I still find it hard to believe that the Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. I watched them get trounced this year on the road several times. Being a New England Patriots fan it kind of makes me mad to see a team that didn’t even show up for their game against the Patriots and got embarrassed to be playing for the championship.
On the other hand, I find it rather interesting to see the Cardinals finally make it to the big game. They have played much better in the playoffs than they ever did in any regular season game I saw them in, mainly because they are running the ball more and playing better defense. Of course Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin have mostly played very well all year long. Those three certainly have played championship level football.
It does not surprise me to see the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Nor would it have surprised me to see the Ravens. I am a believer that defense wins championships and the Steelers and Ravens both have championship caliber defenses.
So how do I see Super Bowl XLIII shaping up?
Arizona’s Offense versus Pittsburgh’s Defense
This is the matchup that is going to decide who wins this game. The matchup is not good for Arizona.
If there is any weakness in the Steelers’ defense it is the cornerbacks. Now don’t get me wrong, Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend are pretty solid defensive backs. It’s just that the rest of the defense is great. And they are going against great receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Anquan Boldin, who match up very well against them. All things being equal the Cardinals should eat the Steelers secondary up just like they did the Panthers and Eagles. The X Factor is Troy Polamalu and how they use him to limit the damage.
But will Kurt Warner have enough time to throw the ball? The heart of the Steelers defense is the linebackers. And the Cardinals offensive line, as well as they have played to this point, have not seen a defense like this since they played, and lost, to the Giants. While Warner and the offensive line did well against the Eagles’ blitzes, the Steelers are better athletically at the linebacker position and have a better all around defense.
And running the ball? Forget it. The Cardinals will have to run the ball some but they won’t get anywhere against this defense. This game will come down to Warner flinging the ball down the field to his receivers. I suspect he’ll spend a lot of time on his back, fumbling, or throwing interceptions.
Pittsburgh’s Offense versus Arizona’s Defense
The Pittsburgh offense actually does not match up that well against the Cardinals, at least not the Cardinals we’ve seen in the playoffs.
I don’t know why people want to insist that Big Ben is some kind of great All Pro quarterback. He isn’t. He’s big, strong, and hard to bring down. He’s also great on broken plays. But he also tends to hold the ball too long and make mistakes. And the running game has been inconsistent. That is not to say I don’t think Big Ben is an excellent quarterback, but Canton bound he is not. His goal should be to play mistake free football, which he has managed to do so far in the playoffs.
Arizona’s Rodgers-Cromartie is an excellent cornerback with a great future who should be able handle Santonio Holmes and his speed. And if the Cardinals defensive line and linebackers play as well has they have the last few weeks they should be able to limit Willie Parker in the running game.
And like Troy Polamalu on the other side of the field, Cardinal strong safety Adrian Wilson is an excellent player against the run and the pass.
The X Factor for the Steelers on offense will be Hines Ward. If he can make the tough inside catches he’s known for, that will allow the Steelers to move the ball down the field.
I don’t expect the Steelers offense to score a ton of points, however.
On paper special teams are pretty even, although Steve Breaston returning kicks gives the Cardinals a better opportunity for a big return. Despite an awful kicking game last week by the Cardinals, both on kickoffs and punts, I don’t expect to see the same level of performance in the Super Bowl. The Cardinals Neil Rackers has a stronger leg than Jeff Reed but I don’t foresee long field goals being a factor unless it’s at the end of the game in a desperate situation. So mark this as a draw.
SO, THEN WHO AM I PICKING?
The Steelers defense is so good that they should be able to do enough to win. I would not be surprised to see a turnover fest by the Cardinals if they get behind early and have to throw the ball. Warner is not always known for being careful with the football. If that happens it could be a Steelers blowout. But let’s give the Cardinals the benefit of the doubt and say it’s going to be close.
Pittsburgh over Arizona, 27-21