ARLINGTON, Texas -- Defense wins championships.
Proponents of offensive football will object to that sentiment, but the old adage continues to ring true when you watch games like Super Bowl XLV unfold.
Mike Wallace, the Steelers' most dangerous deep threat, appeared to be the focal point of the Packers' defensive game plan. They made a concerted effort to take away any deep throws in his direction by pressing him at the line of scrimmage and using a deep safety over the top on most downs. The Packers got physical at the line and took away his ability to get free down the sideline immediately, and the additional safety help essentially took the deep ball out of the equation.
Nick Collins' pick six was a prime example of how the Packers effectively used press coverage and safety help. Tramon Williams challenged Wallace at the line, while Collins worked quickly to shift over and take away the "stop-and-go route" that Ben Roethlisberger was attempting to throw down the left sideline.
Capers also put together a masterful plan to neutralize the "bunch" formation that the Steelers had used to create problems for the Packers in their meeting a season ago. The close alignment of two or more receivers and tight ends often resulted in at least one receiver obtaining a free release at the line of scrimmage, and the assortment of crossing routes that accompanied the formation led to easy throws for Roethlisberger over the middle.
This time around, Capers' subtle adjustments allowed the Packers to enjoy tremendous success against the formation.
In zone coverage, Green Bay used "box" tactics to keep the Steelers' receivers from running free. These principles, which were especially effective against three-receiver cluster alignments out of spread or empty sets, assigned one defender to a short area outside the formation and another to the deep outside zone. The Packers also had a defender assigned to shadow any inside short crosser and another positioned to handle any deep inside route. With four defenders assigned to handle three receivers, Green Bay limited Roethlisberger's options in the route and kept the Steelers from gaining big chunks in the passing game.
On the weak side of the formation, the corner and safety exchanged responsibilities on any short crossing route from the split end. By having Collins jump the short crosser with the corner rolling over the top, the Packers eliminated the effectiveness of the pick routes that the Steelers often use to free up their receivers.
When the Packers opted to play man coverage, they continued to use "switch-and-replace" tactics against "bunch" formations. Capers instructed the corner assigned to the point man in the cluster to press his receiver at the line of scrimmage, and the remaining defenders would switch based on the routes of the peripheral receivers. This allowed the inside defender to get a quick jump on any shallow crosses or in-breaking routes, allowing the outside defender to take away the flat or post corner from the slot receiver. It was the use of the "switch" concept that enabled Jarrett Bush to intercept Roethlisberger in the second quarter on a ball intended for Wallace on the crossing route.
While eliminating the deep ball and neutralizing the Steelers' bunch formation were key objectives, getting consistent pressure on Roethlisberger proved to be Capers' biggest challenge. Initially, the Packers used a mixture of their zone pressure package from their "24" personnel (two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs) to attack him. They aligned B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins on the same side, and added Charles Woodson (before he left the game) and Clay Matthews to the mix on a few overload pressures to disrupt Roethlisberger's timing. These tactics were part of an aggressive blitz strategy that resulted in a few hits and errant throws in the game's opening stages.
Capers, however, had to scale back the aggressive plan in the second half, when injuries to Woodson and Sam Shields forced the team to employ a host of backups in the nickel package for most of the third quarter. With so much inexperience in the secondary, the Packers used more conventional zone coverage and did just enough to keep Roethlisberger out of the end zone.
They repeatedly fell back into blanket zones with seven and eight defenders in coverage, and relied on their front to create pressure. Although Capers occasionally mixed in an overload pressure from the nickel package, his willingness to put the game on the shoulders of his reserves ultimately resulted in a championship for the Packers.