Super Bowl XLIII: Cards Face Steel Curtain

A new chapter in the National Football League’s history will be written this Sunday when Super Bowl XLIII kicks off in Tampa Bay. This year’s title game features the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals and the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. One New Englander muttered to me that he thought the title for this article should be “Super Bowl XLIII: Does Anyone Care?” Indeed, with the Patriots missing the playoffs this year, many local fans have ignored the past few weeks of playoff matchups. However, I don’t think fans should sleep on this game; it’s going to be very interesting to watch a team from Glendale playing with nothing to lose against an experienced squad out of Pittsburgh featuring a suffocating defense. The Arizona Cardinals are this postseason’s underdog, the team that came out of nowhere to make an improbable run to the Super Bowl. Posting a mediocre 9-7 regular-season record, the Cardinals won the hapless NFC West division and snuck into the playoffs. But they methodically dismantled three of the NFC’s best teams in the following three weeks: the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Leading the team was veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, who as of last August was still fighting for the starting spot with former USC quarterback Matt Leinart. Warner played brilliantly, completing 61 of 92 passes for 770 yards and eight touchdowns in the three playoff games. His favorite target was wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who caught 23 passes for a mind-boggling 423 yards and five touchdowns. The running game was led by the two-pronged attack of little-known Tim Hightower and veteran Edgerrin James. The Cardinals’ streaking offense will look to continue its impressive run this Sunday, but the team will face its toughest match yet in the Steelers. The Steelers, who have 20 players that were with the team for its Super Bowl championship in 2006, are deep, experienced and competent. Their infamous “Steel Curtain” defense has given up just 14 points per game during this postseason. Linebacker James Farrior, safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor anchor the defense. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been having a solid postseason, completing 33 passes for 436 yards. He is flanked by two of the NFL’s best wide receivers in speedster Santonio Holmes and the methodically precise Hines Ward. The Steelers have plenty of experience, but the Cardinals will come at them with youth, tenacity and fearlessness. I look for the Steelers’ D to try to double-team Larry Fitzgerald. They don’t want to get burned by Fitzgerald’s speed and athleticism, and the simple fact is that he’s having a stellar postseason. So they’ll try to make other, little-known players step up and make game-changing plays. I don’t think the Pittsburgh defense will have a problem containing Hightower and James; they have big, physical linemen, and neither Hightower nor James is a game-breaker. I also think they’ll blitz Kurt Warner constantly. ?This will force the aging quarterback to throw on the run, something he doesn’t excel at. The Cardinals will, of course, do anything they can to get the ball to Fitzgerald, and I think they might try some no-huddle offense to tire the Steelers’ defense. At the end, I think the Steelers’ wide receivers will outshine Fitzgerald, and Pittsburgh’s defense will lock down Warner and the Cardinals’ running game. All in all, an exciting superbowl that will be close throughout: Steelers 27, Cardinals 17.