Super Bowl 2009
Kevin's pick: Pittsburgh
The Steelers have a high-powered defense that will match the Cardinals' high-powered offense. The game-breaking difference is that the Steelers have a decent offense that will outmatch the Cardinals' sloppy defense. However, the Steelers need to make sure that they do not underestimate the Cardinals because this one game is the most important of the season. We all saw what happened to the Patriots last year; I hope the Steelers do not fall into that same trap.
Anshul's pick: Pittsburgh
This Super Bowl is similar to last year's in the sense that one team is a big underdog coming in, though Arizona is not quite as much an underdog as the Giants were last year. Still, Arizona entered the playoffs limping with some bad performances down the stretch, including a 47-7 beat down at the hands of the Patriots in Week 16. But they caught fire in the playoffs to surprise everyone in their run to the Super Bowl. The Steelers have been solid all season long and take their outstanding defense to Tampa. In this match up of one of the league's best pass offenses against the league's best defense, the Steelers will prevail. Defense wins championships, and the Steelers have a great offense paired with that Steel Curtain defense. If Pittsburgh can contain Larry Fitzgerald, then the Steelers will claim their second title in the past four years.
Sean's pick: Pittsburgh
The Steelers are amazing defenders, and Arizona hasn't been put to the test against a defense up to par with Pittsburgh's. The Steelers have a have a solid offense to and a quarterback with Super Bowl experience to boot (or rather a kicker to boot, get it?). Though the Steelers haven't faced an offensive threat quite like Arizona's, I don't think that the Steelers will have a problem dealing with it as much as Arizona's quixotic defense will have a problem dealing with the Steelers' offense. I say this with a heavy heart, but I don't see a victory for Arizona.
Greg's pick: Arizona
Well, somebody's got to be pulling for the underdog. And after last year's
Surprise Bowl, it's clear that result is not all about how the teams look on paper. Yes, the Steelers have proven far more consistently all season that they're deserving of the Feb. 1 stage. And yes, Arizona's been bested seven times this year. But luckily for Warner and the rest of the Cards, it's not about statistics, it's not about season records and it's not about the Las Vegas odds, seeing as Arizona was also the underdog in each of their three playoff wins. When it comes down to one game, it's all about who's hot and who's not. The Cardinals have ridiculous momentum and won't dip in flight as they take Pittsburgh by a touchdown - this Cinderella story won't end before midnight.
How they got here
Steelers are a brick wall. They're officially and unofficially the best defense in the league. They have a quarterback with Super Bowl experience and they've played consistently all season. The Steelers have had trouble playing against powerhouses like the Giants and the Titans, but they've proven time and time again that they have earned this spot during the playoffs. Not once this entire season have the Steelers played a game that could make us resident Silver Chips Online sports analysts scratch our heads in disbelief (this might be the only team with that distinction). In a way, Pittsburgh has been a boring team to watch. But luckily for Pittsburgh, victory will not necessarily go to the team that has been the most interesting. The Steelers have proven to be a force to be reckoned with - their record speaks for itself.
|The Arizona Cardinals have been a team full of surprises all season. They've beaten expectations at trivial times, (see Cardinals vs. Cowboys) and at crucial times (see last three victories in playoffs). They've shown that they can have super-powered offense when they put their mind to it. Yet when one looks down the line on this Cinderella-story of a team, it's clear that they have a defense that is perplexing at best. The Jets, Giants, Eagles, Patriots and Vikings have served up losses to the Cards while scoring at least 35 points per game. The Patriots in particular were able to punish them in a 40-point loss. How does a team go from that kind of blowout to the Super Bowl in just two weeks? Answer: the Cards are special. This team has taken the road less traveled - not by choice, mind you - and hopefully for them, it will make all the difference.
QB Ben Roethlisberger.|
As a rookie in 2004, Roethlisberger came out of nowhere - much like Kurt Warner did in his third season. He led the Steelers with poise and skill through 14 straight wins, crushing the previous best start by a rookie. The following year, Roethlisberger replaced Tom Brady as the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at just 23 years old. Yet it was Big Ben's performances leading up to the big game that were impressive, not his 22.8 Super Bowl passer rating. And so, the question must be asked: can Roethlisberger play well under pressure? With their run game still on the fritz, the Steelers can't afford anything other than a great game out of him. Roethlisberger certainly has the potential to lead Pittsburgh to a strong win, and doing so will propel him into talks as one of the greatest - and youngest - quarterbacks of our time.
LB James Harrison.|
As the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a starter for the top-ranked defense of this year, you might just say Harrison is the best of the best. It is said that defense wins championships, and that is exactly what the Steelers will be expecting Harrison to help them do. Harrison led the league with seven forced fumbles during the regular season, and ranked fourth with 16 sacks. His ability to force turnovers and take a quarterback off his game could mean the difference for Pittsburgh.
S Troy Polamalu.|
If Larry Fitzgerald strikes fear in the hearts of defenses, then Polamalu does the same to offenses. His trademark overflowing curly hair and the rest of his 5' 10" figure often seem to be everywhere. His natural athleticism, coupled with his uncanny instincts for reading offenses, helped him post a league second-best seven interceptions during the regular season, not to mention his eighth interception of the year, which he returned for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Ravens. Ultimately, he will lead the latter end of a poetic offensive-defensive clash, as the Cardinals' passing team (a league second-best 292.1 yards per game during the regular season) matches up against the league's best passing defense (limiting offenses to 156.9 yards per game) in Polamalu's Steelers.
QB Kurt Warner.|
Nine years ago, Warner took over for then-starting quarterback Trent Green in a St. Louis Ram's preseason game. Without a single NFL start under his belt, Warner led the Rams to the Super Bowl, amassing historic stats and a league MVP trophy along the way. Then, with it all on the line, Warner played with ice water in his veins as he passed for 414 yards (a Super Bowl record that still stands), led the Rams to a victory over the Titans, and joined a select few by being named Super Bowl MVP. In a few weeks, Warner will return to the Super Bowl for the third time, and although Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has 11 years of youth on the 37-year-old, Warner still might be able to give the Cardinals the advantage. Roethlisberger may have just as many Super Bowl rings as Warner, but he earned his in a terrible performance in which he set the Super Bowl record for the lowest passer rating of the winning quarterback, completing just nine passes and throwing two interceptions. Warner, on the other hand, set a record of opposite standing. Four of the last seven Super Bowls have been decided by three points - Warner's ability to excel under pressure could make the difference for the Cardinals in pulling off the upset.
WR Larry Fitzgerald.|
There's a name that you will never hear a defensive player say lightly. The 25-year old has been dangerous ever since being drafted in 2004, leading the league in receptions in his second year. Yet it was in the past few weeks that Fitzgerald has really put himself in the discussion of the game's greats. In Arizona's three playoff games, he caught 23 passes for an NFL-record 419 yards, as well as five touchdowns. His three-touchdown performance against Philadelphia on Jan. 18 ranks among the best in conference championships. Fitzgerald's speed and agility make him dangerous in not just getting open, but in maximizing yards after a catch. Expect Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu to keep a wary eye on Fitzgerald on every play.
RB Edgerrin James.|
After seven impressive seasons in Indianapolis, where he rushed for 1500-plus yards four times, James has been struggling during his three seasons with the Cardinals. This season, he was benched for the first time in his career, and although he was able to reclaim his spot in the postseason, his numbers have still only been good, not great. However, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt will be expecting a lot from James come Sunday. In order to keep their passing game dangerous, the Cardinals will be relying on James to balance the offense with runs, and he will need to find a way to be effective against the league's best defense.
Keys to winning
Contain Larry Fitzgerald.
It's no secret that the best offensive weapon that Arizona has is number 11 - Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has been outstanding this postseason, already setting a record for receiving yards in a single postseason. He's been catching everything that comes near him and torched the Eagles for three touchdowns. But not only can Fitzgerald catch jump balls deep down the field, he can take short crossing routes and run after the catch. If Pittsburgh hopes to win, they have to contain Fitzgerald. When he goes deep, they have to make sure they have a defensive back right on his hope and usually a safety helping over the top. However, they also have to make sure not to lose him in crossing routes. Fitzgerald has two touchdowns this postseason on short crossing routes that he ran on after receiving the ball, so the Steelers need to be sure to limit his yards after the catch. Keep a cornerback following him on the short crosses and have a linebacker ready over the top to help out. It will be a big task that I'm sure Troy Polamalu will be willing and able to take up.
Arizona's run defense has been much improved this postseason. The Cardinals effectively shut down Atlanta's Michael Turner and did much of the same to the Eagles' Brian Westbrook. Pittsburgh has an explosive passing game but if they cannot get their running game going, they might suffer the same fate as Arizona's previous opponents. Willie Parker is back from injury and is starting to look good again. He ran all over the San Diego defense for nearly 150 yards and two touchdowns. Baltimore was able to contain him, and it made the game against the Steelers much closer until Pittsburgh pulled away with a couple of big plays. The Steelers have to establish the running game early and stay with it. If Arizona shuts down the Steelers' ground attack early, Pittsburgh cannot go away from the running game. A good running game is a quarterback's best friend. Without an established rushing game, the Steelers cannot effectively use play action and Arizona will be able to put a lot more pressure on Ben Roethlisberger.
Use your weapons.
That being said about running, most of the Steelers' weapons are in the passing game. Pittsburgh has a huge variety of targets for Roethlisberger to throw to. They have Hines Ward (who seems like he will play despite suffering a knee injury against Baltimore) Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and Heath Miller. Every one of these receivers is a big threat to get open and catch the ball and make plays with the ball in their hands. Holmes got a desperation pass by Roethlisberger and dodged the entire Baltimore defense for a touchdown in the AFC championship game, something all these receivers can do. Arizona has good defensive backs, such as Adrian Wilson, but Pittsburgh has too many playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Roethlisberger needs to spread the ball around and pick apart the weak points in the Arizona secondary using all his offensive weapons. If he can do that, it will be extremely hard for Arizona to stop the Steelers' offense.
Pass the ball.
Pictures courtesy of Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers
The Cardinals will be facing off against the league.s best defense. Only allowing a measly average of 13.9 points against them, the Steelers' defenders are certainly capable of making the Cardinals punt often. Arizona has an excellent passing offense, ranking second in the league with an average of 292.1 yards per game across star players Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. If the Cardinals can get at least a few key plays against the Steelers. tight secondary, they have a chance to win, especially since the Steelers. offense is not spectacular.
Stay away from third and long.
The Cardinals were 83 for 198 on all third down conversions in the regular season. The Steelers allowed 71 of 226 third downs for opposing teams. The Cardinals will do much better in this game with short yardage third downs, threatening the Steelers with many more options to continue the drive. The Steelers. corners will have to play much tighter man-to-man defense in those situations to prevent screens, possibly creating more rushing options.
Stand down the Steelers in the red zone.
The Steelers will probably get the ball often thanks to their stone wall of a defense. Although the Steelers have been getting the ball a lot, they have had problems finishing their drives with big points. The Cardinals will have to prevent Pittsburgh from converting their red zone possessions into touchdowns and limit them to (at most) field goals. Kurt Warner will need as much help as he can to stay on the field.
Who is your money on?