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Sizing up the Cardinals' chances

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The last time we checked in with Trent Dilfer heading into a Cardinals game, he liked Arizona's chances against the Giants during a Week 12 matchup. He thought the Cardinals' opponents would have better plans for Arizona's offense come playoff time.

Arizona has scored 95 points in three playoff games to reach the Super Bowl, but Dilfer is giving the Cardinals' very little chance now that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has two weeks of preparation time.

A few highlights from an ESPN conference call featuring Dilfer, Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter:

Dilfer: "This matchup is completely in the favor of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I understand the incredible playoff run that [Larry] Fitzgerald's had. I understand what the Cardinals are doing offensively. They've found balance and Todd Haley is calling great plays, but, as I watch the tape, nowhere do I find an area where the Arizona Cardinals have an advantage -- not in talent, but in scheme.

"Everything the Pittsburgh Steelers do matches up great against the Arizona Cardinals. They don't fear the huge vertical threat by Larry Fitzgerald because they understand how to play this type of defense. ... If they can only commit seven to the run game and play two safeties, they know how to take away the perimeter receiver. If Kurt Warner wants to try to force him the ball early, this game can get away from the Cardinals real quick.

"In the history of this game, it's usually more about the sum of the parts, not playmakers. ... In this game with two weeks to prepare ... this does not become who has the best player on the football field. You give Dick LeBeau this type of time to construct his cover schemes and his blitz schemes and he will know how to take away the best players on the field. ... Nobody does a better job in breaking down an offense's weakness than Dick LeBeau. They definitely have some big holes in that offense and he will expose them early and often."

Dilfer said the Cardinals can win by forcing turnovers, "but I'm also a big believer that you can't go into a game depending on getting the other team to turn the ball over and play bad. You've got to approach the game like you're going to win it, getting their best effort."

The Cardinals have defied analysis. They've played better than anyone expected. I'll provide some highlights from Johnson and Carter below. They seem to like the Cardinals' chances more than Dilfer does, particularly with Kurt Warner's big-game experience.

Johnson: "The thing they (Cardinals) need to continue to preach is ball security. They haven't really turned the ball over in the playoffs. ... They have to continue that in the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner has to continue to get rid of the football, continue to secure the football and not succumb under pressure because Pittsburgh's going to bring the pressure. They can't deviate from what got them there -- not the last six or seven games of the regular season, but the playoffs ... Run the football enough to keep them balanced. ... Mix some passing in there and spread the football around ...

"I'm not in love with Pittsburgh's secondary. I think Troy Polamalu is the guy back there. The other guys are zone corner, not man-to-man guys. The only guy with some sort of man-to-man skills is Deshea Townsend because he comes inside on third downs. But he's a smaller guy that they can take advantage of. And I'm pretty sure that they're going to try to take advantage of him by moving Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin inside and allowing those big bodies to take advantage of that smaller size. ...

"I think their defense is solid enough, sound enough to control Pittsburgh's offense. Keep Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket and not allow him to get outside the pocket because he's more effective outside the pocket than inside."

Carter: "Pittsburgh's offense can disappear. They can take a half off and not do anything -- can't run the ball, can't throw it, Ben throwing it to the other team, or if Ben gets hurt, especially being toted off the field and going to the locker room. ... If Ben doesn't play well the first half, this is not an explosive offense.

"Say Larry (Fitzgerald) doesn't have a monster game, let's say he has 100 yards. Say the game plan this week is to give it to Anquan because Anquan will be healthy and he has 150 yards. ...

"When you've got one guy on one team that can get 150 yards, you only need 150 more yards from the rest of the players. Now besides (Tom) Brady and besides (Peyton) Manning, I don't think there is a quarterback in the league that I want if he's hot, especially given Kurt's weapons.

"Kurt, when he gets hot, he can throw 17-18, 20-22. I don't know if he can do that against Pittsburgh's defense, but he is more than capable. It wouldn't be a stretch for him to get blazing hot. He's played in two Super Bowls and he played good in both of them. So, how can Arizona win? One of their monster receivers has a monster day and everyone else chips in 150 or so more yards and Pittsburgh's defense falls asleep. Just like that."