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|01-29-2009, 07:41 AM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Quarterback duel is tops among key Super Bowl matchups to watch
Quarterback duel is tops among key Super Bowl matchups to watch
Gil Brandt By Gil Brandt | NFL.com
Every matchup in a Super Bowl is critical. But here are five that could be the most important when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals meet in Super Bowl XLIII:
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Arizona QB Kurt Warner
How important have quarterbacks been in past Super Bowls? A quarterback has been named Most Valuable Player in 22 of the 42 Super Bowls. Next highest is running back (seven). So there's a better than 50-50 chance that one of these guys will be MVP of Super Bowl XLIII.
Warner's unbelievable story has been well documented, and it might be a story that ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At Northern Iowa, a Division I-AA school at the time, he didn't start until his senior year. He then signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent but was quickly released. From there, Warner played in the Arena League for three years, throwing for over 10,000 yards and 183 touchdown passes.
In 1998, Warner played for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe, after which he signed with the St. Louis Rams for the upcoming season. He was inactive for the first 14 games. The next season, he received his first NFL start after QB Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason finale. All Warner did was start all 16 games and lead the Rams to a win in the Super Bowl. He has been twice named MVP of the regular season in addition to being MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV. Amazingly, Warner has lost his starting job four times (twice with the Rams, once with the New York Giants and once with the Cardinals).
Warner is a pocket passer with very good touch on his deep ball. He has lost some of his arm strength since first coming into the NFL, but he still has very good accuracy -- he boasts the second-highest career completion percentage in NFL history (65.4). His career average of 260 passing yards per game tops even Peyton Manning.
Warner gets rid of the ball quickly and is very smart, although he will sometimes make bad decisions and occasionally has problems with ball security. Expect Steelers linebacker James Harrison to try to knock the ball loose when he gets near Warner. Safety Troy Polamalu, meanwhile, will try to bait Warner into bad throws.
After the 2005 season, Roethlisberger became the second-youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl -- and the youngest to win it. And it was no fluke: Roethlisberger has won seven career playoff games as Pittsburgh's starting QB, including four postseason games away from Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger has the ability to improvise and create plays, with good strength and an easy throwing motion. He makes all kinds of throws and is a deceptive running threat -- he scrambles to find the open receiver, as he did so well in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Roethlisberger likes to throw back into the middle when outside the pocket. While his size and strength help him to avoid sacks, he also carries the ball loose at times. The Cardinals will try to show him something new to confuse him.
Pittsburgh RB Willie Parker vs. Arizona LB Karlos Dansby
Parker was undrafted coming out of college at North Carolina, where he rarely started. But since coming to the NFL, Parker has shown excellent speed and big-play ability, and he set a Super Bowl record three years ago with a 75-yard touchdown run against the Seattle Seahawks.
Parker has excellent lateral speed and shows good patience as an inside runner. He's very athletic with a quick first step. He also has the ability to avoid the eighth man in the box, bounce runs outside and have a burst when he sees a hole. He has good hands on short routes and checkdowns. However, he's a limited blocker, which is why he's taken out in passing situations.
As the weak inside linebacker in Arizona's 3-4 defense, Dansby is the key to stopping Pittsburgh's running plays. He plays all downs and is the Cardinals' leading tackler for both the regular season and the playoffs. He has four sacks and two interceptions, all coming in the regular season.
Dansby reacts quickly, has a nose for the ball, and takes good angles. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, he has good speed for the position and is an explosive tackler.
Pittsburgh WR Santonio Holmes vs. Arizona CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Holmes, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day before being drafted, combines excellent quickness with outstanding running and catching ability. He's a very good deep route receiver, and in three NFL seasons, he's averaging 16.6 yards per reception.
Holmes also has good quickness out of his cuts and outstanding ability to change direction in his routes. He can evade and break tackles. He will catch the ball coming across the middle, has good hands and will block downfield. Occasionally, he will miss adjusting his routes on blitzes. Arizona most likely will try to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Of course, Holmes also is a dangerous factor in the return game.
In three playoff games, Rodgers-Cromartie has covered two Pro Bowl wide receivers (Atlanta's Roddy White, Carolina's Steve Smith) and outstanding Eagles rookie DeSean Jackson. The Cardinals rookie won a high percentage of the battles in all three matchups.
Rodgers-Cromartie looks to have added weight without losing any speed. He didn't get into the starting lineup until midway through the season, but he ended up starting the last eight games of the season -- and he has made six interceptions in his last nine games. He has outstanding quickness -- he ran a 6.33-second triangle drill, had a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot, 11-inch long jump. He also has outstanding ability to find the ball and is a very good tackler.
Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor
vs. Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald
Taylor, the starting left cornerback and a six-year veteran, is tall (6-2) with outstanding speed (he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine in 2003). He has good cornerback skills -- he backpedals with ease and has good footwork and turn-and-run ability. He also does a good job jamming and re-routing receivers in zone coverage and is a good tackler. Sometimes, he plays a little looser when the Steelers blitz.
Taylor is good at finding the ball -- but he doesn't have outstanding hands (only eight interceptions in six seasons). Occasionally, Taylor will bait the quarterback. I'm not sure if he will cover Fitzgerald on every play, but he'll be a key part of Pittsburgh's defense against him.
Fitzgerald has great size (6-3, 227), speed (ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the 2004 combine) and athletic ability (35-inch vertical jump, 20 repetitions at the 225-pound bench press). He also has long arms and big hands, and he runs as fast in uniform as he does in shorts because of his strength. Fitzgerald runs all types of routes, but he seems best in vertical routes. He's crafty, with a very good first move. He has outstanding hands, gets open and can outjump and outmuscle defensive backs for the ball.
Fitzgerald already has set an NFL playoff record for most receiving yards, with one game to go. In his first five seasons, he has caught 80 more passes than all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice did in his first five years. Fitzgerald also is the second-youngest receiver to reach 400 career receptions.
Pittsburgh LB LaMarr Woodley vs. Arizona OT Levi Brown
These players went against each other in college for two seasons (2005, 2006), when Woodley played for Michigan and Brown for Penn State. Those were big games -- but certainly not as big as this one.
Woodley had four sacks in the first two playoff games -- only Richard Dent (6.5) made more in one postseason. And Woodley is the first player in NFL history to have multiple sacks in three consecutive playoff games. In the regular season, he had 12 sacks from his left outside linebacker spot.
Woodley is very strong, with big thighs and big arms. He's a good pursuit player who hustles to the ball and is very compact. He closes hard to the ball, and he has good pass-rush ability, but he also can drop and play in space against the tight end. He has really come on this season and did a great job against Baltimore's Willie Anderson in the AFC title game.
Brown has size (6-5, 321), long arms (35 inches) and strong hands. He's a natural "knee-bender" with a thick lower body, and he plays with great pop. He seems to make decisions to switch off blocks. He graduated from Penn State in three-and-a-half years and is a smart player.
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