Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII Pre-Game Analysis: Pittsburgh vs. Arizona

Pittsburgh Do’s and Don’t’s - Clement:

Do your best to jam Larry Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage. If Fitzgerald is given too much space, he's going to cause havoc in the worst ways possible. Before you know it, a trick player will be opening up – even with Polamalu's savvy – and Breaston/Boldin will be running deep sideline routes. While Fitzgerald is murder in the redzone, the crossing route allows him plenty of space to rumble. Beware.

Do your best to allow Woodley and Harrison to go 1 on 1 with the Arizona tackles. The Arizona tackles have been the weakest link on the Cardinal line. Harrison, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, is a sack machine and Woodley may, in fact, be the more talented overall pass rusher. Both are strong and sturdy throughout the game. Arizona will need to mix up protection schemes and their backs – especially the rookie Hightower – better be more than ready to chip. Effective runs to the outside and screens against the blitz are perfect remedies.

Do your best to get Santonio Holmes in open space. If you didn't see his punt return against the Chargers or his YAC-scamper against the Ravens, you missed out. With Ward "dinged" up and Limas Sweed being a PUNK, Holmes may be asked to make 2 or 3 big downfield catches. The best way to free him up isn't with the deep ball though, it's within the 10-15 yard range with space to run. That means Big Ben better be ready to withstand plenty of hits within the pocket.

Don't forget about Anquan Boldin. Larry Fitzgerald may be the best wideout in the NFL; however, Boldin isn't far behind. Sure he's been unhealthy and too much of a primadonna in recent weeks, but Boldin is also a redzone B-E-A-S-T and lethal on the edges. He'll play his heart out and has seen far more bad than good with this franchise. Don't forget just how deadly this duo is.

If the Steelers worry too much about Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin may give them nightmares they won't recover from.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Don't underestimate the talent in the middle of the Cardinal defense. Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, and Adrian Wilson are flat out studs. While there are other playmakers on that side of the ball – see Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – these three have to seize control of the line of scrimmage, the center of the field, and the deep ball. While Wilson's run stopping abilities aren't too shabby, his ability to lock into a quarterback is highly underrated. Each will need to help their defense for 2-3 Big Ben miscues for the Cardinals to pull off the upset.

Don't forget about "Fast" Willie Parker. The rush game is vital to the Steelers opening up their playbook and putting real pressure on the Cardinals. If Warner struggles early, the Steelers would be wise to pound the Cardinals into submission with the speedy, yet stealthy Parker. Just ask the Seahawks of 2006 how quickly Parker can hit the corner and rush to paydirt. If Parker has 20+ carries, the Steelers should win by two touchdowns.

Don't underestimate the importance of special teams. I don't want to elaborate too much. However, if you can pin the Cardinals inside the 10, you better. Free yardage is the LAST thing you want to give Warner, Fitz, Boldin and company. If Rackers struggles with his kickoffs, burn the Cardinals early and often.

Arizona Do’s and Don’t’s - Sum:

make use of the plethora of bulletin board material out there. You've been underdogs EVERY WEEK of this postseason, and the Super Bowl is no exception with the Steelers as 7 point favorites. Heck, even President Obama wants Pittsburgh to win. That's gotta sting ... now turn that sting into solid play on the field. If Barack won't be bipartisan on Super Sunday, you shouldn't be either.

keep on executing your playoff game plan. I know I've used that one before, but it's working. The shift away from your pass heavy offense (15 more rushes than passes against Carolina; 29 rushes to 28 passes against Philly) gives one playoff veteran (Warner) time to breathe, while another playoff veteran (Edge) gets to prove his worth again. The D has been stout against the run, and it will need to be again this week since Pittsburgh likes to grind it out.

go to Steve Breaston early and often. I expect Pittsburgh's heavy hitters to come out hard early, whacking whoever has the ball. The last thing the Cards need is for Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin to be laid-out by Polamalu and Co. Breaston is a quality receiver, so he can make the catches ... and as evil as this sounds, it's better for him to get upended than Fitz. Plus, with Boldin already hobbling around the field, he'll be an easy target early in the game.

expect Kurt Warner to have the same time to throw the ball as he has had in 11 of 12 quarters this postseason (the 3rd quarter of the NFC Championship being the exception). Dick LeBeau has himself a mighty fine defense with an exceptional front seven. They will look to smack Warner around early and often. This is why it will be key to keep running the ball, even if it's with limited success. If you don't, then pack some extra Depends for Kurt.

The Cards had better hope Warner doesn't wear this uniform on Sunday ...

think that an injury to Roethlisberger will be good for you. Byron Leftwich has proven himself more than capable in his relief appearances this year, particularly in the Monday Night game at Washington. But if Big Ben does go down to an injury, CHANGE YOUR DEFENSIVE SCHEME. Byron is a different quarterback who won't be rattled in the same ways that Ben will be. Still keep the heat on him, but rushing only one extra guy at a time. You WILL need your secondary beefed up if Leftwich comes in the game.

buy into this crap comparing Whisenhunt to Jon Gruden of the 2003 Super Bowl. Yes, both took their new teams to face their old teams in the Super Bowl, but there are key differences. First, Oakland promoted Gruden's successor, Bill Callahan, from within and kept Gruden's system intact. Pittsburgh brought a new head coach altogether into the fold and immediately began adapting some of the offense, giving Ben Roethlisberger more responsibilities. Second, Gruden faced his old team the very same year he left them. The Steelers have had 2 seasons to change their Whisenhunt-isms on offense. If the Cards win this game, it will not be due to Pittsburgh using the same signals and playcalls that they used 2 years ago.

Matchups - Armin:

When the Pittsburgh has the Ball:

Hines Ward vs. Roderick Hood & Santonio Holmes vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ("DRC")
Hood and DRC have been playing their best football in the playoffs, while Roethlisburger, Ward and Holmes have nothing to prove. The questions remain: Can Hood play that physical game with Ward, and can DRC keep in stride with Holmes. If Ward starts making those tough catches down the stretch, and Holmes gets open for a couple of big plays, Arizona faces a steep uphill battle.

When Arizona has the Ball:

Mike Gandy and Levi Jones vs. James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley
How do you beat Kurt Warner? It's simple. You hit him. Gandy and Jones are up for their toughest task of the season. They must keep NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison, off Kurt Warner. At the same time, they're dealing with Harrison's bookend, Woodley, who is surging during the playoffs. If Gandy and Jones don't step their game up a notch and keep Warner off his back, the Steelers defense will make short work of the Cardinals offense.

Intangibles - Armin:

Super Bowl Experience
Both 2nd year head coaches are in their first Super Bowl in that role. However, Whisenhunt won a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator for the Steelers and Tomlin won one as the DB coach for the Buccaneers. Which coach will do a better job pulling from his Super Bowl experience? Tomlin also has a bit of an advantage here. He has many players that were on the team during Pittsburgh's triumph in Super Bowl XL. Whisenhunt, on the other hand, has very few who draw upon that experience. Kurt Warner is about all he has. There is no question that Whisenhunt is at an intangible disadvantage. However, the Cards seem to have destiny on their side.

... and the Steelers had better hope Coach Tomlin quits his day job alongside Gregory House

Win It For Pat
Last time around, the Steelers wanted to win it for Jerome. Now, it's the Cards who are the Team of Destiny. Can they muster up enough intestinal fortitude to play like Pat Tillman is standing behind them? Can they win it for Pat? While some don't like cliche's like "Win one for the Gipper", this situation screams for Tillman to be the reason for a franchise he proudly played for to win the Lombardi. Here's hoping that if the Cards are holding that trophy after the game, that they point their fingers to the sky and pay homage to a man who may have been the first in the NFL to say, I WANT to play football for the Arizona Cardinals.


Come back tomorrow for final predictions from the PHSports crew...

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