Super Bowl Sunday
The Arizona Cardinals versus Pittsburgh Steelers
How the Steelers win -- There's a tendency in big games to try to surprise your opponent. This is what the Baltimore Ravens try to do when they played Pittsburgh in the conference finals. They tried to pass their way to victory. That did not work out so well for them. In order for the Pittsburgh Steelers to win, they need to continue doing what they've been doing all season. Running the football. Willie Parker needs to be healthy. Mewelde Moore needs to be able to come in as a change of pace back. The Steelers need to pound the rock and wear down the Arizona Cardinals. This will open up lanes for big runs late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger needs to be careful with the football. The Arizona Cardinals have been surprisingly opportunistic this playoff season. He needs to be efficient on third down and move the chains.
The Steelers defense needs to continue to be the league's most dominant defense. (As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan I get nauseated giving praise to the Pittsburgh Steelers.) Their linebackers (Harrison should've been the league's most valuable player) must continue to dictate the way the game is played. If they are able to force a couple of early turnovers, this game could get out of hand very quickly. The defense needs to intimidate the Cardinals offense. They need to shut down the run and force the Cardinals into a one-dimensional offense. If this happens look for the Steelers to win big. Look for some creative blitz schemes to make Kurt Warner throw the ball before he's ready. Besides interceptions, Warner has a tendency to fumble. Look for the linebackers to be swatting at the ball trying to force an easy fumble.
If the Steelers were able to get a couple of easy turnovers, this is not going to be a good Super Bowl game to watch unless you're a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. As I see it, most scenarios should have the Steelers winning this game easily.
How the Cardinals win -- The Arizona Cardinals have fooled pundits for the last four weeks. Nobody gave them a chance to win over the tough and resurgent Atlanta Falcons. They won and they won easily. All of the "brilliant" football minds pointed out that the Arizona Cardinals don't travel to the east very well and therefore would fall to the Carolina Panthers. There is a Cardinal defense was "suspect" against the run. The Carolina Panthers would run all over the Cardinals. Early turnovers forced the Panthers to throw. The Cardinals forced five interceptions and the vaunted Panther running attack was dead almost before the game started. Finally, the Philadelphia Eagles defense with their exotic blitz schemes would confuse and overwhelm Kurt Warner. Donovan McNabb would shred the Cardinals defense. Although Donovan McNabb ended up with good statistics, the Cardinals defense made enough plays to prevent touchdowns. Kurt Warner was able to identify many of the blitzes and get the ball out of his hands quickly. Most importantly, the Arizona Cardinals showed guts after they allow the Philadelphia Eagles to get back in the game in the third quarter. They were able to get their act together and change the momentum.
Look for the Arizona Cardinals to try to get on top early. They want the Pittsburgh Steelers to play from behind. So, they're going to need a couple of plays that involve maximum protection. Kurt Warner's going to have to go deep to Auquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Maybe something to speedster Steve Beaston who single-handedly killed the Cowboys. Warner is going to have to always know where Troy Polamalu is at all times. To be honest I would expect that the Cardinals may have placed a couple of plays in the playbook specifically to take advantage of Troy Polamalu's aggressiveness. The Cardinals must continue to run the ball. The toughness of Edgerrin James has been questioned ever since he entered the league. He's (and Tim Hightower) going to have to get the tough yards on the inside. This defense is too fast to bounce it outside. Over the last several weeks they have been effective enough to make defenses pay attention. The Cardinals offense cannot turn the ball over. Turnovers would be the death nail in the Cardinal's coffin. As I see it, there are two keys for the Cardinal offense, keep Kurt Warner up right and no turnovers.
The biggest surprise of this playoff season has been the Arizona Cardinals defense. They've been remarkably good against the run. They have forced turnovers in their secondary. Ben Roethlisberger will give this defense several opportunities as he tends to force the ball into tight locations. The Arizona secondary will have to take advantage of this. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie must have an excellent game. For that matter, their whole secondary needs to have that outstanding game. The Arizona linebackers need to stuff the lanes and prevent any long runs. The Steelers will try to grind out the clock. The Cardinals must stop the Steelers on third down. This may be the biggest key to the game. If the Cardinals are able to force punts than they have an excellent chance of winning this game.
My prediction: My heart would like the Arizona Cardinals to win this game. I think the game really comes down to turnovers. If Arizona is able to force turnovers and not commit any turnovers I think they will win. My brain is telling me that the Pittsburgh Steelers are just too good and too many areas. In spite of their statistical dominance in most defense of categories, I don't think that this Pittsburgh Steelers team is as good as the Steelers defense two or three years ago. I don't think the defense is as good as the Ravens defense of 2000. At 6 p.m. Eastern standard Time, we'll see if I knew what I was talking about or was I simply full of it.