Perhaps the most interesting matchup aspect of Super Bowl XLV Is that we have two of the best pressure defenses in the NFL against the two quarterbacks who deal with pressure better than any other. Over the last two seasons, Aaron Rodgers(notes) and Ben Roethlisberger(notes) have been, according to Football Outsiders' metrics, the two most consistently devastating passers when under pressure, and especially when "forced" to roll out - in truth, both quarterbacks see the opportunity to roll to their right as an enormous advantage.
In the 2010 regular season, Rodgers was checked by FO game charters as having scrambled exactly twice as many times as Roethlisberger (72 to 36), but both players were great when doing so. Rodgers averaged 13.4 passing yards per play, and Roethlisberger averaged 10.4.
And if the Packers want to know just what Big Ben can do with a designed rollout, they won't have to look any further than the first Pittsburgh offensive play of the 37-36 Green Bay win over the Steelers in Week 15 of the 2009 season. After the Pack went three-and-out on their opening drive, Roethlisberger hit speedster receiver Mike Wallace(notes) with a 60-yard score right off the bat. It set the tone for a total shootout, which is what Super Bowl XVL could very well be.
The Steelers lined up at their own 40-yard line with 32 seconds elapsed in the first quarter, and a three-wide motion set against Green Bay's 4-2-5. The brilliant part of the play call was the playfake to halfback Rashard Mendenhall(notes) as part of a slide protection to the left. The fake away from playside took the front six out and delayed any intermediate reaction from the linebackers.
At the same time, Green Bay's underneath coverage also reacted to the fake away, and as a result, cornerback Jarrett Bush(notes) (24) was left one-on-one with Wallace (17) as Wallace first got outside position on a go route, and then simply beat Bush downfield. The Packers were torn between the need to respect Pittsburgh's run game, and the threat that Roethlisberger always is out of the pocket. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians drew up what would be a losing option for Green Bay.
In 2009, it was Rodgers, not Roethlisberger, who was the NFL's most efficient quarterback under pressure, and there is perhaps no better example of his ability to take that attribute forward than his performance against the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round of this season's playoffs. And there was no better example of Rodgers creating production out of potential disaster in that game than the 15-yard pass to James Jones(notes) with 13:55 left in the third quarter.
Two plays after he was sacked by Falcons end John Abraham(notes), Rodgers had third-and-13 at his own 17-yard line, and an empty set. Atlanta brought six to the line, which meant that Rodgers knew he was going to see pressure.
At the snap, linebacker Curtis Lofton(notes) backed into coverage, but the Packers' pocket collapsed and Rodgers had to roll left - putting himself in position to throw against his body - where he hit receiver James Jones on a 15-yard sideline pattern. The Packers were already up, 28-14, and that drive (which ended with a seven-yard scramble for touchdown by Rodgers) sealed the deal.
As much as Roethlisberger is a threat to make plays rolling out, it would be an enormous mistake for the Steelers to underestimate Rodgers' capabilities under pressure. He can read any kind of pressure, blasts out of pressure as well as anyone, and he's got the quick release and nimble feet to escape any hostile situation. As much as both defenses will get after the quarterback, both will also see their share of frustration.
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