Super Bowl XLIII Preview: Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Samuel Sica@@SicatheKidAnalyst IJanuary 19, 2009

We’ve finally figured out which two teams will be playing in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay.

For one team, it is no surprise that they have once again achieved greatness, but for the other, it is amazing that they are playing in the big game after a horrific loss to New England over a month ago.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have once again proved to be a powerhouse in the NFL by making it to their seventh Super Bowl in team history. Pittsburgh has achieved great success this season by having one of the toughest schedules in the league, yet the team still won the AFC North division as well as the AFC Championship.

The Arizona Cardinals on the other hand, have exceeded expectations as they are making their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Before the Cardinals ended the season with a 9-7 record, Arizona had only one other winning season.

Arizona has proven that they are not the same old Cardinals that you can beat up over and over again. In two weeks, they will have the opportunity to show the whole nation what they are made of.

Both teams have been on different tracks throughout the season but they each seem to been on the same wavelengths as of now.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have dominated opponents so far with the help of their bruising, No. 1 ranked defense. In the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, both defenses kept the game close until the final minutes. The score was 16-14 in favor of Pittsburgh with just under five minutes remaining in the game.

The Ravens had just received the ball after a Pittsburgh three-and-out situation where they were forced to punt. After Pittsburgh’s defense held the Ravens to a third-and-long situation, the Steelers planned to use their top-ranked defense to attack Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

The pressure proved to be too much for Flacco, who made a rookie mistake by forcing a pass that was intercepted by Troy Polamalu. Polamalu returned the interception for a touchdown to seal the deal for the Steelers.

Flacco has nothing to be ashamed of after losing to the Steelers because without him, the Ravens would not have made it to the AFC Championship game in the first place. Flacco exceeded expectations this season and will improve over time to be a great quarterback in the near future.

This postseason, Pittsburgh has beaten the San Diego Chargers and their high-scoring offense by a score of 35-24 and the Ravens with their lock down defense by a score of 23-14. The Steelers are led this postseason by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has thrown for 436 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Roethlisberger is also completing more than half of his passes at a rate of 55.9 percent.

The Pittsburgh running game has been amazing thanks to running back Willie Parker this postseason. Parker has accumulated 51 rushes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Parker was the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh offense in their victory over the Chargers after rushing for 146 yards with two touchdowns.

On the receiving end of the ball, the Steelers have been led by wide receiver Hines Ward who has had seven receptions for 125 yards thus far. Other favorite targets of Roethlisberger include wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who has four receptions for 95 yards with a touchdown and tight end Heath Miller, who has six receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.

Never the less, we all know where the real heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers lies—their defense. James Farrior leads the team in total tackles during the post season with 18 while LaMarr Woodley leads the team in sacks with four.

Pittsburgh’s defense has piled up a total of seven sacks with four interceptions so far during the playoffs and I’m sure they will add to those totals in the Super Bowl.

As for the Arizona Cardinals, few expected them to have the success they have achieved by getting to the big game. With the help of a veteran quarterback and all-pro wide receivers, the Cardinals are definitely a force to be reckoned with for the championship title.

Head coach Ken Whisenhunt has done a superb job in turning around Arizona’s franchise as he is taking the team to its first ever Super Bowl appearance in only his second season as head coach. The Cardinals also have quarterback Kurt Warner to thank for his veteran leadership and experience throughout the regular season and postseason.

During the regular season, Warner threw for 4,583 yards with 30 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. Warner also had one of the best completion percentages in the league at 67.1 percent. The Cardinals also had three great receivers with over 1,000 receiving yards this season in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston.

Fitzgerald led the team with 96 receptions for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns while Boldin accumulated 89 receptions for 1,038 yards with 11 touchdowns. Breaston has had 77 receptions for 1,006 yards and three touchdowns.

These players have proved that this season was not a fluke by putting up record numbers throughout the playoffs. Warner has started where he left off during the regular season by passing for 770 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Warner also has a completion percentage just slightly below his season average, at 66.3 percent.

Not to be outdone, Fitzgerald has 23 receptions to his credit for a record setting 419 yards in the playoffs with five touchdowns. Boldin has also put up respectable numbers after only playing in two postseason games so far with six receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown.

The dark horse for Arizona’s offense is running back Tim Hightower. Hightower has played a key role in the Cardinals air attack with two receptions for touchdowns, one being an eight-yard scamper that put the Cardinals up a touchdown over Philadelphia, which earned them a spot in the Super Bowl.

The rushing attack has also proved key during the post season for the Cardinals with running back Edgerrin James rushing for 203 yards and Hightower rushing for 132 yards. In all three of Arizona’s playoff victories, their leading rusher for the game has had at least 70 yards rushing.

Arizona is also playing much better on the defensive side of the ball shutting down the oppositions rushing attack.

The Cardinals defense has played very well throughout the playoffs compiling eight total interceptions and seven total sacks. Karlos Dansby leads the team in total tackles with 23 while Adrian Wilson, Bertrand Berry, and Antonio Smith all have two sacks to their credit.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ralph Brown lead the team in interceptions with half of the team’s total interceptions.

Arizona has played brilliantly so far this post season and look to keep it going through the Super Bowl. To get to the big game, the Cardinals have beaten Atlanta in a 30-24 upset, Carolina in a 33-13 romping, and Philadelphia in a close game, 32-25.

It seems to me that the key to an Arizona victory over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl will be if they can score at least 30 points. So far this postseason, Arizona has scored over 30 points in each game and held the opposing offenses in check.

Super Bowl XLIII between Arizona and Pittsburgh is sure to be one for the ages as a high-powered offense takes on a shutdown defense.

The key to the game for Arizona will be if they can consistently move the ball down the field and get some kind of points in return, whether it is a field goal or a touchdown. Arizona must also do what they have done best with stopping the oppositions rushing attack and some how create turnovers.

If Arizona can accomplish this, they will beat the Steelers and win their first ever Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, will have to stop the Cardinals on offense and put pressure on Warner. When Warner can sit in the pocket, he is most dangerous. When he has to scramble to avoid pressure, he is at his most vulnerable. Pittsburgh must also hold on to the ball and not turn the ball over.

Arizona has feasted on teams when they turn the ball over during the playoffs so Pittsburgh must keep their turnovers to a minimum.

My prediction for the Super Bowl is that Arizona will come out victorious over Pittsburgh and show the Steelers that their offense is no match for the No. 1 ranked defense in the league. Arizona has earned the right to compete in the biggest game in sports history and Pittsburgh will indeed be in for the fight of their lives.


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