View Full Version : Past might be prologue for Super Bowl XLIII

01-24-2009, 08:43 AM
Past might be prologue for Super Bowl XLIII
Jan. 23, 2009
By Clark Judge
CBSSports.com Senior Writer

By now you should know that this is not the first time Arizona and Pittsburgh met since Bill Cowher left and the Steelers shook up their coaching staff. It is the second, with ex-Steelers' offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt getting the best of his former team last season.

Final score: Arizona 21, Pittsburgh 14.

I know that was another year with other players, but you can gain clues into what Super Bowl XLIII might offer by studying the videotape. So I asked a scout I trust to do it. Here's what he told me:

1. Kurt Warner was effective with quick throws to his wide receivers.

Warner did not start this game. Matt Leinart did. But Leinart left in the second quarter, returned in the fourth, then left again. The Steelers attacked Leinart with a variety of looks but played it safer with Warner, presumably out of respect for his quick release and accuracy.

"When Warner was in there," said our scout, "it was a much more wide-open attack. It almost looked like the old run-and-shoot -- a lot of three-and-four-wide sets, with Warner getting the ball out quickly, sometimes off three-step drops. When Leinart was in there, it was a more conservative approach, with a lot of waggles and draws.

"With Warner, the Cards tried a lot of shotgun and sometimes had a moving pocket with him, and the Steelers played him more straight up than they did Leinart. You also saw a lot of slants and plays to the middle of the field when he was in there."

The Steelers' pass rush attacked the middle of the Cardinals' line, which had a different center and right tackle than now. The Steelers create pressure with their outside linebackers, but on this afternoon defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau tried to confuse his opponent with twist blitzes that punctured the inside of the Cardinals' line.

The idea was to unnerve Warner, but it didn't work. In essence, he was quicker with his throws than the Steelers were with their pass rush. Still, Pittsburgh held the Cardinals scoreless in the first half -- the third time in the Steelers' first four games that happened.

Warner wound up 14 for 21 for 132 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one sack and one fumble. More important, he won.

2. Pittsburgh's cornerbacks tried to be physical.

One way to combat a quick passing attack is to defend receivers at the line of scrimmage, rough them up as they get off the snap and hope to disrupt the timing between them and the quarterback.

Great, except that is not how the Steelers played. Instead they were more aggressive in their coverage, challenging their opponents as they worked their way downfield.

"This was not someone beating up receivers at the line," said our expert. "It was more contesting them for the football; fighting them down the field; trying to make them work to get the football.

"There was not a lot of standing at the line of scrimmage, with hand-to-hand combat. The coverage was tight -- actually, on both sides it was tight -- with the Steelers making Arizona's receivers work in their routes and forcing them to go to the football.

"Pittsburgh was really physical and tried to bang them around. They played some 'man' and some 'zone,', but they played more 'man' when Leinart was in the game because they weren't worried as much about the pass as when Warner was in there."

So how did the strategy work? Not bad. All-world receiver Larry Fitzgerald did have 10 catches, but he didn't really hurt the Steelers. He averaged 12 yards a catch, and that includes one reception that went for 38 yards, and he didn't score.

But he operated alone. Anquan Boldin didn't play. Now, he will. Uh-oh.

3. Both strong safeties concentrated on stopping the run.

I guess there's no surprise there. The Steelers were more concerned with running back Edgerrin James hurting them than Leinart, so they had Troy Polamalu line up as a fourth linebacker, a position he plays frequently.

Arizona did the same thing with Adrian Wilson, with the Cardinals determined to take the ball out of Willie Parker's hands and force Ben Roethlisberger to beat them on third-and-longs.

"When Leinart was in there, the Steelers weren't worried about the pass," said our scout. "He wasn't going to beat them. So they would walk Polamalu down and move him in and out. When Warner was in there, the strategy changed -- with Polamalu backed up more to play coverage.

"Arizona did pretty much the same thing with Wilson. He walked up in there on almost every snap. Then, once Roethlisberger retreated to throw he would back up and the defense would be more of a Cover 2 or a Cover 3. Early in the game, he committed to the run -- essentially, playing the guy in the box to stop Willie Parker -- and he was successful."

Early. Late. It didn't matter. Everyone locked down Parker. He wound up with 37 yards in 19 carries, an average of 1.9 yards per try. James was more successful, with 77 yards in 21 attempts -- and the game-clinching touchdown.

4. The Steelers missed big plays.

Steve Breaston busted loose on a 73-yard TD. (Getty Images)
Steve Breaston busted loose on a 73-yard TD. (Getty Images)
The game turned on Steve Breaston's 73-yard punt return for a touchdown, but it should've featured more big plays by the Steelers. Once, Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes on a third-and-26 call and hit him in stride for a 43-yard touchdown.

That was in the first quarter, and that was it. It would be another eight series before the Steelers scored again, and by then they trailed by 14.

Arizona seemed to have them figured out, with the Cards surrendering 38 net yards and five first downs on the seven series in between. And that is where this game turned: The Arizona defense, not its offense, hung the season's first loss on the Steelers.

"The Steelers were running vertical routes," our scout says, "and if they would've connected they would've had huge plays. On the Holmes touchdown, Roethlisberger got good protection and laid the ball in there perfectly.

"But they missed two other passes that could've been touchdowns -- including Nate Washington having a bad drop on what should have been a huge play. Just a guess here, but it didn't look to me as if they respected the speed of (cornerback) Rod Hood. They kept going there, and that might be an area you should watch in the Super Bowl."

Here's another: Team discipline. There were more dropped flags than dropped balls, with the Steelers called for 11 penalties. It was their highest total of the year.

5. The Cards got to Roethlisberger and forced critical mistakes.

The bottom line for Big Ben wasn't good: Two interceptions, two fumbles and four sacks. It was about as bad as he gets, and there is a ready explanation: The offensive line leaked like the pipes in our apartment building, with the four sacks tying the team's total over its first three starts.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, in particular, gave the Steelers trouble. He was everywhere, a physical, active force who created havoc inside, and the envelope, please: Six tackles, two-and-a-half sacks and one forced fumble.

The Steelers didn't have an answer, but relax Pittsburgh fans: While pass protection is still an issue, the offensive line has changed. In fact, four of the five starters for this game are no longer in the lineup. Only right tackle Willie Colon remains from last year's game.

"The Steelers had problems with their protection," said our scout, "with the Cardinals pulling delay blitzes where they drop back, then take off inside with the snap of the ball. They sold it well and seemed to have the Steelers' line confused.

"Dockett was particularly disruptive and brought the complete game: He played with power, he played with quickness and he was strong at the point of attack. The only thing that saved Roethlisberger was his escapability. They got to him four times, but it could have been eight.

"Pittsburgh was just off. A couple of times there were problems with the quarterback/running back exchange, and often the Cards just seemed to be in the right defense, particularly on screen passes. Oh, and 'What about Hines Ward,' you say? Don't ask. He didn't play."

The Steelers had only themselves to blame. With the score tied 7-7 late in the third quarter, linebacker James Harrison recovered a fumble at the Arizona 4. Two runs by Parker netted two yards, then Roethlisberger's pass for tight end Heath Miller was intercepted by Wilson.

Say goodnight, folks.

01-24-2009, 01:47 PM
"The Steelers were running vertical routes," our scout says, "and if they would've connected they would've had huge plays. On the Holmes touchdown, Roethlisberger got good protection and laid the ball in there perfectly.

The problem now is, although they still run the vertical routes, they've also shortened them too. That in turn means that Ben is hitting the underneath/release guy. So it's not the same, how the heck can these media fools continue to look at a game that was played over a year ago?

01-24-2009, 01:52 PM
I don't understand why a game played two years ago - with different personnel all over the place on both sides - can be used as a factor in this game.

01-24-2009, 02:13 PM
Im getting sick of all these Cards know how to beat the Steelers articles. Both teams are differant from that game in September of 07.

01-24-2009, 02:38 PM
Im getting sick of all these Cards know how to beat the Steelers articles. Both teams are differant from that game in September of 07.

As am I, I am also getting sick of people saying the Cards offense is to good to be stopped. I can't wait for the game so these idiots can be shut up.

01-24-2009, 02:48 PM
Who the hell is Clark Judge??? I think that pretty much takes care of it right there. Maybe if the guy actually wrote legitimate pieces he'd be more of a someone.

"Say goodnight, folks?" How about, nice try Clark.

01-24-2009, 02:50 PM
I don't understand why a game played two years ago - with different personnel all over the place on both sides - can be used as a factor in this game.

It can't. Ignore it.