FOX analysts stumped with Super Bowl predictions

BY foxsports • February 1, 2011

By Mark Concannon
FOXSportsWisconsin.com

February 1, 2011

At the end of every "NFL on FOX" pregame show, the analysts have to predict the outcome of a key game. Howie Long is dreading that choice for this Sunday.

"I think it's a coin flip, it really is," Long said. "And I'm going to spend the rest of the week figuring who I'm picking. It will come right down to the final hour of our pregame."

"It's as good a matchup as I can remember in a Super Bowl," said Troy Aikman, a three time Super Bowl champ and MVP of XXVII, who will provide color commentary alongside play-by-play announcer Joe Buck. "Two teams that are a lot alike, tough as hell to move the ball against and there's not, in my opinion, normally you'd look at a game and think this team, you would expect to win or this team, I don't see that in this one. I really don't."

Aikman isn't predicting a banner day for either James Starks or Brandon Jackson.

"I can't imagine Green Bay running the ball effectively against the Steelers," Aikman said. "It's hard to imagine. They won't stop trying though. They're going to try to run the ball even if they're not having a lot of success. The burden to me isn't so much on the offenses even though they have to protect the ball."

With the caliber of both the Pittsburgh and Green Bay defenses, there is a feeling among the FOX broadcast crew that one team may not win the Super Bowl as much as the other team will lose it.

"If I'm either one of those quarterbacks," Aikman said. "I'm thinking, 'I've got a good defensive unit and if we can't not give the other team a short field, if we play smart, our defense is going to keep us in this game.' This is one of those games because of the defenses involved that I think the offensive teams have to be smart."

"8 of the last 9 Super Bowl winners turned the ball over less than their opponent," said Jimmy Johnson, who was proudly showing off a Super Bowl ring from his days with the 1992 and '93 champion Cowboys. "Turnovers is the key. Both of them are great defensive teams. Both of them can score points. They got great quarterbacks. Obviously both teams have tremendous talent so the tide can turn either way. But the reason the tide turns is usually because of a turnover."

Long thinks the battle between two safeties who have been named defensive player of the year the last two seasons, could go a long way in determining the outcome.

"I'm really intrigued by the (Troy) Polamalu (Charles) Woodson matchup," Long said. "If you're at home watching the game, watch Woodson playing out of the slot, playing safety as a run blitzer and pass blitzer. I think he's the best pass rusher DB in football."

"Polamalu, he's a wildcard, he's everywhere. Both lining up as a safety, shrinking the coverage field for the corners, as a run defender as a blitzer, he's maybe the most instinctive defensive player in football. So he's going to take chances. Sometimes those chances can work in your favor and sometimes they go the other way. So I think if you're at home watching, those two guys, you wanna watch."

Terry Bradshaw, a two time Super Bowl MVP with the Steelers, feels that Polamalu and Woodson are causing sleepless nights for Messrs. Roethlisberger and Rodgers.

"Nothing is more unsettling to a quarterback, " Bradshaw said. " Nothing will make him study harder, spend more time studying tape, get up early and go to work and stay later than playing a team that comes after you with blitzes. That's the one thing that will beat you. That's the one thing that causes turnovers."

But Bradshaw says the risk reward equation of a blitzing defense can sometimes pay dividends for a quarterback. " The one thing, if you're on the money that day, you can fry 'em. You can hit homeruns."

Long, a Hall of Fame defensive end and member of the Raiders team that won Super Bowl XVIII, says that speed and perception will be the keys on both sides of the ball on Sunday.

"In every defensive scheme, particularly zone blitz, man blitz, there's a hole," Long said. "The question is, how quickly can you find the hole? With these two defenses, the clock ticks pretty quickly. They're 48 and 47 sacks, they're number one and number two. I think the clock is ticking and the quarterback's internal clock is ticking and the receivers need to really be sharp and on the same page. If there's a blitz adjustment, you've got to make it quick and both quarterback and receiver have to be on the same page."

"A lot of times against these types of defenses, a game is won or lost, pre-snap. It's not as much about gettin' people blocked, as it is knowing who to block. Physically, these are all pro football players playing at a high level; they're capable of a one-on-one matchup. If I know you're coming and I'm pass blocking chances are I'm going to win more than I lose. But when you don't know who's coming, you have a protection breakdown and there's a free blitzer or free defender, that clock gets a little faster maybe your quarterback gets hit and the ball squirts out, suddenly the game changes."

Aikman, who said, "If Mike McCarthy doesn't win coach of the year, I don't know who else deserves it," is not expecting a replay of the 37-36 shootout won by the Steelers late in 2009.

"I don't anticipate a high scoring game," Aikman said. "I know it happened the last time these two teams played, things are different. Yet even in that game, I think it would have been hard to imagine what happened, happened. I don't expect this to be a high scoring game if there's not turnovers and sloppy play."

But Buck says there could be fireworks.

"These are two 3-4 defenses that have the same roots with Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers," Buck said. " So not only are these defenses similar, but these offenses practice against these groups every day. That could make for an offensive explosion more than you would expect with a team that gave up 14.5 points per game all year compared to a team that gave up just 15."

But no one from the Fox crew wants to make a prediction until they absolutely have to Sunday evening.

"If they protect Aaron Rodgers and he has time to stand back and look for somewhere to go with the ball then I think Green Bay's good enough on the outside to really make a difference on the scoreboard," Buck said. "But now you have to block one of the most fierce pass rush units that you're going to see anywhere in the NFL."

"I love how Green Bay's been playing and we've seen a ton of them. They've persevered and here they are. A team that was picked by many to get here anyway, but going through all they've gone through, it's impressive."

"But then you match that against the experience of the Steelers who've been on this stage before and that can't be discounted, so it really does feel even coming in and that's really what makes Sunday so exciting to me."


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