View Full Version : One-dimensional Cardinals can't beat Steelers D

01-30-2009, 06:02 PM

One-dimensional Cardinals can't beat Steelers D
January 29, 2009

Greg Cosell

TAMPA, Fla. -- After careful deliberation and hours and hours of film study the past 10 days, I have come to this conclusion about Super Bowl 43: Steelers 27, Cardinals 20.

NFL games are about personnel packages and matchups, and the Cardinals do not have enough offensive dimensions to break down the Steelers' defense consistently. The Cardinals are, at their core, a passing team. It's a dynamic dimension, but it is still a singular component. They have run the ball better in the playoffs, but this offense is driven by Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.

The Steelers' defense is the best unit on the field, and in all of the NFL for that matter. It's a base 3-4 front with two excellent pass-rush linebackers in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

The Steelers also excel with their nickel and/or dime personnel on the field. That's when they attack the quarterback with a wide array of alignments, blitzes and coverage schemes. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau makes it difficult before the snap for the offensive line and the quarterback to identify those who will rush and those who will drop into coverage.

One of the continuing problems I see on film is that offenses get overly focused on locating and accounting for Harrison. LeBeau understands this and then burdens the offensive line with a lot of movement before the snap, particularly after the pass protection gets set. That creates confusion in many instances, particularly when Harrison and Woodley line up on the same side. Often, another rusher, such as linebacker James Farrior, is not accounted for and has a free path to the quarterback.

The Cardinals must block the formation/alignment, not the player. They must not become mesmerized by Harrison. If the Cardinals feel he is such a concern, they should follow the Colts' approach when they won at Pittsburgh in November. On 40 of Peyton Manning's 42 pass drops, Indianapolis utilized either a six- or seven-man protection scheme. That minimized the Steelers' pressure concepts.

Another option is liberal use of quick counts. Do not allow the Steelers to dictate the play with their movement. The Cardinals must force the Pittsburgh defenders to get set immediately and react to the offense. That will help slow the pass rush.

Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley must decide what they want to do from a personnel standpoint. Do they stay with base personnel on first down (and all normal down-and-distance situations) with only two wide receivers and minimize the Steelers' pressure frequency? Or do they go three-, four- and five-receiver sets, understanding that they might well see more blitzes, but at the same time looking to create favorable matchups with Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston?

Whisenhunt has the AFC championship game as a template. I am not suggesting that Joe Flacco is Warner, or the Ravens' passing game remotely compares to the Cardinals' attack, but it's a matter of tactics. Against Baltimore's base personnel, the Steelers' approach was straightforward: Defend the run with seven in the box, play a high-percentage of two-deep coverages with either Troy Palamalu or Ryan Clark over the top of the wide receivers and force Flacco to throw in the middle of the field, where there are more bodies and the picture isn't as clear for the quarterback.

There's no question the Steelers will game plan to stop the Cardinals' running game with seven defenders. So the Cardinals' base package will limit what they can do in the passing game. It will allow them to have an extra body to block Harrison and perhaps Woodley, but they will not get the individual matchups they need on the perimeter.

If the Cardinals throw out of two-receiver set, the Steelers will play a high percentage of two-deep schemes. That aligns a safety over the top of Fitzgerald and allows cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden to play in press position and prevent Fitzgerald from getting a free release off the snap.

That's critical: The Steelers must not allow Fitzgerald a free release into his routes.

But now the chess match comes into play. I believe Whisenhunt and Haley must shift and motion Fitzgerald and force the Steelers to adjust quickly, on the move in a matter of seconds. Fitzgerald has been targeted 34 times (with 23 catches) in the three playoff wins, and only four times did the Cardinals move him before the snap, all against Carolina. That must happen with frequency in Super Bowl 43. Fitzgerald cannot be a stationary player.

The Cardinals should use three-, four- and five-receiver sets and be proactive. Most likely, that will invite LeBeau to blitz but not necessarily. Arizona left tackle Mike Gandy and right tackle Levi Brown have struggled at times in pass protection. With the offense spread, the likelihood of one-on-one matchups vs. Harrison and Woodley increases, and that favors the Steelers.

In addition, the fewer pass rushers needed, the less compromised the coverage becomes. Warner's reads might not be so quickly defined, and the passing windows will certainly be tighter. And LeBeau certainly wants Warner, a terrific timing and rhythm passer, to have to hesitate for a moment in the pocket. The longer Warner holds the ball, the better it is for the Steelers' defense.

The Cardinals' best chance to win Sunday is to put the game in Warner's hands.

He has great vision and awareness and remarkable accuracy, and the game never appears to be too fast for him. He is outstanding at recognizing blitzers before the snap and then delivering quickly to an open area. That's what he did time and again in the NFC championship game vs. the Eagles, and that rendered the blitz not only ineffective, but irrelevant and counterproductive.

That will not happen in Super Bowl 43. Warner will make some plays, but it won't be enough. A one-dimensional offense will not beat the Steelers' defense.

Greg Cosell of NFL Films analyzes coaching tape and is executive producer of State Farm NFL Matchup. He is a frequent contributor to Sporting News.

01-30-2009, 07:21 PM
I agree but come from another perspective.

If statistics dictate outcomes, this is the case that we will win, but fairly narrowly.

Here’s how our D did against the “top” offenses we played this year. We held them to an average of 86% of their average yardage, 69% of their average rush yardage, and 96% of their average pass yardage. And we “handled” some of the better QBs, RBs, and receivers. We didn’t yield a 300 yard game, a 100 yard rusher, or any breakaway performances by a receiver.

Opponent What we yielded
Off rank Total Rush Pass Points Score Total Rush Pass
Houston 3rd 382.1 115.4 266.7 22.9 W 38-17 234 58 159
Iggles 9th 350.5 106.1 244.4 26 L 15-6 260 65 195
Gints 7th 355.9 157.4 198.6 26.7 L 21-14 282 83 199
Indy 15th 335.5 79.6 255.9 23.6 L 24-20 290 62 228
Bolts 11th 349 107.9 241.1 27.4 W 11-10 213 66 147
Bolts - Playoffs W 35-24 290 15 275
Cheaters 5th 365.5 142.2 223.1 25.6 W 33-10 267 122 145
Cowfelons 13th 344.5 107.7 236.8 22.6 W 20-13 289 95 194

Averages 310.4 102 208.3 21.9 265.6 71 193
% Attainment 0.856 0.6934 0.9252

Projecting those percentages on Arizona, they have a 300+ yard day against us, but not a overwhelming performance.

Arizona 4th 365.8 73.6 292.1 26.7
Projected 313.1 51.032 270.26

While Arizona came up big in the playoffs, I think LeBeau will scheme to keep their offense in line.

They played the #24, 18 and 3 defenses in the playoffs. The Iggles game is instructive where they allowed 369 yards total with 102 rushing and 267 passing, but in line with Arizona’s averages.

On the other side of the ball, statistically it seems to be a push.

Steelers O 22nd 311.9 105.6 206.3 21.7
Arizona D 19th 331.5 110.3 221.7 26.6

But this stat may tell the story on Sunday. We held those “top” offenses to 77% of their scoring averages. Project that on Arizona and they score 20 against us. Arizona allowed 26.6 points per game. We averaged 21.7. Project those numbers to Sunday and we score 27.

So, if this analysis means anything, we win 27-20.

But that’s why they play the game.:wink02:

01-30-2009, 07:33 PM
Nice read!

01-30-2009, 09:54 PM
Great read Mesa and thanks for posting. Thanks for sharing those very interesting numbers Vincent. It's simple for me, we heard most of the season on how are the Steelers going to stop the high powered offenses. Just spread out the Steelers defense and they can't stop it. I don't care what the Cardinals do offensively but they better be ready to be punched in the face and for the record we don't have to blitz when you have great OLBs in Harrison and Woodley.