This won’t be our typical game preview-style post, but here are a few things that you need to know for your Super Bowl experience. You provide the nachos, we’ll provide the knowledge.
- Sure Pittsburgh is great against the run, but how much will that actually matter against the Cardinals? Listen, there are few adages in the NFL as accurate as “defense wins championships,” and the first responsibility of a defense is to stop the run. Don’t get us wrong, Pittsburgh is the best team in the NFL at stopping the run, but that ability won’t handicap Arizona like it would any other team in the league. Four of the top five rushing offenses this season were playoff teams from the NFC, and therefore possible Super Bowl opponents for the Steelers. If Pittsburgh hypothetically plays the Giants, Falcons, Panthers or Vikings, this shutdown ability puts the game in the hands of Eli Manning (was last year a fluke?), Matt Ryan (first rookie ever in the Super Bowl, against the NFL’s top ranked defense), Jake Delhomme (did you see the Cardinals game?) or Tavaris Jackson (Tavaris Jackson). Against the Cardinals, though, this doesn’t quite hold the same weight. So the Cardinals can’t run against the Steelers? Big deal. The Cardinals couldn’t run against the first eleven people to read this post (please tell me there’s eleven of you). Arizona, for the record, was dead last in the NFL in rushing offense this season. The Cardinals calling a running play is the equivalent of Journey playing a song off of the new record between “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Wheel in the Sky” at the local state fairgrounds. You know it’s going to happen at some point in a three hour period, but the results won’t be pretty. Basically, Arizona has the league’s 4th best offense despite owning the league’s worst rushing offense. If James/Hightower/Arrington can’t rush the ball effectively, it’s just another day at the office for Warner, Fitzgerald and Boldin.
- Hines Ward’s health and availability is crucial to the Steelers’ success. Hines Ward has been the most consistent offensive weapon for the Steelers this decade, and always seems to show up even bigger during the playoffs. If the Super Bowl MVP Trophy sitting on his mantle at home isn’t evidence enough, look at this year’s AFC Championship Game. After Ward left the game with an injury, Steelers wideouts apparently forgot how to catch the ball (Limas Sweed I’m looking directly at you). Ben Roethlisberger played a very, very good game in the Championship round (better than I think he’ll play in Tampa [yeah, I know the disparity between the opposing defenses]), so had Ward stayed in the game (or had his fellow receivers showed up), the Steelers would have won by twenty. Hines Ward is a combination of a tight end and a #1 receiver. Without him you take away the safety valve of a surprisingly mediocre offense. Roethlisberger is very capable of making many, many mistakes, and he’s playing a defense that, surprisingly, had more take-aways than his own #1 ranked defense. If Ward misses this game, or is noticeably limited, don’t be surprised is Roethlisberger tries to do too much and makes some mistakes. Sure Big Ben’s got a ring, but his 22.1 QB rating in Pittsburgh’s win (gift from the officials) over Seattle is easily the worst performance by a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history.
- The biggest matchup in the game has got to be the Cardinals passing game versus the Steelers pass defense. If the Cards can move the ball through the air, even with Pittsburgh knowing that that’s the only thing they really need to stop, then they’ve obviously got a chance to win. The Cardinals did an excellent job of protecting Kurt Warner against Jim Johnson’s elaborate blitz schemes, but Dick LeBeau’s Steelers pose some different challenges for Arizona. The Steelers rarely send the numbers that the Eagles do, but they’re as good as anybody at disguising where the blitz is coming from, which will help give them more bodies to try to lock down Fitzgerald and Boldin. It’s going to be harder than you might think, though. Warner has been as good this season as he ever has at getting the ball out very accurately and quickly. Fitzgerald’s gotten the huge press over the last few weeks, but even if Pittsburgh double teams him all game they still have two more 1,000 yard receivers to deal with (believe it or not, Steve Breaston has 1006 yards on the season). The way I see it, unless Ike Taylor and/or Deshea Townshead have the games of their career, Pittsburgh will have to choose between greatly reducing their pass rush, or risk some big plays down field. If the Steelers can touch up Kurt Warner and can make Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston ineffective, then Pittsburgh will most likely be hoisting their second Lombardi Trophy in the last three years.
- You’ve got to imagine that the Cards have been watching plenty of the game tape from the Titans’ victory over the Steelers in week 16. In that game, the Titans became the first team to gain 300 yards on offense against the Steelers defense this year. While it’s reasonable to expect that the Cardinals will need to get within the range of 300 yards through the air to pull this game out, what might merit more attention is looking at how Tennessee was able to force Pittsburgh into the most mistakes they’ve made this season. Arizona’s D obviously isn’t in the same league as the Titans, but they do share the ability of taking the ball away from opposing offenses. In the Titans/Steelers game, Ben Roethlisberger threw two picks and fumbled four times (lost two). Hines Ward also had a fumble that was recovered by Pittsburgh. If Arizona can beat up Roethlisberger, while keeping him in the pocket, he’s more than proven himself capable of making some very bad decisions.
- Also, if you are watching the game and you see this lady, don’t panic, because we’re not sure if it is actually a lady. The first us Titans fans saw of her, her bag man husband was leading his team to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. (S)he’s the only reason I would root against the Cards in this one.
Alright, so I think you get our point. If Arizona can pass against the Steelers defense and the defense can provide that big play or two (we’re looking at you DRC), then they have a very, very good shot at winning this game. They seem to be on a role right now, and Warner’s experience coupled with the completely awesome unstoppablenessness (yup) of Larry Fitzgerald leads me to believe the Cards will find a way to pull this out. That means you’re going to have to see this Steelers fans. We feel your pain…
The Arizona Cardinals defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-24 to win Super Bowl XLIII.