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mesaSteeler
01-30-2009, 07:38 PM
http://www.profootballweekly.com/PFW/Features/Super+Bowl/2008/fitzgerald013009.htm

Stopping Fitzgerald

The task might be difficult, impossible even, but the Steelers know they can’t let Larry Fitzgerald beat them on Sunday

By Eric Edholm
Jan. 30, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. — The Steelers will attempt to do what few have done, especially of late: stop Larry Fitzgerald.

Easier said than done, of course. Fitzgerald is on a rare tear, catching 23 passes for 419 yards with five TDs in three playoff games. Since the start of the regular season, only three teams have held him both under 100 yards receiving and out of the endzone; those clubs, interestingly, were the Rams, Giants and Vikings.

So how do the Steelers achieve this nearly impossible task?

It’s not as simple as double-teaming Fitzgerald. He beat that coverage a number of times for big plays against the Falcons and Panthers in the playoffs. It’s not as easy as playing two-deep zones; Fitzgerald routinely has turned short slants into long gains all season, especially in the playoffs. And simply saying the Steelers will be physical with him at the line isn’t a solution in and of itself. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Fitzgerald is a tough guy to budge at the point of attack, even for a physical cornerback like Ike Taylor.

“I’ve seen a variety of different defenses [from the Steelers] during the playoffs,” Fitzgerald said. “[Steelers defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau, he is who he is. … So, I don’t think he is going to change what he is doing too much. I am not the first good receiver the Steelers have faced, and I won’t be the last.

“So I think they are going to do what got them here. They play solid, good defense against everybody they have played against and I think they will do the same against us. It is going to come down to execution. Are we going to be able to execute our offense regardless of what they are going to throw at us?”

Good question. Chances are, they’ll have a little of everything. Taylor is expected to be in front of Fitzgerald for a lot of the game — he is the right cornerback, and Fitzgerald often lines up on the offense’s left side — but the Steelers have four good cornerbacks. Deshea Townsend is a veteran who isn’t big but is tough. Bryant McFadden is just a shade shorter than Taylor, but he can match up with bigger receivers. And William Gay, who has come on in the second half of the season, is young, smart and fearless.

“Their secondary is interchangeable where they can move guys around,” WR Anquan Boldin said. “You see [SS Troy] Polamalu all over the field; same thing with [FS Ryan] Clark. A lot of defenses don’t have the personnel [they do], so they can show you so many different looks.”

But there’s an X-factor to the coverage equation up on the line: Polamalu.

Yes, Polamalu is a safety, and part of his job will be to shadow over the top or slide in Fitzgerald’s direction. He also will be back in deep coverage, but Polamalu could find himself matched up with Fitzgerald. It’s a position the Steelers are not afraid to put him in, especially in an all-out blitz situation.

“Honestly, as a safety in this defense, we’re asked to cover often,” Polamalu said. “I think that’s what’s unique about our defense. We have an array of different coverages where at times, we’ll even be in [cover] zero man-to-man coverage with receivers as well as blitzing.

“How comfortable am I [doing that]? Very uncomfortable. Anytime you face great receivers like that; usually if I’m covering them, there is probably going to be a big blitz, so I won’t have to cover them for long, which is an advantage for a defensive player.”



The Steelers generally have done a good job of shutting down wideouts since Reggie Wayne burned them in Week 10 (see chart above). Tennessee’s Justin Gage, in a 31-14 loss to the Titans, was the only receiver able to have more than 72 yards against them. In the first half of the season, that wasn’t always the case, with unknowns such as the Jaguars’ Mike Walker — who had only 16 catches for 217 yards in nine games — catching six passes for 107 yards against them in Week Five. When asked what has prompted the better coverage of wideouts, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke not of the secondary but of the front seven.

“Part of great pass defense is rush,” Tomlin said. “You can’t have one without the other. We’ve been consistently applying pressure to the quarterback, and that’s our emphasis, not sacks. Sacks don’t tell the story. It’s to be disruptive, it’s to apply pressure.”

Disrupting QB Kurt Warner certainly is one way to combat Fitzgerald. But other teams have tried this, with mixed results. Teams that can get to Warner or force him out of the pocket can alter the Cardinals’ precision, timing attack. If the Steelers have some pass-rush success early in the game, it could force the Cardinals into more of a quick-strike offense with three-step drops, sight adjustments by the receivers and more “hot” routes aimed at defeating the blitz. Warner knows that identifying where and how the blitz is coming could be the difference between victory and defeat.

“I think the most important element against [the Steelers] is recognition,” Warner said. “They do a lot of different things. They’ve got a lot of different guys that they can use in different spots. I think the key for us is going to be being able to recognize who’s who, where the blitz is coming from, who’s got to block who, who’s going to be free and when I need to get the ball out. I think that’s going to be the biggest key. If we can recognize what they’re doing and are able to handle it or attack it, we have a chance to have some success. If we don’t and they win that battle, then it could be a long day for us.”

If the Cardinals can’t block, the game is over. Period. Fitzgerald can’t catch a pass if Warner is on his back or getting hit as he throws. And part of the reason that the Steelers have had consistent success defensively over the second half of the season — versus wideouts, tight ends and running backs — is because there typically is constant pressure from the front four.

“It’s not just sacks,” Woodley said, echoing Tomlin’s message. “I think the key for us to stopping Kurt Warner is applying pressure to him, doing what we’ve been doing all year. That’s putting pressure on the quarterback and trying to cause him to make mistakes.”

* * *

There are many who believe the key to the Cardinals on Sunday will be Boldin, not Fitzgerald.

Boldin has taken a backseat to Fitzgerald down the stretch, even though he’s as capable of breaking a game open. He also has had a tough season, battling questions about his contract status, suffering a serious head injury against the Jets and being seen chewing out offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines of the NFC title game for not being on the field in a key situation.

Haley and Boldin have done their best to put that last fire out, and the contract questions have been sidestepped for now. On Sunday, he likely will be matched up a lot with McFadden, his college teammate at Florida State, a good portion of the time without much doubling.
Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin

Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin
“It’s going to be a matchup — a big, big challenge,” McFadden said. “He is an extraordinary athlete. I know what type of guy he is.”

But Boldin for one doesn’t expect to see any gadget coverages or anti-Fitzgerald schemes.

“I think we’re going to see what they have done all year,” Boldin said. “I don’t think we’re going to see anything special. And it’s difficult to take a guy out of a game in our offense. We have so many weapons. It’s tough for me to believe that they’ll double- or triple-team [Fitzgerald].”

One thing he might see is that press coverage the Steelers will show against teams with elite receivers.

“That’s something that we have seen from them,” Boldin said. “They play off [coverage] sometimes, press sometimes. We expect them to play their defense, and that’s part of it.”

Part of what makes both Fitzgerald and Boldin so dangerous is that they can take a short play like a quick slant and turn it into a 40-yard gain. That is the type of route teams often run against pressure defenses, so the Steelers' blitzing could backfire on them.

The Cardinals also like to run pick plays, sometimes barely legal ones, to cross up defensive players underneath. If the Steelers use their patented zone pressure, a pick might not cause much of a problem because defenders won't be in man coverage; they'll be covering a zone underneath. But the Cardinals also can counteract with a quick throw outside the hashmarks near the sideline, where Boldin can be even more dangerous, especially if safety help is 20 yards deep.

If Boldin can get hot early, what do the Steelers do? Do they revert to two-deep coverage and take their chances with an even field? Or do they stick to what they do, pressuring and mixing looks, the way LeBeau has for decades? Bank on the latter.

* * *

mesaSteeler
01-30-2009, 07:38 PM
Quiz: Which team has had the most success defending Fitzgerald this season? The answer might surprise you. The 49ers allowed Fitzgerald to score twice in two games against them, but he did very little serious damage in terms of big-yardage plays. They held him to 77 yards on 11 receptions, with only one catch going for more than 10 yards.

The 49ers don’t have the same caliber of defensive personnel the Steelers do, but they certainly appeared to have the right idea. They got tough with him and changed up their looks, trying to alter Fitzgerald’s and Warner’s timing and rhythm. The Steelers have the advantage of possessing versatile linebackers who are as good in pass coverage as they are going forward, so it’s very likely that Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and Woodley — who get the most attention for their pass-rushing ability — at some point will be laying their hands on Fitzgerald within the five-yard contact zone on routes that go inside. On those plays, the corners likely will play outside technique, and there will be at least one safety over the top, likely Clark.

Because they are so deep in the secondary, the Steelers almost can afford to play hockey-like defense on Fitzgerald. If they want to rotate defenders to be physical on him and Boldin, they can do so and prevent wear and tear without suffering much dropoff.

Said Tomlin: “I think that the emergence of a guy like [CB-FS] William Gay, who stepped up and gave us quality play, [has helped the coverage]. [S] Tyrone Carter, when called upon, stepped up and gave us quality play. It’s been one of the many reasons that we’ve been consistent. It’s about the men. It’s about what they do when they play. They’ve played to the standard.”

Still, the matchup to watch might be Taylor vs. Fitzgerald when the game is on the line. That’s strength vs. otherworldly strength. McFadden has some advice for his teammate on how to cover the game’s hottest receiver.

“You have to go at it like you’re fighting,” McFadden said. “You have to pull off and make sure you’re ripping and punching. You have to do everything possible because Fitzgerald has very strong hands. If it comes close to his hands, he’s bringing it in. You have to make an extra effort to do whatever you can to get the ball out.”

And even if Taylor is physical and sticky in coverage, the ball still can find Fitzgerald's hands. Just ask Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia.

“He stretches the field vertically two different ways,” said Steelers DB coach Ray Horton. “Vertically, as in down the field, and vertically, as in up. He gets up there and outjumps you. Even if you cover him, and even if you have two guys there, you have to be able to get in front of him and on top of him, because he’ll go up and get it.”

“What I have come to realize is [being] open for Larry is different than open for guys that I have played with in the past,” Warner said.

The Seahawks went after Taylor early in Super Bowl XL, and the Cardinals are sure to find out what he’s made of when he’s covering Fitzgerald. But as we know, it’s going to be a team effort to stop him — so much so that you could argue all 11 players are out to stop No. 11.

fansince'76
01-30-2009, 07:58 PM
....Still, the matchup to watch might be Taylor vs. Fitzgerald when the game is on the line. That’s strength vs. otherworldly strength....

....The Seahawks went after Taylor early in Super Bowl XL, and the Cardinals are sure to find out what he’s made of when he’s covering Fitzgerald. But as we know, it’s going to be a team effort to stop him — so much so that you could argue all 11 players are out to stop No. 11....

:rolleyes:

Jesus H. Christ, I can't wait for the damn game to be played already. If I have to read one more article that makes Fitz out to be 12 feet tall, faster than a speeding bullet, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I'm gonna puke. He's a great WR - WE GET IT ALREADY.

MACH1
01-30-2009, 08:06 PM
:rolleyes:

Jesus H. Christ, I can't wait for the damn game to be played already. If I have to read one more article that makes Fitz out to be 12 feet tall, faster than a speeding bullet, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I'm gonna puke. He's a great WR - WE GET IT ALREADY.

http://www.leachpunk.com/black_superman.jpg

:chuckle:

Whizard of Glendale
01-30-2009, 08:29 PM
From what I remember from super bowl XL going after Taylor was smart, they completed some good passes and almost got a TD from Darrell Jackson.

fansince'76
01-30-2009, 08:31 PM
From what I remember from super bowl XL going after Taylor was smart, they completed some good passes and almost got a TD from Darrell Jackson.

Yeah, and he picked off Baldy and killed a potential Squawks scoring opportunity as well. :coffee:

The Duke
01-30-2009, 09:37 PM
From what I remember from super bowl XL going after Taylor was smart, they completed some good passes and almost got a TD from Darrell Jackson.

They used quick, short west coast offense passes against him at first that worked.

After that they fell behind and couldn't hurt him one bit

geo123
01-30-2009, 09:38 PM
This is difinitely the biggest concern. LF has made many great catches while double covered. Good solid hits early might shake him up a little; I don't think he's been tested that way. Pressure on Warner is important as well, hopefully they can do it without too many blitzes.

HometownGal
01-30-2009, 10:07 PM
:rolleyes:

Jesus H. Christ, I can't wait for the damn game to be played already. If I have to read one more article that makes Fitz out to be 12 feet tall, faster than a speeding bullet, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I'm gonna puke. He's a great WR - WE GET IT ALREADY.

A-freakin'-MEN. I adore Fitz and he's awesome, but cripes - enough is enough. :banging:

“It’s not just sacks,” Woodley said, echoing Tomlin’s message. “I think the key for us to stopping Kurt Warner is applying pressure to him, doing what we’ve been doing all year. That’s putting pressure on the quarterback and trying to cause him to make mistakes.”


BINGO. :thumbsup: If Kurt is forced out of the pocket on a consistent basis and feels the pressure of our D bearing down on him, he's going to start forcing throws which will lead to mistakes. The D needs to knock him on his ass in their first series and send him a VERY strong message.

markymarc
01-30-2009, 11:06 PM
Oh wow another article on how difficult it will be to stop Fitz :coffee: My head is ready to explode from all the TV and paper exposure the Cardinals have gotten today. Here's a thought though, how are the Cardinals going to stop the #1 NFL defense. Last I checked LeBeau is still standing on our sideline and I have no questions or doubts he will have the defense ready to show the world why they were special all season. Bring on the Cardinals already.