The Green Bay Packers came into the season with lofty expectations- A potent offense, a ball-hawking defense, and a young quarterback coming into his own was expected to carry this team to the Super Bowl.  And here they are, but certainly not by the road most expected them to take.

Early on, there were setbacks.  Starting running back Ryan Grant was injured in the first game of the season, and Brandon Jackson averaged less than 50 yards per game as his replacement.  That was overcome by Rodgers arm, but there were warning signs- Green Bay dropped the third game of the season to eventual division winning Chicago, and after the bye week came a defeat at the hands of the eventual #1 seed Atlanta Falcons.  Questions arose about if Green Bay could run with the big dogs- and a week 14 concussion to Rodgers did nothing to silence those questions.  But the 2010 iteration of the Packers is nothing if not resilient, and they won just enough to enter as a #6 seed- and didn’t look back.

Aaron Rodgers has come a long way

Now they face their biggest test yet- Dick Lebeau and his fast, unpredictable defense.  So what do they have to do to win?

Despite James Starks excellent playoff coming-of-age party, they cannot expect to run the ball against this front seven.  LeBeau knows this, and will be sending a lot of disguised blitzes at Rodgers and company.  Rodgers ability to recognize the blitz, or at the very least, where it’s coming from will be essential.  He has a strong, accurate arm, but he will be throwing into a lot of tight windows while under pressure.  Intermediate passes on first down to set up second-(and possibly third-) and short will be what determines how successful their drives can be.

As in any football game, but even more so facing Pittsburgh, the play of the offensive line will go a long way towards helping Rodgers deliver the ball, and allow their cadre of receivers time to get open.  Rodgers has already had one concussion this year that sidelined him, and no one on the Packers side wants to put a Super Bowl on Matt Flynn’s shoulders, so the O-line needs to keep Rodgers upright.  He will get hit, and hit by the most viscous linebackers in the game, and that needs to be kept to a minimum.

While it might be hopeless, they need to run the ball.  We have already seen BJ Raji at fullback a couple times- expect it again in  third-and-one and goal line situations.  Starks has displayed elusiveness and the ability to break tackles thus far in the playoffs, and if he can break just one or two, it forces LeBeau to stay home a little more with his defense on first or second and 10 situations, and I’m sure Green Bay will be in a few of those.

All in all, this is a talented, explosive and resilient offense.  They will need to play hard every single snap, because this one will go down to the end.