Green Bay isn’t intimidated by Pittsburgh’s tough reputation : Packers Insider

Green Bay isn’t intimidated by Pittsburgh’s tough reputation

February 1, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Dallas — It’s defensive end Dwight White spending all week before Super Bowl IX in the hospital suffering from pneumonia, crawling out of bed to play the entire game and then being readmitted afterward for 10 more days.

It’s an enraged Franco Harris thundering 22 yards up the gut for a touchdown in Super Bowl XIII.

It’s menacing Jack Lambert at his gap-toothed best bellowing out signals in Super Bowl XIV.

It’s Hines Ward playing hurt in the 40th and 43rd Super Bowls with major injuries that would have sidelined others.

And now it’s James Farrior jarring ball carriers, Rashard Mendenhall lowering his shoulder in traffic, Casey Hampton blowing up blocking combinations and Ben Roethlisberger refusing to go down.

The Bigger the are, the harder they fall. Big Ben must go down, and BJ Raji, Cullen Jenkins, and Clay Matthews are just the guys to do it.

The Green Bay Packers must do many things well to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in Super Bowl XLV, but nothing will matter if they don’t stand up physically to a franchise whose trademark has always been hitting people.

“That’s why they’re in the game,” said Ron Wolf, the Packers’ retired general manager who was there with the Oakland Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium two days before Christmas in 1972 when the “Immaculate Reception” gave the Steelers their first-ever playoff victory. “That’s when it all started.

“They had a dominant defensive player by the name of ‘Mean Joe’ Greene who was as good as anybody who ever played the game from an inside position. There’s a physicality and a mentality that the Pittsburgh (personnel) people have always looked for to make part of their team.”

The Steelers run the ball and they stop the run.

They go deep on offense and they try to frighten the passer on defense.

And they look to impose their will on offense, defense and special teams.

“I grew up in Pittsburgh and I’m aware of all that,” said Ben McAdoo, who coaches the Packers’ tight ends. “I think that’s been part of their culture for a long time. A part of playing good defense is being intimidating.”

On defense, all 11 Packers will be well aware that Ward, even at 38 years of age, will be looking to light up some unsuspecting soul downfield with a cleaving block.

On offense, all 11 Packers know that LaMarr Woodley, Harrison and the rest of coordinator Dick LeBeau’s unit will be trying to knock Aaron Rodgers into next week.

"I can say for that team and that defense, what they say, they back it up," said wide receiver James Jones. "Troy Polamalu is everywhere.

“They’ve got that thing, ‘The Steel Curtain,’ ” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “People look at them as being a tough team. It’s a credit to them.”

But guess what? These Packers aren’t the least bit worried.

“I think that’s a nice storyline,” coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. “We respect the way they play. But trust me. We’re a physical football team.”

Three years ago, the Packers were halted one step short of playing in the 42nd Super Bowl by the New York Giants. Brett Favre and Al Harris were unforgettably awful, but perhaps less remembered is how badly the Packers were whipped at the line of scrimmage on that arctic night at Lambeau Field.

From his seat at Lambeau Field during the fall and more recently from his easy chair in Florida, Wolf swears he is seeing the Steelers’ modus operandi bubbling from within the Packers.

“You have that Pittsburgh mentality on that defensive side of the ball now,” said Wolf. “It doesn’t hurt to have a player like (Charles) Woodson. He’s a tough son of a gun.

“It’s also the offensive line. John Kuhn is a tough guy. I think the Packers have got tough guys, and that helps them.”

Both safety Charlie Peprah and Wolf were quick to cite the divisional playoff game in Atlanta as the moment when Green Bay best illustrated its new-found rough and tumble approach. Playing with just five days of rest, the Packers rolled, 48-21.

“I think Atlanta thought that physically they were going to subdue the Packers,” said Wolf. “That was an ass-kicking. That Atlanta’s game. Try to beat you up. And that was no contest.”

The Packers crushed the Giants on Dec. 26 in another game that was billed as a macho type affair.

“I don’t know if teams talk about us, but you watch our tape,” Pickett said. “We’re a pretty physical bunch all around the board. We can line up and hit you in the mouth.”

Based on what Joe Whitt reads and hears, he says the perception of the Packers’ defense is focused on its opportunistic nature.

“It sort of bothers me when people talk about the Jets’ defense and Baltimore’s defense and the Steelers’ defense and how physical they are,” said Whitt, the cornerbacks coach in Green Bay. “But we out-hit the Jets and last year we out-hit Baltimore.

The current Steelers defense is ranked #1 in the NFL today, very reminicent of the Steel Curtain of the 1970's.

“When we get on the field against those physical teams, teams like Chicago, we find a way to get it done. We don’t have to play any more physical than what we play. That should be good enough.”

McCarthy grew up in Pittsburgh, too, and was watching at age 11 when the Steelers won their first championship by manhandling Minnesota in January 1975. He also apprenticed for six seasons in Kansas City under Marty Schottenheimer, a coach who loved nothing better than going toe-to-toe.

“I’ve lived in that world,” said McCarthy. “But physical football to me is not how many times you get up and slobberknock it. It’s fun, but it’s not reality. At the end of the day, we’ve got to score as many points as we can.”

So what does physical football mean to McCarthy?

“Finishing a play is the best illustration of who’s being more physical,” he said. “Is our guy scrapping, clawing and fighting for the extra yard? It’s making a catch and what we call ‘VOB’ . . . violence on the boundary. You’re running out of bounds but instead you run through the hit to get the first down.

“Physical football is winning the fundamental battles. It’s a receiver releasing properly on a DB, or a DB getting his hands on a receiver. It’s finishing runs. Getting off blocks. Finishing tackles.

“To me, it’s not, ‘Let’s get into two backs and see who’s the toughest.’ I’m not running into walls to run into walls.”

The Packers have been respectful, so far at least, of what the Steelers’ tradition is all about.

“I can say for that team and that defense, what they say, they back it up,” said wide receiver James Jones. “Troy Polamalu is everywhere. He’s hitting. Harrison’s crazy. I don’t know how hard they hit, but on film they’re flying around and getting to the ball.”

What the Packers are looking for is co-billing on the hit parade. They might not get there during the game of hype, but they intend to attain it and then some by Sunday night.

“The top two defenses in the league are playing,” said Whitt. “We just have to play our game.”

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