By Alan Robinson
The Steelers and the Green Bay Packers met in the Super Bowl only two seasons ago. (Sorry to bring back bad memories.) Despite the franchises’ success on the field (the Packers are 25-7 the last two seasons, Steelers are 24-8), they aren’t exactly clones of each other – certainly not in the team-building department.
As chronicled by the Wall Street Journal last week, the Packers are building their roster around players who fit what they consider to be the ideal size for an NFL athlete – 6-foot-2, 250 pounds.(Quarterback Aaron Rodgers fits right in at 6-2, although he is 225).
The idea is to find linebackers, tight ends and fullbacks who are in the 6-2, 250 range and can play interchangeable positions, including those on special teams. Since NFL teams can dress only 46 players per game, a team having interchangeable players is better equipped – at least the Packers believe so – to handle in-game injuries.
A tight end, for example, could move to fullback and vice versa, an outside linebacker could switch to inside linebacker. If a player goes down and can’t handle his special teams role, a similarly sized player can move into his spot.
“If you have one person doing what three people can do, it may be only 46 people dressed out but it’s like having 60,” tight end D.J. Williams told the Journal. “It’s a great advantage.”
Williams and tight end Ryan Taylor each lined up at six different positions during the preseason, at tight end, in the slot, at wide receiver and on special teams.
The Packers had 15 players in the 6-2, 250 range on their roster last week, compared to less than half that many for any of their NFC North rivals (Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota). Some teams view the 6-2, 250 player as a “tweener,” a player who might be an inch or two shorter and a few pounds lighter or heavier than they prefer for some positions.
While the Steelers also like players with position flexibility – David Johnson, for example, was listed as a fullback-tight end before he sustained a season-ending knee injury Aug. 9 in Philadelphia – they do not appear to subscribe to the so-called 62-250 theory.
While fullback Will Johnson is close at 6-2, 238, the only Steelers player who ideally fits into the Packers’ preferred body type is long snapper Greg Warren (6-3, 252), who does play on special teams but mostly just snaps.
James Harrison is listed as 242 pounds, but he’s 6-0, or two inches below the Packers’ ideal. LaMarr Woodley is 6-2 but is much larger (265 pounds) than the Packers like. Larry Foote is an inch and 11 pounds off at 6-1, 239.
The Steelers used two linebackers, Brandon Johnson and Stevenson Sylvester (before he was hurt) both inside and outside during the exhibition schedule, but Johnson at 6-5, 245 is taller than the Packers like and Sylvester is lighter (he’s 6-2 but 231 pounds).
Once again, the Steelers don’t fit what some teams prefer as the norm, but that’s hardly a surprise. They’ve always gone about their ways differently that many other franchises (not signing overpriced free agents, making few trades, building mostly through the draft) yet their long-term success is second to only a few. And, when it comes to winning Super Bowls, they are second to none.
A few interesting stats about the Steelers as they prepare to begin their 80th season, courtesy of Russell S. Baxter of www.prootballguru.com:
— Most wins since the NFL merger in 1970: Steelers 396, Dolphins 385, Cowboys 381, Broncos 367, 49ers and Packers 364, Patriots 351 and Raiders 349.
— Most playoff appearances since 1970: Steelers and Cowboys 26, Vikings 24, 49ers and Dolphins 22; Colts, Eagles and Rams 19.
—- Most division titles since 1970: Steelers 20, 49ers 18, Cowboys 17, Vikings 16, Patriots, Colts and Dolphins 13, Raiders 12.
— Most Super Bowl appearances: Steelers and Cowboys 8, Patriots 7, Broncos 6; 49ers, Packers, Giants, Raiders, Redskins and Dolphins 5.
— All-time AFC North playoff records: Steelers 33-21, Ravens 10-7, Browns 11-20, Bengals 5-10.
— Most postseason wins in NFL history: Steelers and Cowboys 33, Packers 29, 49ers 26, Raiders 25, Giants 24, Patriots and Redskins 23. The Steelers, of course, gave everyone else in the NFL a four decades-long head start after not winning a single playoff game in their first 39 seasons.