Itís all about playmakers in the National Football League. Always has been, always will be.
Vince Lombardi talked about the importance of playmakers even when he was winning NFL championships with his 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense -- except that his teams averaged closer to 5 yards per rush.
Mike McCarthy made the point after the Green Bay Packers thrashed Atlanta, 48-21.
ďTo see your big-time players step up in prime-time games Ė thatís what itís all about,Ē McCarthy said.
The Packers have lost one playmaker this year, tight end Jermichael Finley, and that may still cost them. But they still have enough to win the Super Bowl.
They have one of the best quarterbacks in the game; another player in linebacker Clay Matthews who also ranks among the top 10 players in the league. And then two, three, maybe even four or five others who are elite players at their positions.
The only team that comes close to matching them is Pittsburgh with Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Mike Wallace.
Chicago has a special player in Devin Hester, and two defensive studs in Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher. But they canít match the Packers in terms of numbers.
Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews
The Packers had four touchdown drives of 76 yards or more, and they never punted. That speaks volumes about Rodgersí play.
His accuracy is amazing and itís not just when heís standing still. He might be the second-best player in the game right now behind Tom Brady. Maybe Peyton Manning, too, but Rodgers had a better year.
Something that separates Rodgers from other quarterbacks is his release. Even when defenders are bearing down on him, he gets rid of the ball like right now. Thatís key because when a team blitzes, it usually leaves something open on the backside; and Rodgers can find it and get the ball off before the blitz gets to him. Thatís a special ability.
Again, heís so in tune right now itís as though the game is going on in slow-motion for him. Heís smart, no question, and he has reached the point where he has experience on his side.
It appears that since that second concussion, Rodgers is looking to throw the ball when he breaks the pocket. Itís obvious heíd prefer not to run it anymore. But he throws the ball so well on the run that even if a defender just looks at him too long and loses his man for a split second, Rodgers can hurt him with his arm.
Against a quarterback such as Rodgers, a defense normally will rely on its inside backers to go after him, while everybody else has to stay on their guys. But thatís not a defenderís instinct: To allow a guy to run around on the field. His instinct is to go tackle him. Itís really a no-win situation for the defense.
Matthews has to be one of the top two or three defensive players in the game. Itís harder for an offense to scheme to take away a safety, a Polamalu or an Ed Reed, compared to a linebacker. But Matthews is so good, so physical, so aggressive. Two sacks, a fumble recovery Saturday night.
Even the best players take plays off at times. Reggie White would dance and dance, then when the Packers needed a big play, heíd pull something out of his back pocket. Matthews is relentless. His motor is second to none.
The Packers have four good wide receivers, and they really did a good job of breaking off their routes. But Greg Jennings is the playmaker. Heís the guy who can stretch the field and draw coverage away from the other receivers.
Charles Woodson might not be a shutdown corner, but heís still an impact player. Thatís why they play so much nickel. Itís similar to the way the Steelers use Polamalu. Woodson is playing like a linebacker, but heís faster and more athletic than any linebacker in the league. He led the Packers in tackles against the Falcons, had a sack; he covered tight end Tony Gonzales some and chucked him some at the line.
Tramon Williamsí development this year is astonishing. His 70-yard interception was a preparation play. He saw it before and jumped the route. B.J. Raji got a sack. All of their playmakers on defense made plays. Plus, thereís Nick Collins. He didnít make any plays, but there werenít any that came his way.
Sam Shields vs. Chris Owens
Shieldsí value to the Packers again was apparent.
Brian Williams, the Falconsí nickel back, got hurt in the final regular-season game, Owens filled in and the Packers threw at him all game long. When a team has an obvious hole in its secondary, itís hard to overcome. Thatís what sunk New Orleans the week before and that was a big part of what sunk the Falcons. Shields gave up some completions, but he was no easy target.