View Full Version : MIKE MULLIGAN says Cards' ability to keep 'Blitzburgh D' off Warner will be No. 1 key

01-19-2009, 08:24 AM
Chicago Sun-Times
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MIKE MULLIGAN says Cards' ability to keep 'Blitzburgh D' off Warner will be No. 1 key

January 19, 2009

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Bears fans might remember Arizona Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm best as the runner-up to Lovie Smith in the team's 2004 coaching search. Grimm was the one who butchered the team owners' surname when he met with the media shortly after his interview, thanking the ''McClaskey'' family, describing himself as a meat-and-potatoes guy and looking as capable of a walk-on role on ''The Sopranos'' as future NFL head coaching material.

But that's exactly what Grimm is, a future NFL head coach. In fact, some insist he held that position with the Pittsburgh Steelers for an hour or two before Mike Tomlin was hired instead. Legend has it that the Steelers informed Grimm that he would be the man to replace Bill Cowher before owner Dan Rooney got a call from the NFL offices and was persuaded that the so-called Rooney Rule -- which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching and general manager job -- wouldn't have any teeth if Rooney didn't hire a minority himself.

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Grimm could have been on Tomlin's staff but opted to follow former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to Arizona. That story will be sure to resurface the next couple of weeks now that the Cardinals and Steelers will square off in Super Bowl XLIII.

In addition to the reunion of old friends and rivals, the game should be pretty interesting, too. Presumably, Whisenhunt and Grimm will have a pretty good idea of what longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will have in store for them when his ''Blitzburgh'' defense gears up to stop the high-flying Arizona offense. But while having seen it all before and understanding what the Steelers are doing should be an advantage, Grimm -- a celebrated member of the old ''Hogs'' offensive line in Washington -- won't be lining up himself.

The Cardinals' ability to protect quarterback Kurt Warner, as much as Pittsburgh's ability to attack him, will be the key to deciding the championship. The Steelers had the league's top-ranked defense, and the Cardinals had the No. 4 offense, so it will be strength against strength.

The turnover battle will be crucial. Arizona has a plus-9 turnover differential in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh sealed its victory over Baltimore on Sunday with three late takeaways, including safety Troy Polamalu's interception-return touchdown.

Both quarterbacks have won Super Bowls previously. Warner did it with the Rams nearly a decade ago, and Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a title in Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

The Seattle Seahawks practiced that week with a strong safety wearing a red jersey so everyone on the field would be aware of Polamalu on every play. He was determined to be the key to all the Steelers' coverages and blitzes and remains so to this day. Polamalu now has two weeks to help his calf injury heal. Free safety Ryan Clark also will have time to recover after coming out of Sunday's game following a huge hit on Willis McGahee that forced a fumble. McGahee was carted off the field.

Safety play is critical against the Cardinals because that's the last line of defense against Larry Fitzgerald, who has emerged as one of the most dominant receivers in any postseason. Fitzgerald already has set a league record with 419 receiving yards, and he needs one touchdown to tie Jerry Rice's record six during the 1988 playoffs and four receptions to tie New England's Wes Welker and Carolina's Steve Smith.

It's essential to keep Fitzgerald from getting behind a defense, but that's not enough. He demands a double team on every play to prevent big plays. The Cardinals are essentially a big-play offense. They run the ball to find balance but rely on the long passing game to score their points.

It was interesting to see the Cardinals call a gimmick play Sunday with Warner pitching right and taking a throwback before hitting Fitzgerald for a 62-yard touchdown. Fitzgerald was deep in the middle of the field and covered by a safety, who slipped and fell. That gave him time to collect and come back for an underthrown pass before scoring.

Plays like that used to be a staple of the Pittsburgh offense. In fact, Hines Ward was the MVP of Super Bowl XL after catching five passes for 123 yards, including one thrown by fellow wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. Ward left the game Sunday with a leg injury.

He's another guy who needs to be at full strength on Feb. 1.

Mike Mulligan's early pick: Steelers 26, Cardinals 21.

01-19-2009, 09:06 AM
I agree.

In the NFC Championship game the reason the Eagles came back in the second half was because they blitzed Kurt pretty much every play..getting pressure on him and making him throw terrible passes. Their defense is what got them back in that game.

01-19-2009, 10:14 AM
I have all the faith in the world that LeBeau will have something special for Warner and company. And of course I am already sick of hearing about how Whiz knows the Steelers inside and out. Good luck with that Whiz.

01-19-2009, 10:22 AM
Sure Wiz and Grimm know the Steelers players and their strengths and weaknesses, but this isn't Cowher's team anymore - it's MIKE TOMLIN's TEAM. Do these sports jocks really believe Arians and Lebeau aren't going to be working hard in their laboratories concocting new game plans and schemes? :doh: We know up front that we're most likely going to see a few trick plays - Wiz is infamous for them - but I'm sure Lebeau and the D will be closely studying game film like white on rice.

This Steelers D is unlike any other D we've had since the 70's and they're going to be totally stoked when they come on that field - I have no doubt about it. I hope Warner is wearing an extra Depend on February 1st. :chuckle:

01-19-2009, 10:52 AM
I think this is exactly right. We will be able to core on their D, and, with the exception of Mitch Berger, we are better on ST's, so it will all come down to their OL and protection. Warner can get rattled and make bad throws, and he may be the least mobile QB in the league.

I like LeBeau vs. their offensive package. Edge isn't going anywhere, and they really are pretty one dimensional. We get consistent pressure and we'll win handily.

And we'll get consistent pressure.

01-19-2009, 12:03 PM
Sorry, but there is no way Edge is running against us. The only way I could see that happening is if they spread us out and try running. I am still not concerned because LeBeau will be cooking up something nice for their offense. Also, let's not forget that Whiz and company need to prepare just as hard for us.