From Guest Columnist Chris Bach
The Steelers facing the Packers. The team with the #1 scoring defense against the team with the #2 scoring defense. However, I agree with Adam Schefter that a really scary quote from Aaron Rodgers was unleashed after the total dismantling of the Falcons, 48-21: Lining up under center for his opponent is, an elite quarterback – already burning Green Bay last season for 500 passing yards – ready to join Manning and Brady as the best of an era. Here’s a look at the wide receiving corps of each team. Both of these teams roll five deep at receiver. Imagine what the Steelers’ corps would look like with Santonio Holmes instead of Randle El.
The “away” team, the Pittsburgh Steelers:
1. Mike Wallace, 6’0″, 199 lbs., 2nd season (60 receptions, 1257 yds, 21.0 avg., 10 TDs) out of Mississippi. Last year’s promising deep threat has improved his route-running and physicality and had a fantastic season, especially considering he was receiving from Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch for four weeks. He was first in the NFL with 26 20+ yard catches and 10 40+ yard catches.
2. Hines Ward, 6’0″, 205 lbs., 13th season (59 receptions, 755 yds, 12.8 avg., 5 TDs) out of Georgia. He’s made headlines with his nasty blocking, but no dirty accusations or retirement talk will distract him from performing in the game or change the fact that he will go down as one of the most competitive, pace-setting wide receivers of his era. A third ring might push him into the Hall of Fame discussion.
3. Emmanuel Sanders, 5’11”, 180 lbs., 1st season (28 receptions, 376 yards, 13.4 avg., 2 TDs) out of SMU. I thought this was an interesting draft pick because the Steelers seem to have some success when they spread it out and let Ben be Ben. Getting a guy out of a spread offense made sense and Davone Bess and Dez Bryant have shown that these spread receivers often have honed their moves really well for the next level. Sanders has great juke ability and returned kick-offs earlier in the year.
4. Antwaan Randle El, 5’10”, 185 lbs., 9th season (22 receptions, 253 yds, 11.5 avg., 0 TD; 2/2 42 yds, 2 TDs) out of Indiana. Randle El, the do-everything ex-quarterback threw one of the most famous touchdown passes in NFL history, the final touchdown of Super Bowl XL to Hines Ward.
5. Antonio Brown, 5’10”, 186 lbs., 1st season (16 catches, 167 yds, 10.4 avg., 0 TD) out of Central Michigan. Young fella stepped up to make a tight-rope walking, helmet-guarding, season-preserving catch on 3rd and 19 over Lardarius Webb. That said, just like the other rookie, he’s still got developing to do and we’ll likely see good seasons in the future. He returned a kick for a touchdown earlier in the year and has held those duties in the playoffs.
The “home” team, the Green Bay Packers:
1. Greg Jennings 5’11”, 198 lbs., 5th season (76 catches, 1265 yds, 16.6 avg., 12 TDs) out of Central Michigan. His stats are similar to those of Mike Wallace but he’s been doing it for a lot longer. Jennings is a smooth route runner and uses his big body well to shield corners. Great hands and athleticism on deep balls (except that terrible drop against the Lions that became an interception in their 7-3 loss), tied with Desean Jackson for 3rd in the NFL with 21 catches of 20+ yards.
2. Donald Driver 6’0″, 194 lbs., 12th season (51 catches, 565 yds, 11.1 avg., 4 TDs) out of Alcorn State. Technically still the #2 receiver on the team. Like Hines Ward, he wasn’t high on the depth chart early in his career but has still has put up record numbers for his respective team. He’s also physical like Hines Ward, as proven by one prolific play this year against San Francisco.
3. James Jones 6’1″, 208 lbs., 4th season (50 catches, 679 yds, 13.6 avg., 5 TDs; 2 receiving TDs in the playoffs) out of San Jose State. His sterling season has been punctuated by big mistakes (the fumble at Chicago week 3, the dropped touchdown in the playoff game). He’s become a beast and will be a devastatingly bad match-up if the Steelers ever send one of their top 3 corners in a blitz. Jones is physical enough to beat press coverage and has the hops to go up and get a jump ball.
4. Jordy Nelson 6’3″, 217 lbs., 3rd season (45 catches, 582 yds, 12.9 avg., 2 TDs) out of Kansas State. After not getting a reception against the Eagles’ mediocre defense, Nelson has been pretty productive the last two playoff games with 79 and 67 yards (and should have drawn a PI call when Tim Jennings grabbed his handwarmer when he got very open on a deep route).
5. Brett Swain, 6’0″, 200 lbs., 3rd season (6 catches, 72 yds, 12.0 avg., 0 TD) out of San Diego State. Rodgers hit 9 different receivers against Philadelphia, 7 in the arena league game against the Falcons and 7 against Chicago. Brett Swain is a special teams ace as there is usually a RB or TE in the Packers’ 5-WR sets, but we’ll keep watch because of Thompson’s track record of drafting wideouts.
Which corps is better? This is tough because the guy I’d fear the most as an opponent Mike Wallace and the guy I trust the most if I got to pick between all the receivers is Hines Ward. #1 and #2 are obviously the more important positions because they are usually on the field more (though Green Bay put four receivers out there in their in 5-wide plays this year more than any other team) so the disparity between Wallace-Ward and Jennings-Driver is crucial if small. However, Jones-Nelson is better than many teams’ 1-2 and a lot better than Sanders-Randle El.
Edge: Green Bay. While I think the edge of who’s better goes to Green Bay, you’ll get a fuller view of how I think these teams match-up in my Super Bowl preview, where I give the edge to Green Bay when they are throwing and I put the edge at even for when Pittsburgh is throwing, due to their strong secondary and pass rush playing indoors.
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