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Wednesday January 28, 2009 2:59 pm

Super Bowl XLIII Preview - Arizona Cardinals Versus Pittsburgh Steelers

Troy Polamalu

The Fig Caption: Number 43 wants another trophy in Super Bowl 43… is it destined in the numbers?

The NFL’s 43rd Super Bowl goes down this Sunday, February 1st at 6:28 PM ET in Tampa Bay, Florida on NBC.  The NFC champion Arizona Cardinals (9-7) hope to keep the postseason magic going as they face off against AFC champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4).  The Cardinals had a more burdensome postseason path than the Steelers as Arizona needed to defeat the Atlanta Falcons (30-24 @ Arizona) in the Wildcard Round, take on heavily favored Carolina Panthers and light them up on the road (33-13 @ Carolina) during the Divisional Round, and finally, beat the Philadelphia Eagles in a close game (32-25 @ Arizona) during the NFC Championship Round.  The Steelers on the other hand, had a first round bye, defeated the San Diego Chargers handily (35-24 @ Pittsburgh) in the Divisional Round, and beat the Baltimore Ravens in a closer match-up than the score indicates (23-14 @ Pittsburgh) in the AFC Championship Round thanks to a timely Troy Polamalu interception.

The road for both teams has been a long and taxing road, as only an NFL schedule could be, but on Sunday, one of them will reach the ultimate destination - a Super Bowl victory.

When you think Arizona Cardinals, you think aerial attack - QB Kurt Warner and WR Larry Fitzgerald primarily, but you cannot sleep on WR Anquan Boldin who has been limited parts of this season due to injury, and WR Steve Breaston.  The aforementioned WRs are all 1,000 receiving yards players, which helped the Cardinals become the number two passing offense (292.1 YPG) this past season behind the New Orleans Saints (311.1 YPG).  Overall, the offense was ranked fourth (365.8 YPG), but don’t misled by this as the rushing attack (73.6 YPG) ranked last in the league.  In order to keep the strong Pittsburgh defense honest, the Cardinals will need to run the ball effectively as they did in their three previous playoff games (86 yards and one TD vs. Falcons; 145 yards and one TD vs. Panthers; 102 yards vs. Eagles).  Cardinals running backs, Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, could make the difference in the outcome going up against an incredible Steelers defense.

How incredible is the defense?  The Pittsburgh defense was ranked number one overall, allowing only 237.2 YPG - second against the rush (80.3 YPG), and importantly to the Cards, first against the pass (156.9 YPG).  The defense has several impact defensive playmakers, including Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison, fellow linebackers James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley, and, of course, Troy Polamalu who will have a big say in how effective the Cards air game will be.  This matchup of strength (Cardinals’ passing offense) vs. strength (Steelers’ overall defense, particularly against the pass) will be interesting to watch.  However, how about the other aspects of the game for both teams that can have an impact?

Honestly, there are not many peripherals to think of in the Steelers game that can make a difference in the Super Bowl besides their defense.  Their offense isn’t prodigious in any way, but the defense is so strong that the offense can be pedestrian and the Steelers will still win.  However, should the Cardinals offense score on the vaunted Steelers D and actually gain a lead, the offense will need to step up.  However, as we’ve seen throughout the season, at the end of the game, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense can score when they need to.

For the Cardinals, other than keeping the consistency of their passing game going and running the ball to keep the Steelers off balance, Arizona will need to get to Roethlisberger and pressure him, if not sack him, which the Steelers ranked fourth worst in the league, allowing 49 sacks during the regular season.  Roethlisberger is susceptible to making mistakes, throwing 15 interceptions and fumbling the ball seven times during the regular season.  The Cardinals will need to make turnovers count and hit as hard as the Steelers will.  Linebacker Karlos Dansby, S Adrian Wilson, and rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can make that happen.

Watch the big game on Sunday to see how it all pans out.  As far as predictions go - common sense says Steelers will make this their second Super Bowl win in four years.  However, common sense also said the Cardinals shouldn’t have made it this far.  I’m a Kurt Warner fan, so I’ll be rooting for him to get another ring after winning one with the St. Louis Rams in 2000.

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