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Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Breaking down Harrison's interception return


Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals had scored at least 30 points in every playoff game this season until Super Bowl XLIII. They might have gotten to 30 again if the Steelers' James Harrison hadn't intercepted Kurt Warner's pass at the goal line, returning it 100 yards for a touchdown right before halftime.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  James Harrison's interception and touchdown stole the momentum from the Cardinals.

Fifteen observations from this play after watching it closely on replay:

  1. The Cardinals were in the shotgun formation with Tim Hightower as the lone running back. With 18 seconds remaining and no timeouts, the Cardinals were going to pass the ball.
  2. The Cardinals were in the wrong formation on the play. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley alluded to this after the game. They said the formation was too tight.
  3. Anquan Boldin, the receiver Warner would target on the play, was the outside receiver on the weak side. Larry Fitzgerald lined up just inside Boldin and on the line of scrimmage. Both receivers probably should have been lined up much wider, creating the necessary space for Boldin to get open.
  4. Harrison was lined up about a yard outside left tackle, also on the weak side.
  5. Warner appeared to lock his eyes on Boldin from the moment the ball was in his hands. He never looked at Harrison.
  6. If Warner was accustomed to his receivers lining up wider on that play, he wouldn't have been concerned about a pass-rusher lined up where Harrison lined up. I suspect Harrison wasn't part of Warner's mental equation on this play.
  7. Had Boldin and Fitzgerald lined up wider, Harrison would not have been in position to settle into the pass route and pick off the pass.
  8.   SB XLIII Can't-Miss Play: Harrison in a hurry
      NFL.com Video
      James Harrison returns an INT 100 yards for the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history.
  9. Fitzgerald ran what amounted to a pick play in trying to free Boldin on the inside.
  10. Receiver Steve Breaston, the Cardinals' fastest player on the field, was lined up on the strong side, away from the play. His route took him toward the sideline and away from Harrison. Hightower was also on the weak side, helping in pass protection.
  11. Fitzgerald was five yards deep in the end zone and leaning away from Harrison at the time of the interception. Boldin was about two yards deep and also leaning away from Harrison. Tight end Leonard Pope was even with Harrison but perhaps four yards away from him.
  12. Officials threw a flag for a facemask penalty early in the runback. The gamebook says the penalty was against "E. Brown" -- but Elton Brown was not in the game. The assumption was that officials had flagged guard Reggie Wells, but I simply could not see such a violation anywhere on the replay. Update: The referee did mention "No. 74" as the culprit on the facemask penalty. That would be Wells. Second update: The wider angle showed Wells grabbing Lawrence Timmons' facemask right after the snap.
  13. Pope caught up to Harrison at the Arizona 38-yard line, but the angle he took prevented him from cutting off Harrison. Pope instead ran into Warner.
  14. Fitzgerald might have caught Harrison near the Pittsburgh 30, but he ran into teammate Antrel Rolle, who was standing along the sideline.
  15. The Steelers' LaMarr Woodley shoved Hightower in the back as Hightower tried to tackle Harrison near the Pittsburgh 30. Officials could have thrown a flag here.
  16. The Cardinals' offensive linemen showed great hustle on this play. Left tackle Mike Gandy nearly caught Harrison at the 15, and Wells was close behind. Breaston and Fitzgerald finally caught Harrison, but it was too late.