There are plenty of individual matchups that will be discussed this week heading into Super Bowl XLV. Tramon Williams vs. Mike Wallace, James Harrison vs. Chad Clifton, etc. Matchups that will play a big role in crucial situations on Sunday.
But two names stick out when I think about breaking this game down: Aaron Rodgers vs. Troy Polamalu.
ICONReading Polamalu's pre-snap alignment is a key for Rodgers on Sunday.
Understand that a major part of NFL football is played before the snap of the ball. Alignments, formation recognition, WR splits, pressure looks, defensive leverage, personnel and so on. It all tells a story. And the good pros—the productive pros—are looking for an advantage before they even get into their backpedal, run a route or drop back to pass.
Polamalu is a different talent at safety. We should all agree on that. As the NFP’s Dan Pompei wrote on Wednesday, the Steelers’ safety has a unique blend of speed, power and coverage ability. The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year alters game plans—and we can only say that about a select few players in this league.
In the Super Bowl, this applies directly to Rodgers. When quarterbacks break the huddle they find the strong safety—because he can be an open book. Is he showing a Cover 2 shell? What does his depth tell me? Is he going to roll down to the flat? Am I going to see pressure? Zone or man? A lot of questions that can be answered by reading your keys as a QB.
Easier for Rodgers vs. a defense such as Lovie Smith’s in Chicago. The strong safety walked up to the line of scrimmage? Expect Cover 1 or Cover 3. Work inside breaking routes against the cornerbacks and test the angles of the middle of field free safety. If the strong safety aligns close to the numbers with a depth of over 10-yards? Most likely going to see Cover 2. Read the safeties and see the coverage before the ball is even snapped. Sure, it goes deeper than that, but at a much smaller scale than Rodgers will see vs. the Steelers.
Polamalu moves all over the field. We will see him over the tight end, in a press-man look vs. the slot, in the middle of the field and also walking down from a Cover 2 look to blitz off of the edge. In Week 1 vs. Atlanta, Polamalu showed a Cover 2 pre-snap look and then played the flat in Cover 3 to break on the out route.
Let’s check it out here on the TV Tape…
That is an example of a safety that knows what route schemes to expect and also disguise his alignments. QB Matt Ryan saw the CB drop off to the deep third and expected a clear lane to throw the out. That Cover 2 look becomes Cover 3 because of Polamalu’s ability to hold his disguise and break on the throw with a perfect angle to the ball. Hard to teach that to a safety.
And that is the challenge for Rodgers. Tape study is important, but there will be new looks from the Steelers’ defense with two weeks to prepare for Sunday. And to make plays against Dick LeBeau’s defense, the Green Bay QB has to win the pre-snap battle with Polamalu.
Watch that this Sunday and try to get a feel for what Polamalu does before the snap of the ball—because I have a hard time myself figuring out what the Steelers are playing in the secondary at first glance. They are creative and they challenge offenses mentally on each play.
A solid matchup between two top tier NFL players at the Super Bowl—exactly what we want to see. And we get to find out who wins that pre-snap chess match on the biggest stage in sports.
Tomorrow: My keys to winning Super Bowl XLV
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