Even though the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have the two best defenses in the National Football League this season, the Super Bowl may turn into an offensive show.
The Steelers, led by safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison, had the NFL’s stingiest defense this season, allowing 232 points. The Packers, behind linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson, surrendered 240 points, the second fewest in the league.
When the Steelers and Packers play Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium, it will be the first time in 28 years that the two teams that allowed the fewest points in the NFL met in the title game. The last time they played, just over a year ago, they allowed 973 yards and 73 points. That might happen again this time said two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson.
“They are both outstanding on defense, but they both have tremendous ability on the offensive side as well,” said Johnson, 67, who is an NFL analyst for News Corp.’s Fox network. “Having two weeks to prepare for these defensive schemes, there will be plenty of points scored.”
The Super Bowl has been played two weeks after the conference championships 37 times in the game’s 44-year history, including the past seven years. Teams have one week to prepare for an opponent during the NFL’s regular season, except when they have a bye.
“You will probably see these teams take more chances, try to strike quicker,” Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw, who won four Super Bowl titles as quarterback of the Steelers in the 1970s, said by phone. “In games like this, they’ll both try to stop the run and then they’ll try to hit the big plays.”
Offense in Pittsburgh
The last time these two teams met was in Week 15 of the 2009 season, when the Steelers won 37-36 in Pittsburgh as the offenses combined for 35 fourth-quarter points. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 503 yards and three touchdowns, including a 19-yard game-winner to Mike Wallace with no time left on the clock.
“It was embarrassing,” said Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett, who is one of two Green Bay players with Super Bowl experience. “To give up the kind of yards we gave up against Pittsburgh last year, we definitely are motivated. They just moved the ball up and down the field on us.”
Green Bay’s offense, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, ranked 10th out of 32 NFL teams in points scored this season, while Pittsburgh was 12th.
Oddsmakers anticipate the defenses will have more success this time around, setting the Super Bowl’s projected point total -- or over/under -- at 44.5 points. Bettors wager whether the final point total will be over or under that amount.
While the Packers averaged 24.2 points a game this season, the Steelers allowed more than 24 points only once, in a 39-26 loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 14.
The Packers’ defense, after giving up fourth-quarter or overtime scores in all six regular-season losses, has sealed two of their three playoff wins with interceptions in the final minute.
“It comes down to what kind of confidence you have,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Guys rallying together and saying, ‘We’re going to go out and find a way to keep them out of the end zone.’ For the most part, we’ve done a good job of that all year.”
The last time the NFL’s two stingiest defenses met in the Super Bowl was after the strike-shortened 1982 season, when Washington beat Miami 27-17. The only other time since the merger with the American Football League in 1970 followed the 1973 campaign, when Miami beat Minnesota 24-7 for a second straight Super Bowl title. On both occasions, the team with the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense won.
Over the past 25 Super Bowls, the team with the better statistical defense has won the game 18 times.
“When you have great defenses that like to get after you, you may have a 4-for-12 (passing) stretch, but you may be throwing for 90 yards and two scores,” Bradshaw said. “Aggressive style defenses tend to get burned.”