Ben Roethlisberger continues to live up to his reputation as one of the NFL's top clutch players. Although his game is a little unconventional for a quarterback, he finds a way to make things happen. His ability to elude rushers while keeping his eyes down the field leads to big plays, and makes the Steelers' offense extremely difficult to stop.
Rashard Mendenhall has come into his own during his second season as the starter. He rushed for 1,273 yards and became the tough, inside runner needed in critical situations. Even though he works primarily between the tackles, he has the potential to get to the corner and could be the difference in a tight game.
Hines Ward continues to lead the charge, but Mike Wallace has surpassed him as Roethlisberger's No.1 option. Wallace's speed and quickness have overwhelmed most, and the Packers must find a way to contain him with double coverage. Heath Miller is Roethlisberger's favorite target on third down. He hurt the Packers last season, so don't be surprised to see the tight end enjoy another big day.
The line has been ravaged by injuries, but the backups have played well when called upon. While the spotlight will shine brightly on Doug Legursky as he likely fills in for Maurkice Pouncey at center, the game could very well come down to how well Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott hold up on the outside against Clay Matthews.
Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton are the stalwarts on the defensive line. Even though they rarely receive fanfare for doing the dirty work, their ability to stack at the line of scrimmage allows LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior to run freely to the ball and make the tackle.
James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are dominant off the edge, and their ability to get to the quarterback in a hurry changes the tempo of the game. Lawrence Timmons adds another pass rusher to the mix, and Dick LeBeau will use him on an assortment of A-gap blitzes to get hits on Rodgers.
Troy Polamalu is an impact safety, and his ability to fill a slew of roles in the back end makes the defense dangerous. From blitzing off the edge to roaming as a deep middle player, he finds a way to get around the ball. The Packers must account for his location on every snap. Ryan Clark rarely garners attention, but his teeth-rattling shots often set the tone for the defense.
The Steelers have been rock solid for most of the year, but returners have enjoyed some success finding on kickoffs. Given the Packers' explosiveness, the coverage units will need to be on their game to force Green Bay to play on a long field. Shaun Suisham has been solid since coming over midseason, but the pressure of kicking on the big stage could lead to wayward kicks.
Mike Tomlin has led the Steelers to their second Super Bowl in his tenure, and his steady hand shows up in big games. Bruce Arians doesn't get a lot of credit for remaking the offense, but the bunch package has befuddled several opponents. Dick LeBeau continues to come up with tricks, but his game plan will need to be on point against the Packers.
The Steelers have found a way to win against all odds, and their toughness makes them a tough out for any opponent. Roethlisberger's clutch nature keeps them in games, which often results in dramatic wins in the game's waning moments.
The Packers' berth in Super Bowl XLV can be attributed directly to Aaron Rodgers' play. During Green Bay's last seven regular-season games, he tossed 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions. While those numbers are impressive, he's raised his game in the playoffs. He has connected on 71 percent of his throws with a 109.2 passer rating.
The emergence of James Starks has added balance to the offense. His hard-charging running style works well between the tackles, allowing coach Mike McCarthy to grind it out in the late stages of the game. Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn contribute in selected roles, and their versatility stands out in the red zone.
This receiving corps is the deepest and most talented in the league. The group has the ability to stretch the field on vertical routes or turn short passes into big gains on quick throws. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, in particular, are exceptional route runners. James Jones and Jordy Nelson don't garner a lot of attention, but they enjoy favorable matchups in this game, and could emerge to make an impact.
The line has played well of late. The unit generally keeps Rodgers upright and provides a little room for Starks and others to run. The Steelers' defensive line, however, is stingy against the run, and it occupies blockers at the point of attack to help free the athletic linebackers. With James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley lurking, the Packers' front line must step up to keep Rodgers from taking a pounding.
B.J. Raji has emerged as the centerpiece of the defense. His versatility completely disrupts offensive game plans. If Green Bay can get Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett to help Raji make a few tackles for loss, the Packers will be able to unleash a furious pass rush that will lead to some free shots on Roethlisberger.
Clay Matthews spends a lot time with his hand on the dirt, but Dom Capers puts him at outside linebacker to take advantage of his versatility and rush skills. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop are gritty interior defenders with outstanding instincts. Bishop, in particular, is an exceptional cover guy on tight ends, and his ability to neutralize Miller will be critical.
Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson are a formidable corner tandem, but Sam Shields' emergence has taken the secondary to another level. His size, speed and ball skills are impressive for a rookie. Nick Collins roams the middle as a lurking ball hawk, and his penchant for snagging errant throws has helped the Packers remain one of the top producers of takeaways in the league.
The coverage units were exceptional in the NFC title game, but they showed some cracks while giving up a big return to Atlanta's Eric Weems in the divisional round. Against the Steelers' crafty returners, the Packers must maintain their lane integrity and keep those gains to a minimum. Mason Crosby has struggled at times, so field goals might be an iffy proposition.
Mike McCarthy has been exceptional guiding the Packers as the team has been hit hard by injuries. He kept the standard high regardless of player availability, and the team responded to his no-nonsense methods. Dom Capers has rebuilt the defense into a high-pressure, turnover-producing unit capable of winning games.
The Packers have been on a roll during the past five games. It is hard to imagine their offense slowing down after witnessing their run in the playoffs. The defense has been equally impressive, and their knack for creating turnovers could be the deciding factor.