On Feb. 1, 2009, the 43rd Lombardi Trophy will be handed out to the team who proves they are the best in the game. It will be a record regardless of the winner, with this trophy being either a team's first or sixth.
In this match up, you can imagine the stereotypical offense against defense debate. Who would win, the unstoppable force or the immovable object?
The unstoppable force, the passing attack of the Arizona Cardinals, is led by a very well schooled veteran quarterback in Kurt Warner. When he drops back to pass he is throwing into, arguably, the best receiving corps in the NFL.
Larry Fitzgerald will catch almost any ball thrown to him. Seemingly the only way to shut him down is to prevent the ball from getting with his reach. That is not an easy task as Fitzgerald stands at 6-foot-3 and has an impressive vertical leap.
Anquan Boldin is another big threat weapon in the Cardinals arsenal. He is one of the more physical receivers in the league and can threaten to turn almost any catch into a big yardage play.
With the weapons the Cardinals have they can threaten a touchdown on almost every offensive play. They have receivers who can catch a ball from almost any body position and turn up field towards the end zone.
In previous years, the secondary has been the weakest part the Steelers defense, and if an opposing team dedicated to the pass, they would find the holes in coverage and move down the field with short passes. This is how Tom Brady and his Patriots have historically beaten Pittsburgh.
As the short passing game appears to be most effective, the defense would typically adjust coverage and try to lock down on short passes. When this happened, the Patriots would open up the deep passing attack and score touchdowns.
This is the formula that had beaten the Steelers in the playoffs for the better part of this decade. It's the same formula that the Cardinals have used to build their impressive playoff run.
Needless to say the Cardinals have the ability to put up points in bunches. The question is: What do the Steelers need to do to limit this threat?
The Steelers need to do several things, effectively, if they can hope to defeat the Cardinals. Luckily for the Steelers they have the right men for the job.
To defeat the Cardinals, the Steelers passing defense needs to start with an effective pass rush. A quarterback is at his weakest point when he is faced with constant pressure and is forced to make quick throws.
In these situations a quarterback can often rush his game plan and make mistakes. If he refuses to adjust his timing, he will eventually get hit, which also serves to limit his effectiveness as the game goes on.
Getting hit can not only limit a quarterback's physical effectiveness as the game goes on, but it can disrupt the timing in his head. A quarterback can adjust the mental clock of his throws to release the ball before he gets hit instead of when his receivers get open in their routes.
Kurt Warner, however, is a veteran quarterback who knows all about the pass rush. This presents the Steelers with the challenge of effectively disguising their pass rushers and never doing the same thing twice. The Steelers, are known to be effective at just this task.
The remainder of the defense needs to stay dedicated to their coverage, be it man or zone coverage. A big reason that for this is that the Cardinals receivers can exploit soft coverage very effectively. Another element is the trick play that Ken Whisenhunt has integrated into the Cardinals playbook.
A pass rush can effectively limit trick play opportunities as an error becomes more likely and may hold greater consequences with defenders in the back field. A defense who holds their assignments, however, is equally, if not more, important.
If the coverage bites on a trick play and moves in the direction the offense wants them to, it opens up the field to the big play. If they hold their assignments, a trick play simply puts more pressure on the quarterback to make plays, and make them quickly.
The Steelers need to get into Kurt Warner's head. If he has a weakness it is that he gets frustrated when he is pressured and sacked. If the Steelers can prevent Kurt Warner from gaining comfort in the pocket, their chance to win increases greatly.
This, however, will not ensure the win. The Steelers must prevent Fitzgerald from having an instrumental role in the game. Fitzgerald has had one of the most astounding playoff performances of any receiver in history. He is more than half of the Cardinals total offense.
Ike Taylor will likely have coverage responsibilities on Fitzgerald. He has effectively limited big name receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens among others this season. Fitzgerald, however, presents an entirely new set of challenges.
Troy Polamalu will need to relieve Ike Taylor, especially when the Cardinals look to throw the deep ball. The explosive safety has the ability to turn any play into a turnover and grant the Steelers an enormous momentum swing. This has become his signature move so to speak.
James Harrison has been quiet of late, due in part to opposing teams double- and triple-covering him. LaMarr Woodley, on the other hand, has used this lack of focus on him to get the the quarterback numerous times this post season.
This game plan, however, is not a new idea for the Steelers this season. This is how the Steelers defense, under mastermind Dick LeBeau, has become one of the greatest units in the history of the game.
If the Steelers can execute on the same level that they have all year they should effectively limit the Cardinals passing attack. With the Cardinals limited Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can lead the team to its second Super Bowl this decade.