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Athlon's editors debate five burning Super Bowl questions.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall discuss the matchups for Championship Sunday in the NFL:
1. If all things are equal, and you had to win the big game, would you rather have Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers under center?
Nathan Rush: Big Ben has a 10–2 playoff record and two Super Bowl rings. A-Rodg didn’t win a playoff game until Philly Pro Bowl kicker David Akers missed from 34 and 41 yards in the Wild Card Round. Granted, wins over a soft Falcons club and familiar Bears foe are impressive. But it will take Rodgers playing well against the Steel Curtain in the Super Bowl for me to even think of mentioning him in the same “big game” class as Roethlisberger — whose current peers include Starr, Staubach, Plunkett, Griese and Elway; it’s Aikman and Brady company with just one more win. When we start talking fantasy quarterbacks, then I’ll take Rodgers over Roethlisberger.
Steven Lassan: Tough call. Rodgers is the better passer, but Roethlisberger finds ways to win games and is not the game manager some make him out to be. Roethlisberger is more than capable of winning a game on his own now – something he wasn’t ready to do in his first couple of seasons in the league. Critics will knock Roethlisberger’s off-the-field decisions, but let’s remember he’s never been cited or arrested for the two supposed incidents. The two quarterbacks had interesting debuts, with Rodgers having time to sit and learn behind a legend, while Big Ben was thrown into the fire in his rookie year. Rodgers is having an unbelievable postseason, but Roethlisberger also brings experience to the table and as Super Bowl XLIII showed, the ability to deliver when the game is on the line. I’ll take Roethlisberger now, but with more experience in the big game, I’d give Rodgers a slight edge.
Braden Gall: Big Ben has a chance to enter rarified air with a third Super Bowl win. Would he be the worst quarterback in NFL history with three championships (Bradshaw, maybe)? I know that sounds weird but Roethlisberger does not even belong in the same breath as guys like Aikman, Montana, or Brady. And I don't think he is in the same ballpark as guys like Elway, Griese, Stauback or Starr in terms of ability. Does anyone actually think Roethlisberger is a better QB than Peyton Manning because he has one more ring? Yes, two rings are two rings, but Rodgers is a better all-around player/teammate/leader/member of the community. I will take the more complete player.
2. When it is all said and done, who will be regarded as the better player? Charles Woodson or Troy Polamalu?
Nathan: For one game, I’ll take Troy Polamalu. For a career, give me Charles Woodson. The 1997 Heisman Trophy-winning Michigan man is a seven-time Pro Bowler, the 1998 Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year. Over 13 seasons, Woodson has 47 INTs returned for 833 yards and 10 TDs, along with 22 forced fumbles, 13.5 sacks and 607 tackles. And the corner-safety-linebacker hybrid — which Polamalu also is — has gotten better with age. Over the past three seasons, Woodson has a combined 18 INTs for 396 yards and six TDs, 10 forced fumbles and seven sacks. But it’s really not about the stats. Woodson is a dependable, physical cover corner who can run, jump and jockey with the biggest, baddest receivers in the league; he also blitzes from the slot and plays the run. And, as a younger man, Woodson was an electric runner, receiver and punt returner — just ask Ohio State (or Peyton Manning, for that matter).
Steven: Polamalu. Although shutdown/playmaking corners like Woodson are harder to find, Polamalu is the key to Pittsburgh’s defense. Without Polamalu, the Steelers are a good defense. With him, the Steelers own an elite defense. Both players have a similar resume, but Woodson boasts the 2009 NFC Defensive Player of the Year award. It’s only a matter of time before Polamalu gets one in the AFC and with a few more years to play than Woodson, should end up with a better resume.
Braden: If you could guarantee the same exact number of games played, this is a no brainer for the Pola-molecule. The only issue that even makes this a conversation is Polamalu's inability to stay healthy. Woodson's numbers might be better at the end of the day, but few players have ever had as much raw physical talent, career success and respect amongst his peers and community as No. 43.
3. Should Jay Cutler have played in the second half of the NFC Championship game?
Nathan: Jay Cutler has taken more beatings than any quarterback this side of David Carr throughout his career at Vanderbilt and in the NFL with the Broncos and Bears. Before MCL-gate, “toughness” would have been the first characteristic I named when discussing Cutler. His rocket right arm gets him into INT trouble and his body language is often questionable at best. But his physical dependability had never been an issue until now. Unfortunately, it all unraveled in the biggest game of his life, which also happened to be in the oldest and ugliest rivalry in football.
Steven: Only Jay Cutler knows how seriously he was injured. Although it looks bad to everyone on the outside, I’ll defer to the Chicago coaching staff and Cutler. If Cutler was healthy enough to be out there, then I’d be willing to bet he would’ve played – regardless of the pain. Even if Cutler didn’t limp off the field, his range of motion and ability to protect himself from injury could’ve been significantly limited. It’s easy to criticize an injured player from afar, but no one truly knows outside of Cutler and the Bears’ coaching staff.
Braden: Here are the facts. a) This was the single most important moment of Cutler's professional life against his hated rival. b) He has been widely reknowned for his physical toughness at Vandy and in the NFL. c) He has had some very public immaturity issues during his pro career. d) His non-Bear NFL peers reacted with the venom of a disgruntled ex-girlfriend while watching the game from home. e) His MCL was sprained (not torn) and Cutler himself didn't even know when it happened. f) The Packers are playing in the Super Bowl. There is only one person on the planet who knows whether or not he should have played in the second half and that isn't me. But I do know, that No. 4 (or No. 12) would not have come out of that game.
4. Who would you rather have calling plays for your defense: Dom Capers or Dick LeBeau?
Nathan: I’d take Dick LeBeau over just about any defensive coordinator in the history of football. Off the top of my head, Giants-era Bill Belichick — who won Super Bowls XXI and XXV as Bill Parcells’ right-hand man — is the only name that outranks LeBeau; and that’s probably because of the hoody’s Patriots success more than anything else. LeBeau is the best in the business, no doubt.
Steven: I’d take LeBeau, but you can’t go wrong with this choice. Both coaches have been instrumental in creating/tweaking the 3-4 scheme and are two of the best in the NFL. LeBeau developed the zone blitz schemes when he was with the Bengals in the 1980s and is regarded by many as one of the top defensive minds in NFL history. Also, players love playing for LeBeau, calling him Coach Dad and a father figure, while enjoying his “Twas the Night Before Christmas” reading every year. Two great coordinators, but if I’m starting a 3-4 defense, the first person I call is LeBeau.
Braden: LeBeau, like Roethlisberger, has a mixed bag of Super Bowl performances. He orchestrated, and was responsible for, the XL Steeler championship. But his defense played a poor second half against Arizona a few years later. His team was outplayed by the great Cowboys team of '95, but his Bengals of '88 played way over their heads against the mighty Niners. Capers, almost single-handedly, reversed an anemic Packer defense into a championship caliber unit in only two years. Yet, Capers' resume just doesn't have the..sparkle, let's say, that Lebeau's long and respected career has had.
5. What is your favorite Super Bowl halftime performance?
Nathan: The “Breast Super Bowl Ever” with Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and the ill-fated MTV crew of Super Bowl XXXVIII. That “38 Special” Super Bowl between the Patriots and Panthers was also one of the best endings in recent memory. Michael Jackson at the Rose Bowl at Super Bowl XXVII is also memorable, but maybe that’s because the Cowboys and Bills game was so bad.
Steven: I’m not a huge fan of the halftime performance at the Super Bowl. I’m usually more interested in looking back at what happened in the first half and what adjustments might be made in the second half. Although the Super Bowl chooses big names for its performances, I’ll take the day when we can skip the halftime show and go right into the third quarter. However, the performance from the Black Eyed Peas at halftime might be needed this year, especially with the audience having to listen to the dreadful combo of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
Braden: This was a loaded question for me (since I asked it), because Super Bowl halftime shows have been largely pathetic in my opinion. I mean Chaka Khan? Indiana Jones? Brittany Spears? Black Eyed Peas? And even though the acts have gotten much better lately - The Stones, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Bruce and The Who namely - they were all way past their prime when they got the SB call. Janet's nipple-gate is in the mix simply for entertainment factor. Whether you agreed with the politics of the war (or cared what happened to her marriage later), the single best musical performance at a Super Bowl was Whitney Houston's National Anthem in 1991 while our troops were in the Gulf. YouTube it and tell me you don't get goosebumps.