more comfortable in his system, Capers has been able to unleash more creative blitzes such as the one he hadn't used all season until he used Raji in a zone drop that surprised Hanie. Capers spent 1992-1994 with the Steelers, brainstorming zone blitzes along with current Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

"We really believe the Lombardi Trophy belongs here," Bishop says.

Asked if this Packers defense is the best playmaking group he's ever played with, 13th-year veteran Woodson, the 2009 defensive player of the year, says, "It's a great group of young playmakers. If we win the Super Bowl, yeah!
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Old 01-29-2011, 06:57 PM   #2
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Default Re: Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game

I still think the packers are susceptible to the big play. caleb hanie torched them with throws to the wr's outside, and the bears don't necessarily have any fast receivers. look for a big play or 2 from wallace or sanders
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Old 01-29-2011, 07:49 PM   #3
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Default Re: Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game

This isn't the same Pittsburgh "D" that gave up 36 to the pack last year either. Why do people keep going back to past games? This game could be 3-0 or 45-44 and will have nothing to do with last year. I loved that Ben had 503 yeards last year, an amazing thing to do with no INTs. But again, that was last year! This game will be decided by what the teams do on Feb 6, not what they did in the past! Just sayin!
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Old 01-29-2011, 08:02 PM   #4
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Default Re: Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game

I understand why they keep referring back to this game-- it is the most relevant and most recent meeting between these two franchises, so it naturally gives us the best possible glimpse at what is to come.

But once again, these sports pundits are trying desperately to talk the Packers into winning the Lombardi. Not the same defense the Steelers beat last season? No sh1t, huh?

How about our defense not being the same one they played last year? In 2009, Silverback had his worst season to date as a stater. Woodley started off really slow last year too. We were missing POLAMALU. Our run defense was gone after losing Smith earlier that season.

All this rah-rah for Green Bay is just setting up the NFL know-nothings to start blaming refs and whatnot when we win, becuase I mean, Green Bay is far and above the better team, right?

The Steelers have about the best defense this decade, already won two trophies with this roster, and a clutch QB-- what does it take for them to get some respect?
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Old 01-29-2011, 08:22 PM   #5
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Default Re: Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game

Ok! So their D did get better. Thats fine! It should get better with time. They should also consider that our Offense and Defense has also gotten better from last year. Wallace was a rookie then and gotten much, much better!
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Old 01-29-2011, 09:13 PM   #6
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Default Re: Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game

If Big Ben hits Wallace in stride in the in the Jets game, Wallace walks into the end zone with revis watching. If Big Ben doesnt make any mistakes, say good bye. The guy threw his INTs in the AFC title game. This is going to be his Super Bowl.
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Old 01-29-2011, 09:14 PM   #7
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Default Re: Packers' revitalized D much tougher than last Steelers game

The last packer steeler game is as relevant as the Pats whipping the Jets in the regular season.
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