Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl Primer
January 29, 2009 by AlexV
It is now time to write about something a bit unthinkable. A duel between “titans,” I am unsure, but a duel not foreseen at the season’s beginning… yes. On the February 1st, 2009 edition of the NFL’s annual Super Bowl game, the “host” Arizona Cardinals will get to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, five-time champions, for their first ever ring of glory… and they’ll even get to choose which team wears their home jerseys!
And even the veteran Steelers are somewhat of a surprise after being knocked out of the first round last year at home to Jacksonville, in earning a Super Bowl Birth while facing the league’s toughest schedule based on last year’s opponents winning percentages.
The Skinny on Arizona
The Arizona Cardinals went from losers of three of their last five regular season games, to winners of three straight post-season games. And not only did they do this with the playoff-history-leading performance by Larry Fitzgerald, 23 catches and 419 yards, but they did it by forcing turnovers and also by generating a respectable ground game.
In their three playoff victories, the cardinals have forced a total of 13 turnovers; eight interceptions, and five fumbles, for an average of 4.3 per game.
On top of that, a running game that averaged a mere 73.6ypg during the regular season, good for last in the league, grew up and averaged 113.3ypg game in the post season.
The Downside on Arizona
For all of the praise that the Cardinals have received for being a previously perennial blundering franchise and finally reaching a Super Bowl, they still managed to give up 259.6 passing yards per game (38.4 more than their 22nd ranked 221.2ypg in the regular season) and 20.6 points per game, which is only 6.1 less than their 26.7 in the regular season.
Although that is an improvement of close to a touchdown, and the extra passing yardage they have given up can be attributed to giving up just 74ypg on the ground in their playoff wins, that still shows that they have a propensity to let teams back in the game through the air, as they did against the Falcons in the Wild Card round, and Eagles in the NFC Championship game.
The Skinny on Pittsburgh
The Steelers benefited greatly from the privilege of facing an 8-8 San Diego Chargers team in the divisional round, and an 11-5 sixth seeded Baltimore Ravens team at home, after they upset the one seeded Tennessee Titans, in the AFC Championship Game. However, they still won their games by continuing on the success of their 1st ranked defense in points (13.9), total yardage (237.2), passing yardage (156.9), and 2nd ranked run defense (80.2ypg). They were able to hold Baltimore to 14 points, and even though San Diego managed 24, that was mostly because they got two TDs in the 4th quarter while the Steelers were already riding a comfortable lead.
Finally, the Steelers have also been able to get two very solid performances from Ben Roethlisberger who has no interceptions, 255 yards and a TD against the Ravens who gave up just 175.5ypg, and an efficient 17-26, 186 yard, 1 TD game against the Chargers while riding a 27 carry 146 yard outing by Willie Parker.
The Downside on Pittsburgh
The negatives for Pittsburgh are simple; If Ben Roethlisberger reverts to his at times erratic regular season play which got him 15 INTs, a low 59.9% completion percentage, and an 80.1 QB rating, then that would most likely produce a loss, as it would for many teams. But the bigger issue is that is the kind of thing that the Cardinals have been using to fuel their remarkable post season run, so if it happens, it will most likely be “Bye-bye Steelers.”
And even though Pittsburgh has used their defense to overcome much of the bad play from Roethlisberger, they might be hard-pressed to “stay in the game” with their defense if they aren’t sufficiently complemented by their offense. The Cardinals passing attack, ranked 2nd in the regular season with 292.1ypg, has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down in these playoffs. Even with their more balanced approach by going to the run more often, they are still managing 256.6 yards per game in the air.
Finally, the X factor is the two weeks of rest that Anquan Boldin is getting before the big game. With Arizona being able to produce this kind of yardage without him thus far, the return of Boldin can help balance things out against that 1st ranked passing defense of the Steelers.
So, once again, Big Ben doesn’t need to have an outstanding game, but will most likely need to play well, because the Cardinals should still be able to get “theirs” through the air in this contest.
If any quarterback is going to be less prone to suffer a let down, it should be Kurt Warner, as he has yet to throw a game away all season. I still see him throwing an INT, but one INT does not destroy a team’s hope depending at what point in the game it is thrown. Ben Roethlisberger has looked very mediocre at times this season, and very superb at other times specifically late in games. He would definitely like to make up for his 2005 Super Bowl performance where he went 9-21, 123yds, 2 INTs, and had a paltry 22.6 quarterback rating.
Solely because of this notion (that Ben wants to make up for his first Super Bowl and has admitted that to the media) I should be picking the Steelers to win this game. However, I just don’t see the fire in the eyes of any of the Steelers like I see in the eyes of Kurt Warner (which will be instilled into his young team in the huddle and on the sideline). I just feel that the “just another game” approach for the Steelers is a bit too close to the lackadaisical side, and I think Big Ben feels that saying he wants to make up for his appearance is enough. I.E., he won’t.
The Steelers could end up looking like a team baffled at the energy of their opponent, and the wake up call may come too late. Cardinals win convincingly, if not handily.