Recent Historical Note: Turn back the clock to week three of the 2007 season. Rookie head coach Ken Whisenhunt brings the Cardinals to Baltimore to face the heavily favored Ravens. The Ravens jumped to a 23-6 lead but Whisenhunt brought in veteran Kurt Warner to share snaps and ultimately replace Matt Leinart. Warner completed 15 of 20 passes for 258 yards. Anquan Boldin caught 14 passes for 181 yards and 2 scores from Warner as the Cardinals rallied to tie the Ravens. The Ravens would win 26-23 on a Matt Stover field goal, but the game revitalized Kurt Warner.
The next week, the Cardinals were home to face the unbeaten Steelers (3-0) and their rookie coach Mike Tomlin. Much had been said about Whisenhunt wanting the Steelers coaching job, where he was an offensive coach. Rumors swirled that he did not get the position because of a less then friendly relationship with Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers were favored by six points on the road and the Cardinals were without Boldin who was injured late in Baltimore.
To the surprise of most, the Cardinals won. Warner again shared QB duties with Leinart and was 14 of 21 for 132 yards and a touchdown. Leinart was just 7 of 14 for 93 yards and no scores. The game was tied at halftime 7-7.
Steelers v. Cardinals: Ben Roethlisberger was responsible for 22 turnovers in 2008, 15 interceptions, 7 fumbles, but has not made mistakes this post season; Arizona has forced 12 turnovers this post season…Cardinals have changed their offensive mindset in the playoffs. During the regular season they attempted 658 passes, and had 340 running plays, in the post season they have 100 rushing attempts, and 95 passing attempts…Cardinals’ left defensive end Antonio Smith has 4 sacks his last six games; he faces the Steelers’ right tackle Willie Colon, who gets flagged more than any other Pittsburgh offensive lineman and is not the best pass blocker…Willie Parker set the Super Bowl record for longest run; he scored on a 75 ard run against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL…Roethlisberger was just 9 for 23 with 2 interceptions in his first Super Bowl….Cardinals have improved their rushing game, gaining just 73.6 yards a game on the ground during the regular season compared to 111 yards/game in the post season, 203 of those yards courtesy of Edgerrin James…
Steelers were second in the NFL in run defense in 2008, allowing just 80 yards a game on the ground. They have improved upon that in the post season allowing just 44 yards/game…This is the 58th contest between these teams, they played in the same division from 1950-1969, Steelers lead the series 31-23-1…Steelers were born as an expansion team in 1933, they were known as the Pirates, bought by Art Rooney for $2,500.00. Legend has it that he bought them with money he won at the race track; he renamed them the Steelers in 1941….Kurt Warner is the second quarterback to start a Super Bowl for 2 different teams, he was with the Rams for Super Bowl XXXIV and XXXVI, Craig Morton started one Super Bowl for each the Cowboys and Broncos…Warner has completed 61 passes in the playoffs, 23 to Larry Fitzgerald for 419 yards, his receiving yardage has broken the record for most receiving yards in one post season, a record that was set by Jerry Rice…Cardinals wide receivers Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston all had more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2008….
Arizona’s offensive linemen Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Lyle Sendlein, Deuce Lutui, and Levi Brown have started all 19 games this year…Steelers TE Heath Miller has a favorable match up this game; Cardinals allowed Eagles’ back up TE Brent Celek 10 receptions and 2 scores in the NFC championship game….Steelers had the best defense in 2008, allowing 14 points and 237 yards/game; the Cardinals ranked 19th, allowing 26.6 points a game, and 331 yards a contest….this is the 7th Super Bowl for the Steelers, they are 5-1 in the big game….Steelers punter Mitch Berger has been a weakness for them this year….Cardinals place kicker Neil Rackers has a strong leg but missed 2 field goal attempts from 30-39 yards and missed 3 of 4 from 50 yards and beyond this year…Pittsburgh linebacker and defensive player of the year James Harrison was 4th in the NFL this year with 16 sacks….Cardinals run defense held the likes of Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams, and Brian Westbrook to 77 yards rushing/game in the playoffs. A lot of that had to do with Warner preserving a comfortable lead…Super Bowl winners Lynn Swann, John Elway, and Roger Craig will take part in the coin toss ceremony, Joe Namath along with commissioner Roger Goodell will present the Vince Lombardi trophy…..
Prediction: This game comes down to the Steelers defense containing Kurt Warner and his receivers. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will not copy the Eagles’ Jim Johnson’s defensive game plan and try and pressure Warner from the edges as they did in the NFC championship game. The Cardinals responded well and protected. The Steelers will bring pressure up the middle, and will do more blitzing than normal from a variety of packages, that will include all of his linebackers and strong safety Troy Polamalu. The key for the Steelers is can their secondary continue to cover as well as they have been, they blanketed Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton in the AFC championship. Joe Flacco had few easy throws, but Mason and Clayton are no Fitzgerald and Boldin.
The veteran Warner will have to be at his best and has the tools to confuse Polamalu, who does bite easily on fakes. Warner will use screens and draws early with James to slow the Steelers rush but also to take note of where it is coming from. For the Cardinals to win though they also have to get at least 50-60 yards rushing from James for Warner to be able to use play action and get single coverage for his wide receivers.
The Steelers will test the middle of the Cardinal run defense early. Running backs Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore will be used as receivers as well. Their match-up is favorable with the Cardinals linebackers as is TE Heath Miller’s. Play action will be a key for Roethlisberger, the Cardinals secondary led by Adrian Wilson has a slight advantage over the Steelers wide receivers, but Rod Hood can be beat long. If the Steelers get the running game going early, then Roethlisberger will pick the Cardinals apart with short passes from play action.
Recent history says the Cardinals match up well here, but Dick LeBeau and the Steelers linebackers will win the day. Kurt Warner as always will provide a valiant effort but the Pittsburgh defense and Ben Roethlisberger will make the big plays when needed.
Steelers 26 Cardinals 21