Super Bowl XLIII Preview: Has It Reached Midnight for Cinderella?
Apparently, only one of us believes so.
And it's not whom you may think.
The 12-7 Arizona Cardinals are seven-point dogs to the 14-4 Pittsburgh Steelers, owners of the league's No. 1-ranked defense. After two weeks of waiting, the teams are 48 hours away from kickoff in Tampa Bay.
Vegas bookies are predicting a final score of 27-20 in favor of the Steelers, based on the spread and over/under. We like the—well, just read on to see our picks.
|• Zach Fein|
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|• Alex Kozora|
For Arizona, the key will be to maintain a quick-strike offense. On their first possession, Arizona must play as if they are in a two-minute offense, throwing quick, 10-yard passes (with runs mixed in). The Cardinals must set an up-tempo pace. This will prevent the Steelers from putting pressure on Warner, who will get rid of the ball before a blitzer arrives.
Knowing that the Steelers cannot compete with them on the offensive side of the ball, Arizona must hope for a shootout—that is their only chance of staying in this game. If it turns into an old-school, time-of-possession battle, the Steelers’ specialty, Arizona can say goodbye to their Super Bowl chances.
Kurt Warner was the best quarterback when facing the blitz all year (a passer rating of 103.8 on 197 attempts). If the Steelers go to their blitz-happy ways, Warner will destroy them. Instead, Pittsburgh must drop back into coverage more often than not, and be aware of when to and from where to blitz.
One way to do this is to let Troy Polamalu take care of the short, middle routes and check downs. This way, Polamalu will be near the line on each and every play, so his distance to Warner will not be as much as if he were in his normal position. When he is rushing the passer, Pittsburgh can single-cover Larry Fitzgerald, and put another man in the middle or in position to cover the running back.
In this defensive formation, Warner will not have time to throw to Fitzgerald, who is single-covered, and must throw to Anquan Boldin in the middle or check down to Tim Hightower or Edgerrin James in the flat. Each of them will be covered by the man taking over for Polamalu. Using Polamalu as bait for Warner to throw to the flat could provide Pittsburgh with key stops, especially if the Cardinals are faced with third-and-short.
But in my opinion, it won't be enough. Arizona should control the tempo of the game and make the score go into the 30s. The Steelers will not be able to stop Larry Fitzgerald, who will once again gain over 100 yards receiving.
In the end, the final scoreboard will read 31-27, Arizona.
To start, let me establish that I don't really have a connection to either team in this game. I have a great uncle who farms alfalfa in Yuma. That's the closest I am to either franchise. I'll be cheering for the 7-0 box and Danica Patrick GoDaddy commercials.
But I'll also be cheering for the Arizona Cardinals. I like offense. I like underdogs. I like Edgerrin James's mini-comeback mini-story. And hey, Yuma's dry heat is pretty nice on winter nights.
And that's the reason I'm picking Arizona. Because I'm rooting for them. And I don't want to be bummed when the team I like wins because I picked against them on a fantasy football blog. That's just perplexing, paradoxical poop.
I like the Cards, and am going to be cheering for the Cards, so I'm picking the Cards. I have no idea what affect Larry Fitzgerald's match up against the Pittsburgh secondary will have on the outcome or an estimate as to the impact of Ben Roethlisberger's injury situation, or how much of a factor Arizona being an underdog yet again will be. But I like Arizona.
For Yuma. Cards win.
As the Super Bowl is upon us again this year, let's recap to see how we reached this point. The Steelers faced the top-ranked schedule, rose to the challenge, and gave NFL fans another typical Steelers team: strong defense, smart signal caller, and a heavy dose of the running game. That has essentially led the Men of Steel to their route so far.
I really see the Steelers' defense being the MVP of this game. If their top ranked unit can step up in crunch time and do what they have basically done all year, then I think the Steelers sit completely in the driver's seat. If the defense gets out to a fast start, then expect a heavy dose of Willie Parker mixed in with a few Ben Roethlisberger play-action passes across the middle. So essentially, the defense decides the Steelers fate.
Now, as we backtrack, I have to tell you that the NFC West was completely horrid. I mean, Arizona winning with the division with a three-game lead at 9-7? That record along proves how, eh, stunningly awful these teams in their conference were.
But this year proved to be the resurgence of Kurt Warner. The "old man" came out firing and finished as a top-five quarterback. Anquan Boldin, as well as Larry Fitzgerald, stepped up their games even more, and showed they were the best receiver tandem in the league.
The Cards' defense was not terribly bad either. They ranked in the middle of the pack in total defense, but many studs stepped up, like rookie Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, Darnell Dockett, and Karlos Dansby.
The key here lies in the Cardinals passing game: If they are in fact able to control the airways and score quickly, then I see a huge upset in the making in Tampa on Sunday. If this does happen, I would expect to see a heavy dose of Edgerrin James as well. Offense is the key here, folks.
My final verdict: I am going to side with the Pittsburgh Steelers to take home the Super Bowl this season in a 28-13 score. I think the Cardinals will remain in this game early, but I think that the Steelers are just too strong of a defensive unit to be beaten. I feel that they will control the passing game and force Arizona to win it on the ground, which they have proven they struggle doing.
Expect a good game, though. It should remain fairly even throughout, with Pittsburgh taking a long drive for a score in the final minutes to solidify themselves as champions.
The game plans for both teams shouldn't change drastically. Both teams have to treat this like any other game and your game plan and style of play is what got you to this point. Having said that, those of us watching the Super Bowl can expect two totally different game plans.
Arizona's pass offense is the staple of the team. That won't be any different here. Create as many mismatches as possible, and take what the defense gives you. The Steelers' cornerbacks usually play with a cushion; a lot of slants and crossing routes is the best counter. However, they can't stray from the running game.
Balance is key. The Cardinals can't become one-dimensional against a team like the Steelers. Arizona can't expect Edge to gain 150 yards. That's just plain unrealistic against the best run defense in the league. But they need to stay committed.
The key is to run the ball 25-30 times to make the defense respect the running game and force them to cheat up from time to time. When that happens, you can then stretch the field with studs like Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin.
While it will be just about attempts for the Cardinals' rushing attack, it's a different case for the Steelers. They want to run the ball a lot, but they also want success. Unlike Arizona, the Steelers use the running game to set up the pass. Willie Parker has to be successful in order for Pittsburgh to win.
In regards to the passing game, the key is protecting Ben. Nothings changed in that department. Give him time, and he'll make plays. Granted, that's easier said than done.
Putting my Steelers bias aside the best I can, I'm going with the underdog, Arizona. They've shown a commitment to the running game in the postseason. 37 percent of the Cardinals' first downs have come from the running game in the postseason, compared to just a 24 percent in the regular season. Their attempts and yards have gone up too, from 21 carries and 74 yards per game to 33 carries and 111 yards per game in the postseason.
I can't see the Steelers being able to slow down the Cardinals' offense. Blitzing helps, but the best counter for a blitzing defense is a QB with a quick release. Arizona has that in Kurt Warner. Just look at what a quarterback with a similar throwing style did against the Steelers in the regular season.
One other tidbit of information to leave you with: Pittsburgh has struggled against quality teams that run a 4-3. All of their losses have been handed down by 4-3 teams (the Eagles, Giants, Colts, and Titans). Yeah, you guessed it, 'Zona runs the 4-3.
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