Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh Keeps Composure in 27-23 Victory over Arizona


Going into the Super Bowl many pundits and bloggers were saying the Arizona Cardinals, a 9-7 team suffering some late season blowouts, did not deserve to be in the Super Bowl. They certainly proved their critics wrong. But for an interception returned for a touchdown, the Cardinals very well may have won. Overall this was an impressive performance by both teams, although a bit sloppy and unnecessarily chippy at times. So my first thought is congratulations to both teams on a good game.

Even though I was fairly close on my prediction of the final score this game did not turn out like I thought it would. Pittsburgh’s offensive line dominated the first half of the game allowing them to build a 10-0 nothing lead early in the second half and keeping Kurt Warner and his offense on the sidelines and out of sync.

The pivotal play in the game, and the play I think cost Arizona the game, is James Harrison’s 100 yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half. Instead of going up 14-10 at halftime, this 14 point swing meant the Cardinals went to the locker room down 17-7.

And what an amazing return for a touchdown it was. This play showed why the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best defense in the league and are Super Bowl champions today. It’s at the very end of the first half and Harrison catches the interception in the end zone and starts running. Do his teammates sigh in relief and stand around thinking, “oh good, we stopped them from getting a touchdown before halftime?”

NO – the defense sprinted down the field to block for Harrison who turned in an incredible 100 yard return for a touchdown with no time left on the clock. If the Cardinals could have just stopped this improbable sprint for pay dirt they might be taking the Lombardi Trophy to Arizona instead tears and “what ifs?”

You have to give credit to the Cardinals though. Often a team down 17-7 at halftime in the Super Bowl panics and ends up getting blown out. The Cardinals played much better in the second half. The Cardinals defense really stepped it up, particularly defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Dockett was handled by Pittsburgh’s centers and guards in the first half but he seemed like a different player in the second half.

The only problem was they let Pittsburgh go on a long drive, thanks to several personal foul penalties (at least one a bit questionable), and eat up all the time in the third quarter. The Cardinals took too long to get their offense going and put points on the board.

But the Cardinals played a brilliant fourth quarter, with their two drives resulting in touchdown catches for Larry Fitzgerald and recording a safety to go up 23-20 with 2:37 seconds left in the game.

And what can you say about Pittsburgh’s last drive for the winning touchdown? I’ve been critical of Big Ben all year but he was fabulous on this drive, leading his team down the field for the winning score. And Santonio Holmes’ catch for a touchdown was superlative.

Frankly I am very torn on who should get my Super Bowl MVP Award. While Santonio Holmes was the go to receiver all night and had 9 receptions for 131 yards and his brilliant, game winning catch for a touchdown, James Harrison also deserves consideration. Harrison’s 100 yard touchdown return really put the Cardinals in a hole and was a key factor in the Steelers’ win. He also kept getting holding penalties called against offensive linemen trying to block him (poor Mike Gandy).

But, given the Holmes had a great fourth quarter and made the game winning catch, I am going with Santonio.


Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII MVP

Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII MVP

MVP: Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Offensive Player: Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player: James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Offensive Lineman: Mike Starks, LT, Pittsburgh Steelers
Special Teams Player: Steve Breaston, WR/KR, Arizona Cardinals (for his one good punt return)



Super Bowl XLIII Prediction

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.

Special Teams

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.


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