Two weeks ago, I talked about the Pittsburgh defense and how the Packers should adopt a pass heavy strategy and put it on Aaron Rodgers to get the ball out and win the game. They did just that, and Aaron Rodgers delivered, more than justifying his selection as the Super Bowl MVP.
How much did they pass? The 13 official rush attempts are tied for the fifth fewest by a team in the Super Bowl. It is tied with the 1999 St. Louis Rams for the fewest rush attempts by a Super Bowl winner. The Saints last season were the only other Super Bowl winner to rush the ball 20 or fewer times in the game. Including sacks as pass attempts, only those 1999 Rams threw the ball a higher percentage of the time.
Keep in mind, though, that quarterback kneels are official rush attempts. Discounting Rodgers’ two kneeldowns at the end of the game, and Starks’ first down run to end the first half, I think it’s fair to say that the Packers adopted the most pass aggressive game plan for a Super Bowl winner. They did what they had to do, spread the field with 3 to 4 receivers, forced more people into coverage, and really took advantage of a clearly less than healthy Troy Polamalu.
Green Bay threw the ball on 14 of 19 first downs (and one of the runs was that Starks play at the end of the half). Rodgers wasn’t that successful on first down (6 of 13, 1 sack, 75 yards and 3 first downs), but he made up for it by being brilliant on third down. I think Rodgers played every bit as brilliantly as he did in Atlanta, with the difference in success rate being in the defenses he faced. Check out these numbers, which mirrored what I felt like watching it:
6 for 11, 5 first downs, 138 yards passing, 1 sack. Those include a drop by Jones and the Swain challenge on the drop. Even with those drops, Rodgers averaged almost 12 yards an attempt. Most of those were on third and long, and only one (the first touchdown to Nelson) was on less than 3rd and 5.
It was a brilliant performance, and should put to bed, in emphatic fashion, this amazing “Aaron Rodgers is a choker” talk that was present just a few months ago.
The other thing that came up was the decision by McCarthy to kick the field goal from the Pittsburgh 5 to go up 31-25. TBL and I thought he should have gone for the touchdown there. If the Steelers had scored on that final drive to win, it would be the lead story of the day. Because Green Bay won, it’s a footnote. Brian Burke confirms that going for it was pretty strongly the right call. I threw out 40% chance to score and win; the correct number was close at 37%. More amazingly (and just another indictment of conservative coaching in the NFL), the chances of winning were actually higher if Green Bay failed to convert, than if they successfully made the field goal and kicked off. A missed field goal would have also paradoxically gave them a better chance than a make, because coaches play for the tie when the option is there.
Fortunately for Green Bay, not putting the ball in Rodgers’ hand to win it outright one more time didn’t cost them. Now, he can put on the title belt after coming off the top rope all post-season.
[photo via Getty]