Scouting report

Super Bowl

February 05, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

When the Steelers run

Seattle's undersized defensive line will have to use its quickness to counter the Steelers' massive offensive line (averaging 317 pounds) in a classic matchup of speed vs. muscle. RB Jerome Bettis is still gold in the red zone, but he can't carry the team any longer. Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu is their enforcer.

Edge: Even

When the Steelers pass

These aren't your parents' Steelers. With Ben Roethlisberger, they've transitioned to a passing team in the playoffs. They are getting almost 35 more yards a game from the pass. Conveniently, Seattle's secondary ranked only 25th in the regular season and is vulnerable.

Edge: Steelers

When the Seahawks run

Behind the best offensive line in the NFL, they averaged more than 153 yards in the postseason and regular season. LT Walter Jones and LG Steve Hutchinson are dominating, and Shaun Alexander was the league's Most Valuable Player. The Steelers finished third in rush defense, so it's strength on strength.

Edge: Even

When the Seahawks pass

QB Matt Hasselbeck was sacked 24 times in the regular season and just two more in the postseason, so he's getting enough protection to make the West Coast offense work. The Seahawks like to throw quick slants and crossing routes to set the offensive rhythm. The Steelers' pass defense is suspect.

Edge: Seahawks

Who's on the spot for the Steelers

The running game has really bogged down in the playoffs and the onus is on the offensive linemen. They must be able to handle the Seahawks' quickness or Roethlisberger will be on the run more than he wants.

Who's on the spot for the Seahawks

As good as the offensive line is, it will have its hands full against Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. RB Shaun Alexander had just 61 rushing yards on 21 carries against Dallas' 3-4 in October.

Who's hot for the Steelers

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has had a great postseason calling plays. Although the Steelers still run the ball a lot on first down, Roethlisberger has had major success passing on second down.

Who's hot for the Seahawks

Hasselbeck hasn't thrown an interception in two playoff games and he's completing 66.7 percent of his passes. If the Steelers don't get pressure on him, that could continue.

Who's cold for the Steelers

RB Willie Parker averaged 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season, but has disappeared (2.8) in the postseason. He can't use his speed to get outside and goes down easily.

Who's cold for the Seahawks

Cornerback Andre Dyson has had lingering ankle problems in an injury-marred season. He missed most of the first half of the NFC championship game with an ankle injury, and could be vulnerable.

Matchups the Steelers have to win

OLB Joey Porter vs. LT Walter Jones, so the Steelers don't have to blitz every passing down. LT Marvel Smith vs. RDE Grant Wistrom, so Roethlisberger can set up in the pocket.

Matchups the Seahawks have to win

WRs Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson vs. CBs Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend. If Seattle can keep Pittsburgh's defense guessing, it will give the Seahawks the rhythm they're seeking.

X-factor for the Steelers

They love gimmick plays and they've got the right personnel to run them with ex-quarterbacks Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El and Cedrick Wilson. It's a lot for a defense to prepare for.

X-factor for the Seahawks

They're motivated by the perception that they've been overlooked all season. It has been a powerful incentive through the postseason.

Coaches

Bill Cowher, in his 14th year, is haunted by the fact that he hasn't won a Super Bowl for the Steelers. Mike Holmgren had to relinquish his general manager duties to keep his coaching job with the Seahawks, but finally turned the corner this season.

Edge: Seahawks

Special teams

The Seahawks have been atrocious on special teams in the playoffs, both in coverage and on return teams. The Steelers' Randle El is a threat on punt returns and could make a big difference.

Edge: Steelers

Intangibles

Ford Field figures to be decidedly pro-Steelers. The best traveling team in the NFL with the shortest distance of the two teams, the Steelers' crowd could turn this into a home-game atmosphere.

Edge: Steelers

Prediction

The Seahawks have been on a high all season, but the fact that they've faced lesser competition will finally catch up with them tonight. The Steelers are tougher, more physical and more determined because of their failure a year ago. Steelers 27, Seahawks 20.

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