January 30th, 2009

An Insider’s View At The Super Bowl Matchup

By Robert Ferringo

Well, for the last two weeks everyone has become an expert on the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. Now, I have my own impressions and have done my own research on these teams and I can assure you that neither Michael Irvin, nor Emmit Smith, nor Stuart Scott have had anything to do with my conclusions.

But as the Big Game approaches I thought it would be interesting to go to the guys who have followed these teams every single step of the way; from last season, through the draft, through training camp, and through every snap and every score of the entire season. That would be the bloggers that have covered these teams through it all.

Here’s the rundown:

Dave Cherry, Steelers Depot

Scott Allen, Raising Zona

Eli Wahlstrom, Voice of the Cardinals

Now, the benefit of going to this group is that you’re getting insight from guys that have watched a hell of a lot more of these teams than you have. The draw back is that whatever their attempts to be objective would be, they have still very clearly chosen a side and they are fans of one side or another.

Anyway, I thought it was a worthy exercise so here you go, and there is much more after the jump:

1. What is something that you think that the casual bettor or casual football fan doesn¹t realize about your team? What is something that people may not have considered when trying to decide to bet on or against the Steelers/Cardinals this week?

Eli - Something the casual better may not know or have considered about this game is that the two teams met last year. The Steelers are virtually the same team and the Cardinals were playing both Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner at QB during that game. Anquan Boldin was out with an injury, which made it a lot easier on the Steeler defense. But the Cardinals were still able to beat the Steelers 21-14. I think that’s something important to consider when making a pick for this game.

Steve - That the Cardinals are better than the 7-point spread.  They may not win, although that is my prediction, but they will cover.  The Cardinals are not only strong on offense, but have a surprising defense that if you fail to respect it, it will bite you.  Consider Neil Rackers.  His has a strong leg, can kick it beyond 50 and the defense can score points.  The defense has already put up a safety and returned an interception for a touchdown.  Realize that there is more to the Cards than just the offense and that is what makes the Cards a good bet to at least cover the spread.

Dave - The Steelers have great depth, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Also, The Steelers have 20 players on their roster with Super Bowl game experience versus the Cardinals with just 5 players.

2. We all know that the Steelers have the No. 1 defense in the NFL. But do you think that they will hold Arizona under 20 points? Arizona’s defense has played well enough, but they have definitely been vulnerable this postseason. Matt Ryan looked like Joe Montana for all but the first and last 8 minutes, the Panthers moved the ball until Jake imploded, and Philly missed numerous big-play chances. What¹s up with Arizona’s defense and what are their prospects in this game?

Eli – The Cardinals have scored 20 points or more in 16 of their 19 games this season. One of the games was in the snow in New England. The other was after they clinched a playoff birth and didn’t have their best effort. They’ve scored 30+ the last 4 games and two of those were against top defenses. With a strong offense and a defense that has the potential to allow a lot of points this could turn into a track meet. I expect Arizona to score 20+ points, win or lose. The defense for Arizona is very inconsistent. They force turnovers but also give up a lot of big plays. Last year they sacked Big Ben 4 times and intercepted him twice. I think we could see a similar thing happen on Sunday, the Steelers O-line has only gotten worse from what I’ve seen and the Cardinals D is getting better every game.

Steve - No.  The Cardinals will score20more than 20.  Their offense is too good.  They are better than San Diego and San Diego still managed 24 on them in their house.  Arizona’s defense is better than you describe.  The Eagles moved the ball really for only a short time, racking up a lot of yards during the third quarter.  The Panthers really only moved the ball for the first few minutes of the game and for all intent and purpose after that, they were done.  Cards defense is underrated.

Dave -
I would say it will be right their on the cusp. As long as the Steeler offense or special teams do not give the Cardinals a short field via turnover or big return, then I definitely can see them being held under 20 points.

3. How much of a factor do you think Whisenhunt and Grimm¹s knowledge of Pittsburgh players and schemes will be? It was huge last year when they met in Phoenix. Why should or shouldn¹t we expect this situation to play out like the Gruden vs. Oakland Super Bowl?

Eli - I think only Whisenhunt and Grimm know how much they can gain from understanding the Steelers personnel. Last year when they met it might have helped a little bit because the Cardinals had a season high in sacks against Pittsburgh last season. Maybe Grimm knowing the offensive linemen gave the Cardinals D-line a few tips. The players still have to play the game so I don’t think it will matter much if at all.

Steve - Not much of a factor.  Sure they know individual players tendencies, however the overall scheme is different from when they were there.  Even if it was the same, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t allow the Cards to see anything Whisenhunt might possibly know about.  It’s been two years since they left and it will not be a factor.

Dave - I really do not see it as a factor. Hines Ward sat out the 2007 game with an injury and the Steelers lost safety Troy Polamalu with an abdominal strain and nose tackle Casey Hampton with a hamstring injury during that game. Also Ben Roethlisberger threw a bad interception deep in Cardinal territory and the Steelers special teams gave up a long punt return for a touchdown. I would hardly use the 2007 game as a measuring stick.

4. How much of a factor do you think Pittsburgh¹s Super Bowl experience edge is right now? Could that actually make them a little complacent against a hungry Arizona team?

Eli - After seeing the players on both sides I think they’re both just as hungry for a ring. Both teams will come out with a lot of energy, but it’s the team that executes the best that will win. Lately the Cardinals have been clicking, but experience in this situation always helps. The Steelers will probably be able to control their nerves a little better in the beginning of the game. I really don’t see them getting complacent though.

Steve - It makes a little bit of a difference.  However Kurt Warner and Ken Whisenhunt both have the Super Bowl experience and that experience is t old to the Cardinals players. The team has proven it will listen to Warner and Whiz. Complacent is the last thing I expect Pittsburgh to be and no one else should expect it either.

Dave - I do think a Super Bowl experienced team does have an edge and I do not see the Steelers being complacent at all. They seem a little looser than the Cardinals do early in the media week.

5. Do you think that the two weeks off helped or hurt Arizona? They had such a good mojo going, do you think they lost some momentum?

Eli - I think it’s an equal advantage and disadvantage for both teams. The Cardinals and Steelers both had key players injured and needed the rest. Both teams were playing well so I don’t think either team has an advantage. I do know the Cardinals were awful on short weeks and good on longer ones this season.

Steve - It helped.  Sure you’d like to play right away again.  However the extra week helped any possible distractions, such as the sideline Anquan Boldin blowup against Philadelphia in the 4th quarter.  It allowed injured players such as Travis LaBoy and J.J. Arrington a chance to heal and be given a chance to play on Sunday in Tampa.  The Cardinals still have all the momentum in the world.  I don’t think they will lose any with the extra layoff.

Dave - Controversial cover with shaky officiating are your words. Other than the spot of the Ben Roethlisberger touchdown plunge, which really has not been proven conclusive either way, the game was officiated rather well in my opinion. The Steelers flat-footedness stemmed from the play of a young inexperienced quarterback in Roethlisberger. I really think the Gambling Gods are over that game. They have short memories. The Cardinals, in my opinion, are a better overall unit then the Seahawks of that year.

6. Give us something to watch for. Some unheralded player or some quirk in the offensive/defensive scheme for your team.

Eli - I laugh when I read this question because I think the unheralded player is Anquan Boldin. Hard to say a Pro Bowler is unheralded but people aren’t giving him the attention he deserves.  I’d definitely put some money on him being the Super Bowl MVP if you think the Cardinals are going to win. Boldin has been a warrior and an animal his whole career but never gotten to show it on national TV. He’s been slightly injured this postseason and had that argument with his OC so it’s been Larry Fitzgerald that’s getting all the press. Boldin is angry and hungry right now. He wants to show the World who he is and how great he can be. He’s playing for a new contract as well which never hurts. Anquan will have single coverage on a number 2 cornerback. The safeties are going to cheat over towards Larry and that could end up being a big mistake leaving Anquan one on one with a DB. Boldin also likes to get the ball underneath when teams blitz so I expect lots of short passes to Anquan, which will help his stats. I’m very confident Boldin will have the biggest game of any player on the field with the exception of Kurt Warner who is throwing him the ball. The media and Steelers may be forgetting about Anquan right now, but my guess is no one will forget him after this game.

Steve -
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  Watch him, because if Rothliesberger doesn’t, he will be taking it back for a pick six, maybe more than once.

Dave - Steelers wide receiver, Nate Washington, could be a difference maker for the Steelers offense and on the defensive side, I could see cornerback William Gay making some huge contributions in nickel packages.

7. Tell me why your team WON¹T WIN the Super Bowl and why Pittsburgh will. Explain how ­ realistically ­ the Steelers could take this.

Eli -
The Cardinals have been blown out a few times this season. In all of those games the common theme was Warner wasn’t protected well, and the defense couldn’t stop the deep ball. The Cardinals allowed 17 TD passes and had only 1 INT in their 4 blow out losses. They made Tavaris Jackson look like Tom Brady. Rod Hood is a real good CB when the ball is in front of him. But when a receiver goes deep on him he WILL NOT turn his head to look for the ball and very often gets beat. Santonio Holmes caught 2 TD passes for 128 yards on the Cardinals last year just by running as fast as he can and beating the slower Cardinals DB’s. Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie will be on him this year but they’re still susceptible to the deep ball. As a Cardinals fan, Holmes is my biggest fear when the Steelers are on offense. Saying that I think Heath Miller is going to have a huge game, Arizona gives up a lot of short passes to the tight ends because they fear giving up the deep ball. On defense I think it’s very simple for the Steelers. Get pressure on Kurt Warner and you win the game. If Pittsburgh can get pressure up the middle and cause Kurt to move the game will be over in the first half.

Steve - Arizona won’t win the Super Bowl if they don’t start strong, commit turnovers, and don’t keep their r heads in the game.  A couple of calls against them or a couple of mistakes could start the ball rolling in the wrong direction.  Steelers will win if they are able to maintain ball control, a balanced attack, and they themselves limit turnovers.  If they commit turnovers, the Arizona defense has proven it will make you pay.

Dave - The Cardinals can win by shutting down the Steelers running game with only a seven man front and pressuring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into forcing some passes into double coverage that could be picked off. Regardless the Cardinals have to focus more on the Steelers passing game without letting Willie Parker run outside. Also the Cardinals offense will need to spread the Steelers defense out with 3 receiver sets and get the ball to receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston when their main threat Larry Fitzgerald is doubled. They will need run successful early in an attempt to get strong safety Troy Polamalu to play run first.
8. Right now the spread is Pittsburgh -7 and the total is at 46.5. What is your prediction: which team covers the spread (not wins, but covers) and how does the total go (over or under)? Feel free to make a final score prediction if you¹d like!

Eli - I never know which Cardinals team is going to show up. But I do feel confident that points will be scored on both sides. The Cardinals cover and take the over on the points. My guess Arizona wins 27-24.

Steve - Arizona 29, Pittsburgh 23

Posted at 8:00 am | Comments (0)

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