Super Bowl XLIII Preview

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Super Bowl XLIII Preview

SUPER BOWL XLIII: PITTSBURGH STEELERS (AFC CHAMPIONS) VS. ARIZONA CARDINALS (NFC CHAMPIONS)


Location: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL
When: Sunday 2/1/09; 6:28 PM EST kickoff
TV: NBC (pre-game coverage begins at noon)
Announcers: Al Michaels (play-by-play), John Madden (color), Andrea Kremer (sidelines), Alex Flanagan (sidelines), and about 75 people, ranging from former SportsCenter anchors to failed executives to current and former players, on the studio show
Uniforms: Steelers-white, Cardinals-red
Kickoff forecast: 65 F, partly cloudy, with light winds out of the SSE
Last meeting: Cardinals won 21-14 in Arizona (Week 4, 2007)
Super Bowl history: Steelers are 5-1, while this will be the Cardinals first appearance


OFFICIATING CREW:
R Terry McAulay (77)-second Super Bowl as a referee
U Roy Ellison (81)
HL Derrick Bowers (74)
LJ Mark Perlman (9)
FJ Greg Gautreaux (80)
SJ Michael Banks (72)
BJ Keith Ferguson (61)

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STEELERS ON OFFENSE:
QB Ben Roethlisberger (7)
RB Willie Parker (39)
FB Carey Davis (38)
WR Hines Ward (86)
WR Santonio Holmes (10)
TE Heath Miller (83)
LT Max Starks (78)
LG Chris Kemoeatu (68)
C Justin Hartwig (62)
RG Darnell Stapleton (72)
RT Willie Colon (74)

CARDINALS ON DEFENSE:
DE Travis Leboy (55)
DT Bryan Robinson (97)
NT Darnell Dockett (90)
DE Antonio Smith (94)
OLB Karlos Dansby (58)
ILB Gerald Hayes (54)
OLB Chike Okeafor (56)
CB Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie (29)
CB Roderick Hood (26)
FS Antrel Rolle (21)
SS Adrian Wilson (24)


Arizona played solid defense throughout the regular season, but during the NFC playoffs (especially against Atlanta and Carolina), the unit stepped up and played an integral part in the team's victories. If the Cardinals want to go home to the desert as champions, they are going to have to put forth another solid effort. That will start with shutting down the Steelers run offense, and forcing them to the air. If they can make Pittsburgh one-dimensional, Dockett and Dansby could get some strong pressure on Roethlisberger and shorten the amount of time he has to find an open receiver.

The Steelers have historically been a run-first team, but they were plainly average on the ground in 2008. They need to find a way to run the rock in order to keep Kurt Warner on the sidelines and also to tire out the Arizona defense. In a close game, it always helps to have the fresher defense entering the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger and Ward are banged up, but will play. I fully expect this duo to account for much of the Steelers' offense in this game, although Holmes, Miller, Nate Washington, and Limas Sweed all could get touches through the air. Arizona's secondary has to be cognizant of Ward and Holmes at all time so they don't get torched for a long touchdown.

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STEELERS ON DEFENSE:
DE Aaron Smith (91)
NT Casey Hampton (98)
DE Brett Keisel (99)
OLB James Harrison (92)
ILB James Farrior (51)
ILB Larry Foote (50)
OLB Lamarr Woodley (56)
CB DeShea Townsend (26)
CB Ike Taylor (24)
FS Ryan Clark (25)
SS Troy Polamalu (43)

CARDINALS ON OFFENSE:
QB Kurt Warner (13)
RB Edgerrin James (32)
FB Terrelle Smith (45)
WR Larry Fitzgerald (11)
WR Anquan Boldin (81)
TE Leonard Pope (82)
LT Mike Gandy (69)
LG Reggie Wells (74)
C Lyle Sendlein (63)
RG Duece Litui (76)
RT Levi Brown (75)


I think at the end of the game Sunday night, the winner is going to be decided based on who has the upper hand in the matchup between Arizona's offense and Pittsburgh's defense. For a team that struggled running the ball during the regular season, the Cardinals have used it to their advantage during the postseason. Against Philadelphia, I believe the run game kept the Eagles off balance, and allowed Warner and Fitzgerald to take over the game. Pittsburgh will blitz a lot too, so Arizona needs to find a way to have a balanced attack and move the ball on the ground. At the same time, make sure to get BOTH Fitzgerald and Boldin plenty of touches and let them do their thing in the open field. Whatever happens, Arizona will have to earn it against a team that allowed the fewest touchdowns in the league in 2008.

As I mentioned above, the Steelers are going to be coming for Kurt Warner. And Arizona's offensive line is not exactly one of the best in the world. Thankfully for the NFC representatives, Warner gets rid of the ball quickly. If Pittsburgh can come out and eliminate the Buzzsaw's running game early, that will really allow them to focus on keeping a prolific passing game in check. I don't care how good your defense is: defending Warner, Fitzgerald, and Boldin is no walk in the park. But Dick LeBeau's defense has a seemingly endless supply of players who can make the game a living nightmare for the opposition: Harrison, Woodley, Farrior, etc. In the secondary, expect Polamalu and company to be physical with the receivers in hopes of preventing big plays. I'm sure the Arizona receivers have seen the video of Ryan Clark's hit on Willis McGahee in the AFC title game.

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STEELERS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
K Jeff Reed (3)
P Mitch Berger (17)
LS Jeff Retkofsky (49)
KR Mewelde Moore (21)
PR Santonio Holmes (10) or Mewelde Moore (21)


CARDINALS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
K Neil Rackers (10)
P Ben Graham (5)
LS Nathan Hodel (48)
KR J.J. Arrington (28)
PR Steve Breaston (15)

Both Rackers and Reed are dependable kickers who can be called upon to make a critical field goal late in the game. As for the punters, neither Graham or Berger get a lot of distance on their kicks, so the return teams may have some good opportunities and at the very least set up their offense in excellent field position. Berger's shortcomings in punting can be overcome by the strength of Pittsburgh's defense, but if Graham struggles, can Arizona's defense be counted on to hold the Steelers' offense at bay with a shorter field? In the return department, neither team is going to break off big plays very often, even with speedsters such as Steve Breaston and Santonio Holmes at their fingertips. If there is one advantage in the return game, it goes to the Steelers, who were one of the league's best in keeping opponent's returns to a minimum in 2008 (they were 1st in kickoff return yardage allowed, 4th in punt return yardage). Arizona, on the other hand, was one of the league's worst.

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STEELERS COACHING:
Head coach: Mike Tomlin (2nd year)
Offensive coordinator: Bruce Arians
Defensive coordinator: Dick LeBeau

CARDINALS COACHING:
Head coach: Ken Whisenhunt (2nd year)
Offensive coordinator: Todd Haley
Defensive coordinator: Clancy Pendergast

Mike Tomlin has done a great job as the Steelers head coach. Just listen to some of the videos on NFL.com with coaches' audio. He puts you in mind of Bill Cowher in that he gives his players positive motivation, but should they screw up, he is not afraid to get in their face and let them know about it. At just 36 years old, he has a bright future in this league. His defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, is nearly twice his age at 71, but continues to field one of the best defenses year in and year out. His zone blitzing package is one of the toughest for offenses to figure out. Bruce Arians has caught some flak from Steelers fans for the running game's struggles and the lack of protection up front, but give the guy credit for getting the ball into his talented receivers hands both downfield and with quick, short passes. When your defense is the best in the league, there is really no need to be trying to score 40 points a game now is there?

Ken Whisenhunt has breathed life into a franchise that has been dormant for two generations. You can tell that the players trust him as a leader, and that he is willing to do whatever it takes for victory. I'm sure he will be extra motivated, as will his offensive line coach Russ Grimm, seeing how they were passed over for the Steelers coaching vacancy in 2007 for Tomlin. But it worked out for both parties, so I am sure there are not too many remaining hard feelings. I always liked Todd Haley when he was with the Cowboys, and he gets the best out of his players. It must make it so much easier when you get to work with talent such as Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald. And he is one fiery son of a gun on the sideline. Pendergast has his defense playing its best ball at the most important time of the year, and that is always desirable. What that unit is doing kind of reminds me of the Colts defensive effort two years ago in route to a Super Bowl victory.

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PICK: My heart tells me to pick the Cardinals (as a Cowboys fan, it actually wouldn't bother me to see Pittsburgh take the lead in Lombardi Trophies should they win this game. Maybe it will make Jerry Jones wake up and realize he is a crappy GM...or not). My head tells me to take the Steelers. Defense wins championships, and I think they are able to do enough to slow down Warner when the game is on the line, possibly creating a turnover that turns out to be the difference. Hopefully, we have a great game on Sunday evening, although matching last year's doozy will be next to impossible. We're going through some difficult times as a nation, so it will be nice for everyone to sit back for a few hours and let their problems evaporate away.

PICK: STEELERS 27 CARDINALS 20




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