Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cardinals: What are the Chances...?

The general consensus seems to be that the Steelers are the better team and should win the Super Bowl. But the fact that the Cardinals' coaching staff features a half-dozen ex-Pittsburgh coaches makes us extremely nervous, as it gives Arizona a huge advantage in terms of game planning. Recall that as offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Whisenhunt practiced against Dick LeBeau's defense for years, and Whisenhunt & Co. coached many of the players on Pittsburgh's roster. First-hand experience with tendencies and weaknesses makes it a good bet that Arizona will have a strong game plan, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Also, recall that the Cardinals beat the Steelers early last season, a game we predicted the Steelers would lose, largely due to Arizona's coaching advantage. Go back and re-visit our preview of that game [second post from the top], as much of it is still relevant to today's contest. Meanwhile, no one should forget how Tampa Bay routed Oakland 48-21 in the 2003 Super Bowl, with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden using his firsthand knowledge of Rich Gannon and Oakland's offense to create a gameplan that the Raiders had no answer for. Gannon threw five interceptions that day, three of which were returned for touchdowns.

Having said all that, the key to today's Super Bowl figures to be Pittsburgh's pass rush. If the Steelers generate consistent pressure on Kurt Warner he's likely to make costly mistakes; if they don't, the Cardinals will make a lot of big plays in the passing game and score a lot of points, more points than the Steelers' offense is capable of generating. And while Ben Roethlisberger wants to put on a better performance than he did in his first Super Bowl, let's hope he doesn't try to do too much. Certainly, Pittsburgh can't afford many turnovers, as the Cardinals' quick strike passing game will likely convert those turnovers into touchdowns.

Finally, let's hope the Steelers' defense doesn't fall victim to any of Whisenhunt's trick plays, like the one he used to generate a touchdown for the Steelers against the Seahawks in the 2005 Super Bowl. Look for one or two of those gadget plays; most likely Whisenhunt will call them when the Cards have the ball between the forty-yard-lines.

On the plus side for the Steelers, the Cardinals don't really have the kind of pass rushers and defenders that figure to abuse and confuse the Steelers' offensive line, which remains Pittsburgh's greatest weakness. That bodes well for Pittsburgh's offense. And this season the Cardinals have demonstrated a propensity to "melt down" for large portions of games, so it wouldn't be a shock if Arizona loses its collective composure for an entire quarter or two.

The bottom line is that we feel the Steelers will somehow find a way to win, but it wouldn't be in the least bit surprising to us if they didn't. Probably the scariest statistic we've seen all week is that Warner has an 8-2 record in the post-season (Roethlisberger is 7-2 to date). We give the Steelers a 52 percent chance of winning.

This season The Steelyard has predicted 12 of 18 games correctly, and has a record of 38-13 all-time.



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