The Arizona Cardinals are no doubt a Cinderella story of the 2008 season. Kurt Warner has played almost flawlessly throughout the post season along with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. On defense the Cardinals have done just enough when it has counted most. For the Steelers this season it has been all about the defense with some inconsistencies mixed in on the offensive side of the ball.
I will start with what the Cardinals need to to to win Super Bowl 43. The Cardinals have been successful thus far in the playoffs because they have been able to run the ball successfully. The rushing numbers haven\’t been all that eye popping, but they have forced opposing defenses to at least respect the run. If between the combination of running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower they can pick up four or more yards on first or second down, Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley will have plenty of options to choose from in the play book. In addition to an effective running game, the offensive line pass protection has to fight of a strong Steeler pass rush. Warner has had plenty of time to throw thus far in the playoffs, and he\’s been able to get the ball deep over top to Fitzgerald. Warner has been efficient against the blitz packages all season, and he has the offensive weapons to make defenses pay. The Cardinals have done a sufficient job with screens and draw plays as of recent, which has also helped to slow down the pass rush.
On defense the Cardinals have improved a great deal over the past month, keeping in check some of the best running games in the league. The Steelers aren\’t all that great offensively, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can make plays on the run and outside of the pocket. Roethlisberger is very creative, and the Cardinals need to keep him in the pocket and bring him down when they get a shot at him. They will need to pay special attention to tight end Heath Miller and try to stop the Steelers ground game with a seven man front as to provide more help for the secondary.
For the Steelers to win on Sunday the Steelers offensive success will depend mostly on Roethlisberger, especially if the Steelers have problems running the ball against the Cardinals front seven. Roethlisberger has been making all the big plays thus farin the postseason and has gotten more comfortable on the big stage. The Steelers running game will focus on getting to the corners to enable Willie Parker to take advantage of his speed. If forced inside, Parker must break the first tackle and get into the linebacker core as often as possible. The Steelers will do what they have done all year in the passing game, and just take what they are given in regards to the passing game. Receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes do not have big games, just make the plays when thrown too.
On defense, the Steelers first priority will be bottling up Fitzgerald, something they have shown the ability to do with many of the league\’s top receivers this season. The Steelers have mainly used cornerback Ike Taylor to shadow the oppositions top receivers because of Taylor\’s height, speed and athletic ability. The Steelers also rotate their coverages to use a safety to help over top and deep. The Steelers will need to play the run effectively as well with only a seven man front as to take advantage of defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau\’s blitz and coverage schemes. The Steelers will try to attack Warner without blitzing early on because of his quick drops and fast releases. Instead, they will give him a variety of defensive looks to decipher, especially using strong safety Troy Polamalu, to get him to force throws into coverage where they can create turnovers.
The team that can settle the nerves fastest and get out to a quick start, should be able to prevail. An early 14-0 lead by either side could be insurmountable. The Steelers have experience on their side with 20 players having Super Bowl experience, versus just 5 players for the Cardinals. Execution and turnovers as always will be a key. The Cardinals will have to show the same intensity they have had the entire playoffs, while the Steelers just need to play as they have all season long.
In closing, the old adage that defense wins championships, should show itself in this game. The 2008 Steelers are a much better team than the 2005 version that won Super Bowl 40 and while the Cardinals have been inconsistent all season. The Steelers will take Super Bowl 43 by 2 touchdowns.
Prediction: Steelers 31 Cardinals 17