Yes, hype week is here and that means that the biggest of a big football games is less than a week away. The Pittsburgh Steelers are seven-point favorites and you’ve got to wonder if that fact will simply fuel the Arizona Cardinals in their quest for respect. The Cards have gotten no respect due to the fact that they won a weak division with a 9- 7 record and, in doing so, lost four of their last six games. Three of those loses were to the playoff bound Giants, Vikings and Eagles and the other was to the Patriots. Many felt going into the post-season that the Cardinals were, at the best, lucky and not good enough to be there. But now, it seems to me, that no one has bothered to see what they’ve done in the post-season. I mean don’t they play the game for a reason?
Keys for the Cardinals:
Kurt Warner: In each playoff game, Kurt Warner has passed for 220 yards or more. He’s tossed just two picks and connected on eight touchdown passes. His QB playoff rating stands at 111 and he’s connected on more than 65% of his passes. He’s been accurate and made good decisions. If he has time to pass, he’ll be lethal. He should have the time to pass.
Larry Fitzgerald: Wideout Larry Fitzgerald has caught five passes for scores, averaging over 17 yards per catch and 139 yards per game. He may be the most dangerous offensive threat on the field on Super Sunday. If he manages five to eight catches, Arizona stands a solid chance of winning.
The Ground Attack: In each post-season game, a Cardinal back has rushed for at least 73 yards. The team’s ground attack is the purview of James and Hightower. If they can run for a TD and 80- 90 total yards, the Steelers will have to pay attention to them, giving Warner more time to pass.
Defense: The Zona “D” has been potent in the post-season. With four fumble recoveries and eight picks, they’ve made the most of their time on the field. They could give Roethlisberger and company nightmares.
Rebound Potential: The Cardinals, with Warner throwing and Fitzgerald receiving, are a good comeback team. If they’re down by two at the start of the fourth, they can still win it.
Keys for the Steelers:
Running Game: Willie Parker, who has played injured all season, got his act together in the playoffs versus the Chargers, rushing for two scores and 146 total yards. It was his best game of the year. In his second game, which was against the Baltimore Ravens, he put in a weak performance. If he can’t find his form for the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a rough time generating enough offense to win. If he can get 100 yards on Sunday that will be a big help. But 100 yards is a lot to ask of him.
Air Game: The Pittsburgh pass attack has been good enough to win but not great. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not tossed an interception, which is great. He’s posted two touchdown passes in two games. His rating is 92.6 and completion rate is 56.9%. The rating is fine but the rate of completion could be better. Receivers Hines Ward, who is nursing a sprained knee, and Santonio Holmes have put up numbers that are okay but not extraordinary. Ward’s injury is worrisome.
Defense: The Steeler defense has taken in four interceptions and recovered two fumbles. They really harassed Flacco and the Ravens. But Warner is not like Flacco, a rookie quarterback. The Pittsburgh defense must hold the Cards to less than 50 yards rushing and find a way to stop Fitzgerald. The key to Fitzgerald may lie in getting to Warner. But Warner, unlike Flacco, is a cool vet who has been to the Super Bowl a few times and won a ring.
Time of Possession: Pittsburgh needs to control the time of possession and that means putting an effective rushing attack on the field and having Roethlisberger continue to play mistake free. If they can eat up time on the clock with long drives, Warner and Fitzgerald will have fewer opportunities to score.
This game should be a good one. With two defenses playing well and two solid vets, both of whom have Super Bowl rings, calling signals, this year’s Super Bowl may come down to one of two plays. The field goal specials are both very accurate. Could it be a final kick that wins it? I think Fitzgerald will be the difference-maker. He’s a one-of-a-kind weapon and only one team on the field has him.