While all the attention the past few weeks settled primarily on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, fellow California Golden Bears alum and Packer linebacker Desmond Bishop has flown under the radar. But despite the constant narrative of the offensive fireworks show that Rodgers and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will put on, it's the defenses that could very well decide who wins Super Bowl XLV. Bishop, who is not well-known outside of Packers nation, will probably be called onto perform at a high level, and he will need to have a big game in Dallas to ensure his team earns the Lombardi Trophy
With so much attention focused on his outside partner in Clay Matthews, Bishop will have plenty of opportunities to make tackles Sunday, and he will need to execute effectively on all his chances. Here's what he and his Packers defense need to do to hold down the Steelers offense.
Run support. Steelers starting tailback Rashard Mendenhall hasn't been talked about much at all the past two weeks, but he could very well be the key to Sunday's game. Pittsburgh will have a clear edge at running back and they will probably operate to try and run the football on a physical Green Bay front seven to open up opportunities for the passing game. Although the Packers have the second best defense in the NFL, they're only sixteenth against the run. Green Bay has compensated for this because they're usually ahead in most of their games and never behind by double digits, but if Pittsburgh can prove they can run the ball on Green Bay, the game could tilt decisively in their favor.
Enter Bishop. According to Ben Muth of Football Outsiders, Pittsburgh loves to use trips wide receiver formations and make their skill players block for them. With tight end Heath Miller likely to focus on blocking Matthews (the Pittsburgh offensive tackles are no match for Matthews), and Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians bringing in skill position players to block to seal for outside runs, he must be ready to crash to the outside (particularly to the right side of the field, where Mendenhall gets most of his big yards), avoid the Pittsburgh blocking receivers, and stop Mendenhall in his tracks along with A.J. Hawk. It's unlikely Mendenhall will get a lot of traction up front against the Packers big three defensive linemen, so outside runs are likely where Pittsburgh will have to win this game. Bishop has to be ready.
Pass coverage. This is Bishop's strength, and he'll have to play it up. While his partner Hawk has struggled in pass coverage, Bishop has thrived, both in the open field and in straight form tackling. Remember it was Bishop who stopped his former Cal teammate and roommate DeSean Jackson in the NFC Wild-Card matchup with a critical shoestring tackle that helped preserve the victory. He'll need to guard the underneath throws the Steelers love to run in their trips bunch formation, make a pass breakup or two, but most importantly just tackle, tackle, tackle.
Bringing down Big Ben. Packer defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to dial up the blitz as much as his Steeler counterpart Dick LeBeau. He won't be called on to do it much, but with so much attention focused on Matthews's game-changing ability and even a guy like Charles Woodson, Bishop needs to be prepared when he's the secondary blitzer to try and take Roethlisberger down behind the line of scrimmage.
Bishop's versatility was his strength at Cal, and it's what made him such a dominant linebacker in the Pac-10 for his two years here. All of his talents will need to be on display for Green Bay to hold down Pittsburgh.