DALLAS -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was outstanding during the early rounds of the 2005 playoffs. Through his first three games he threw for seven touchdowns with only one interception and had a passer rating of 95.3 or higher in each, including a 148.7 effort in a wild-card win at Cincinnati.
His confidence could not have been higher as he prepared for his first Super Bowl appearance. And though the Steelers defeated the Seahawks that Sunday at Ford Field, Roethlisberger played terribly. He completed just 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 22.6 rating. Even his rushing score was controversial, as he appeared to fumble the ball before crossing the goal line.
We bring this up as a means of saying, there's no way of knowing how someone will perform in his first Super Bowl. Roethlisberger was outstanding in his three outings preceding the game, then turned into a completely different player when the Vince Lombardi Trophy was in the building.
He redeemed himself three years later by completing 21 of 30 passes for 256 yards and the game-winning touchdown in a Super Bowl win over the Cardinals. However his first foray under the brightest of the bright lights could be a cautionary tale for the Packers and their sensational quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who in four career playoff starts has been nearly unstoppable, completing 69.6 percent of his passes for 1,213 yards and 10 scores with three picks. In three of the games his passer rating surpassed 121.0.
How will Rodgers perform Sunday against the Steelers in Cowboys Stadium? The inability to answer that question is among the reasons Pittsburgh could win the game. Five others include:
Experience is not a guarantee of success -- see the 2009 New Orleans Saints -- but it usually reduces the odds of a team suffering early-game jitters. Green Bay relies heavily on rookies like tackle Bryan Bulaga, cornerback Sam Shields and running back James Starks. Will the moment be too big for them?
To understand Polamalu's significance to the defense, consider this: Last season Pittsburgh squandered fourth-quarter leads in five of its seven losses and gave up the decisive field goal to break a tie in the final minute of another game. This season: Polamalu, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, had a takeaway, a tackle or a forced fumble late in four games to preserve or set up a victory.
Packers practice-squad member Michael Greco, a 6-3, 224-pound rookie safety from Central Florida, played the role of Polamalu during practice this week.
If the Steelers are stubborn with the run they have the size and ability to wear down Green Bay's front. Detroit (41 rushes), Miami (39) and Atlanta (27) all stuck with their ground games in beating the Pack this year.
People have been doubting the Steelers' offensive line since injuries sidelined left tackle Willie Colon in June and right tackle Max Starks in November. Still, Pittsburgh finds a way to get it done. Rashard Mendenhall scored 13 touchdowns this season and rushed for 121 yards on 27 carries against the Jets' No. 3-ranked run defense in the AFC Championship Game.
Look for the Steelers to impose their will on the ground because they realize it's highly unlikely they'll win throwing the ball 46 times like they did in last season's win over the Packers. Mendenhall had just 38 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in that game.
Roethlisberger's ability to buy extra time will make it tough for the Packers to stay with Pittsburgh's speedy wideouts, particularly Mike Wallace, who had touchdown catches of 60 and 19 yards in the teams' previous meetings. Green Bay figures to match speedy rookie Sam Shields against Wallace in passing situations, but it's tough for any defender to cover if the quarterback can hold the ball for 5 or more seconds before releasing it.
The Packers have done a nice job protecting Rodgers this season, but there have been breakdowns. In their six losses they gave up 19 total sacks, with 18 coming in four of the defeats. No defense smells blood in the water better than the Steelers, who led the league in sacks.
Another thing to keep in mind, Rodgers has sustained two concussions this season, one of which forced him to sit out a game. Think the Steelers are unaware of that? Me neither.