Sunday, February 1, 2009
Super Bowl Thoughts
For a Super Bowl with so many subplots, this Super Bowl really hasn't piqued my interest. The general public seems to agree as well.
Most of it has to do with my indifference in finding a rooting interest. Last year, it was easy: the Giants are a much lesser evil than the Patriots, so I rooted my ass off for New York. Two years ago was another story. Chicago and Indianapolis? Yawn.
This year was supposed to be easier, but it was not meant to be when Philadelphia and Baltimore, two very hateable teams, fell in the championship games. Pittsburgh and Arizona are weird teams for me to consider. I have family in Pittsburgh who always tried to sneak some black and gold in me, but I also don't like the team much.
Arizona seems like a solid alternative, with the resurgence of Kurt Warner and of a franchise that hadn't hosted a playoff game since 1947. They're a great underdog story, and the Jets destroyed them this year, so there's that added bonus, but I need to be honest with myself.
Can I seriously view the 2008 football season with the Arizona Cardinals as champions? That's just too difficult to fathom. It would make the Jets' collapse look even worse by comparison.
But enough about that, let's get onto the game itself, starting with its most intriguing matchup.
Read in-depth about my thoughts on the coaching here. It's a very intriguing matchup. Think back two years. Bill Cowher just retired. The final coaching candidates for the Steelers job? Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Tomlin, and Russ Grimm. Most thought Whisenhunt or Grimm, already assistants with the team, would get the job. Instead, it went to the outsider Tomlin and the two bolted to Arizona.
Now Whisenhunt gets to show the world why he should have gotten the job. He knows the Steelers personnel inside out. Don't believe me? Ask Willie Parker. "Whiz knows everything about all of us," Parker said. "He's a smart coach and I know he's going to try to take advantage [of his familiarity]."
However, Tomlin is a good coach in his own right. He has helped ratchet the defense's play to a whole new level as head coach, even though he hasn't had a rebuilding project like Whisenhunt.
Slight edge to Whisenhunt due to the familiarity factor, but it's a close one.
Arizona passing game vs Pittsburgh pass defense
This is where Arizona must flourish if they hope to spring an upset. It's no secret that the Cardinals rely on their passing game to win games, and Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston are the most dominant attack in the league.
But no defense is more fit to stop the Cardinal attack than the Steelers' top ranked unit. As much as Arizona likes to throw, Pittsburgh likes to blitz. Warner will be under siege by defensive player of the year James Harrison as well as LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and the rest of the fearsome front seven. And any errant passes could find their way to Troy Polamalu.
The key to this battle will be whoever gets out to the lead first. If Arizona can jump out on top early or at least stay tight, they can maintain a balanced attack and keep the Steelers honest. They could even pull off an upset in that case. But if Pittsburgh gets ahead, Dick LeBeau will send the hounds.
Arizona rushing offense vs Pittsburgh run defense
The Cardinals have the worst rushing offense in the NFL statistically. Pittsburgh has the second best unit at stopping the run. Arizona will try to get Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James going, possibly to the outside, but if they get 100 yards between them, it will be a major success.
Pittsburgh rushing offense vs Arizona run defense
After starting the year off strong, Willie Parker ended up with just 791 yards and five touchdowns. Still, the extra week of rest should help him more than many players. A healthy Parker can reach a gear few other backs can get to, and Mewelde Moore has been more than capable giving Parker blows during the season.
Arizona's opponents have averaged 110 yards on the ground. Karlos Dansby leads the charge, and he has the ability to be one of the top linebackers in the league any given Sunday.
Pittsburgh's balance on offense depends on Parker's ability to gain yardage when he has to. Arizona is too good to just be pushed around, but Pittsburgh should be able to get 100 yards from Parker and Moore.
Pittsburgh passing offense vs Arizona pass defense
Just how injured is Hines Ward? The Steelers' number one receiver will play but will not be 100% for the Super Bowl. Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington are capable wideouts, and both can stretch the field, but Ward's toughness and ability to get open on third downs have helped out Ben Roethlisberger all year. Heath Miller may need to play a bigger role if Ward is hurt more than he's letting on.
In three playoff games, the Cardinals have eight interceptions. This may be more fluke than trend, but Whisenhunt will likely draw up a play or two that cause Roethlisberger to make a mistake, and his team may get a pick or two. Adrian Wilson is one of the best safeties in the league, and while he's no Polamalu, the Super Bowl gives him a forum to show the world how good he is.
Third downs will be the difference between Pittsburgh having success or not. Arizona has allowed a 44% conversion percentage, below the league average, and if Roethlisberger protects the ball enough, Arizona shouldn't be able to make enough big plays, while Washington or Holmes will be streaking down the field at some point.
As is the case with almost every Steelers game, turnovers will be the difference. Arizona has been careless with the ball too often this season, and that will come back and bite them against an aggressive defense. Warner will have a turnover in a key moment to ice the game for the Steelers, who will win comfortably enough. Don't count out the Cards though. You who voted in my poll certainly did not.
Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 17