Super Bowl XLIII Preview: Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
By Scott Allen
On Sunday February 1st, 2009 the Arizona Cardinals will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida. This will be the Cardinals first trip to the big game. Believe it not, the NFL has not canceled the game due to lack of interest or just because your Cardinals happen to be representing the NFC in the biggest sporting event of the year.
How they got here:
The Cardinals started off the postseason in the wild card game against the Atlanta Falcons at University of Phoenix Stadium. That was after finishing off the regular season 9-7, a record a lot of people and so-called “experts” thought was not good enough to get into the second season. The Cardinals breezed through the NFC West, going 6-0 against divisional foes St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks.
Facing the rest of the NFL is what the Cardinals found to be a tough task, leading many to believe the Cardinals would lose to the Falcons, going one and out. The Cards did find big victories against the AFC East Champion Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Buffalo Bills, who was undefeated at the time the two played.
However, the Cardinals found themselves on the wrong side of blowouts against the New York Jets , Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles. They also had tough close losses to NFC East opponents Washington Redskins and New York Giants. Let’s not forget the game in October that had the Cardinals believing they had a chance to beat the Carolina Panthers in Carolina in the divisional round of the playoffs, when they gave up a two touchdown lead in the third quarter and eventually lost 27-23.
So there were the Cardinals, in the playoff game against Atlanta, many believing rookie Matt Ryan would easily hand the Cardinals a playoff loss, despite the game being in Glendale. A tough Cardinals defense, led by Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith swarmed Ryan and the Atlanta offense. The Cardinals offense, led by Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin scored on long touchdown passes from Kurt Warner and the Cardinals prevailed 30-24 for their first playoff victory since 1998.
After shocking many to make it that far, the Cardinals were off to the previously mentioned Carolina. A stingy defense picked off Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme five times and the Cardinals offense kept up their trickery en route to a blowout win on the road 33-13.
That led the Cardinals to the NFC Championship game at home, facing the Eagles. Philadelphia came into Arizona as 3 point favorites. The Cardinals had more believers on their ride to Tampa, however there were also still many doubters. Some said the Cardinals were lucky to get this far, Philadelphia was the team of destiny because they had come from the depths of 5-5 to rally for an unlikely wild card spot in the playoffs.
Things started out great, however in the first half, taking a 24-6 lead into the locker room at halftime. Then the third quarter happened. The Cards fell behind at one point 25-24, before running the drive of their lives, taking the lead 32-25 and eventually holding on for the victory and the right to play in the Super Bowl.
Arizona will win if:
If they can maintain a balanced offensive attack. They need to keep doing what got them here. A steady does of Edgerrin James, who may be playing his last game as a Cardinal and could be headed for another team looking for a veteran running back. They will probably run some sort of trick play, although the trick could be on us looking out for one and nothing extraordinary happens.
Arizona will lose it:
They lose the turnover battle. Only once the Cardinals won a game this year when they lost the turnover battle. They will also need to continue the better job of tackling they’ve done in the playoffs. At times this season, even the Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, and Oakland Raiders have looked better trying to tackle their opponents. Fail to wrap up the likes of the Steelers Willie Parker, it could be a long day.
How they got here:
The Steelers started right out of the gates strong, starting the season 2-0 with victories over the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns. Then they ran into the Eagles before running off three straight victories against Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. They were 6-2 before losing a tough one to the Indianapolis Colts 24-20 in Pittsburgh.
Then in the snow, they experienced the first 11-10 victory in NFL history by beating the San Diego Chargers. They would have only one more loss after that, falling to the Tennessee Titans 31-14, the same day the Cards lost big in New England.
They had their share of injuries this season, most notably to Willie Parker. He is now healthy and presents a true challenge to the run defense of the Cardinals. The Steelers lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the final game of the season, but he returned with the help of the bye week before returning to help beat the San Diego Chargers 35-24 in the divisional round of the playoffs. Then the Steelers faced the Baltimore Ravens for the third time this season and ended up sweeping them by winning 23-14, aided by a Troy Polamalu interception return for touchdown.
Pittsburgh will win if:
They aren’t forced into a passing game by falling behind early. They don’t exactly resemble the passing attack Arizona or even the New Orleans Saints have. If they maintain ball control and win the time of possession battle, odds are in their favor for their sixth Super Bowl victory.
Pittsburgh will lose if:
They lose focus and commit unforced errors. The last thing they can do is become colder than a winter day in Green Bay. They need to stay red hot like the weather in Tampa Bay instead. Also, they already conceded that Larry Fitzgerald will be hard to stop and their only hope is to contain him. It is the role players such as Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, and J.J. Arrington that could surprise and if any of them start to come up with big plays, it could spell a quick end to winning bets in Las Vegas.
What it all means:
One team will leave happy and the other will leave unsatisfied and try to turn their thoughts immediately towards the 2009 NFL Draft. Both teams will be trying to avoid all the hype leading into the game and hope not to pull a Denver by coming into the most important game of the year by failing to show up at all (remember San Diego, week 17).
The weather should not be a factor. The temperature is expected to be in the low 60’s to mid 50’s during the course of the game. Although no rain or wind is expected, if the Cardinals come in and stick with the Steelers or take and early commanding lead, the game may blow away quicker than a windy day in Chicago (not known as the Windy City by force of air) for the Steelers.
The studs of the game should be the offensive fantasy stars as most expect. Fitzgerald, Parker, Roethlisberger, Warner, Boldin, James, should all play a part one way or another. Let’s also not forget Steelers receiver Hines Ward. He has been nursing an injury and doing everything but voodoo this week in attempting to get ready to play for Sunday’s game. If he can’t go, both he and the Steelers may be Pac-Man Jonesin. Something tells me he may have something to say and if not, possibly receiver Leon Washington, along with the number one Pittsburgh defense, led by Polamalu and defensive player of the year James Harrison.
In an unconventional match up for Super Bowl XLIII, an unconventional score. Cardinals 29-23.