By Patrick Stanton
JetNation Senior Columnist
Well I have to admit this is an interesting situation. How many times can you write an article about the biggest game of the year and have it played a mere 15 miles from your house? This is the type of championship game dreams are made of for those who are willing to spend over $1000 on a ticket, survive through overcast, sub 40 degree temperatures and navigate a host city with not nearly enough mass transit.Â Yes itâ€™s Super Bowl time in Detroit and an exciting time it is.Â To the Seahawks, Steelers and their respective family and friends, I say this: On behalf of all of us in Metro Detroit, welcome, enjoy your stay, and most importantly best of luck.
While plenty of teams claim to have been â€˜disrespectedâ€™ this year, it would seem that Seattle may actually have a legitimate beef. The #1 seed in the NFC and 2nd best team in the league find themselves as underdogs to the #6 seed Steelers entering Sundayâ€™s game.
While I can understand Seattleâ€™s frustration, one has to look no further than Pittsburghâ€™s dominating road in the playoffs to understand why. The Steelers are playing some solid football led by an outright ferocious defense. After shutting down Indianapolis in a game that most people felt they had no business being in, they waltzed up to Denver, where the air is thin and home field advantage counts, and dominated the Broncos. During their run to Detroit, the Steelers have brought forth mind boggling blitz schemes that neither Indyâ€™s Peyton Manning nor Denverâ€™s vaunted offensive line could handle. Theyâ€™ve absolutely clamped down on the opponentâ€™s running game and when that forced their foes to turn to the air, their secondary has had a big day.
Not to be outdone, the Seahawks have paved their way to Detroit with a tough front 7 and most surprisingly, an injury riddled secondary which has played very well in the playoffs. Led by rookie LB Lofa Tatupu, the front 7 has done a very effective job of shutting opposing RBs down while Seattleâ€™s front 4 has been able to successfully engineer a continued pass rush. Seattle may not blitz their opponents to death or throw 8 man fronts against them, but what they will do is play their 4-3, mix it with a few zone blitzes, and keep it simple. However, as the Panthers and Redskins can attest to, simple doesnâ€™t always mean easy.
It may sound as if Iâ€™m stating the obvious here, but I think that this game comes down to which offense is capable of cracking the opposing defense first and sustaining that success. The fact is given their individual talents, their respective performances thus far in the playoffs, and the intelligent defensive minds leading them, there is no doubt in my mind that this will be a game that has the various offensive coaches for both teams worried.
Although the power running game has been a staple of Steelers football for decades, they may very well have to turn to sophomore QB Ben Roethlisberger if they have any hope of pulling this out. While Detroit native Jerome Bettis may be the answer inside the 5 yard line, it has been clearly obvious over the past few weeks that Pittsburghâ€™s running game depends on Willie Parkerâ€™s success. While Parkerâ€™s success throughout the season has been a great story, it has somewhat leveled out in the playoffs and given Seattleâ€™s stout run defense, it may force Big Ben to turn to Ward, Randle El, and an emerging Heath Miller to move the chains and even more so to put the ball in the end zone. If the Steelers can establish the run behind Parker early, it may spell a long night for the Seahawks defense, as Iâ€™m convinced that Cowher would run the ball every play if he thought he could get away from it. If they canâ€™t, then it will be up to Roethlisberger to prove that the sophomore jinx is just an urban myth. Although his play has been stellar thus far, I think the opportunity for him to lose his composure is there if the Steelers find themselves down early.
Meanwhile the visiting Seahawks, who ironically will be wearing home jerseys, have no doubt as to who will lead their rushing game. While running behind one of the best offensive lines in the business, NFL MVP Shaun Alexander has shattered expectations and will prove to be a tough test for arguably the NFLâ€™s best run defense. With Mack Strong, one of the best FBs in football leading the way, Alexander will look to continue the success he enjoyed in the AFC Championship and will be key in wearing down the Steelers defense as the night progresses. As if Alexander wasnâ€™t enough to worry about, the Steelers also face a red-hot Matt Hasselbeck, who is easily playing the best football of his career. Hasselbeck has been excellent in leading the Seattle offense through the air, while limiting mistakes and effectively managing the game. To make things even worse for Pittsburgh, Seattleâ€™s offensive line doesnâ€™t give up many sacks, which will allow Hasselbeck to spread the ball around to a plethora of targets. While it may be easy for Seattle to key on Hines Ward, Hasselbeck isnâ€™t afraid to spread the ball around and with Jurevicius, Jackson, Engram, Stephens and Alexander on the field, sometimes at the same time, Pittsburgh will have their hands full figuring out which one to key on.
With all this talk about stout defenses and the ability of respective offenses to crack them, I should talk about the kickers. However the fact is that no kicker really deserves to be talked about because at the end of the day, theyâ€™re still a soccer player in football pads. So as I finish my last paragraph of my last prediction article until September, I will say this: I think that the Seahawks pull this one out. While Pittsburghâ€™s path to Detroit has been truly remarkable, I think that Seattleâ€™s offensive weapons will be the deciding factor that puts them over the top. Therefore I, for a brief moment in time, hereby throw my hat behind Seahawk Nation. Iâ€™ll close by saying good luck to both teams, may the best team win, and most importantly, for the love of god, at least make it entertaining.