|ESPN.com: NFL Playoffs 2008||[Print without images]|
While the Cardinals' explosive offense often grabs the headlines, the biggest reason they are in Super Bowl XLIII is the stellar play of their defense under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. They have grounded three upper-echelon running backs this postseason: Atlanta's Michael Turner, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams and Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook. In all three instances, the common denominator has been the opposing offensive line's inability to block the Cardinals' versatile defensive front that schematically attacks with two-, three- and four-man fronts. The Cardinals will continue to run blitz and try to make the Steelers one-dimensional. This would allow them to force the Steelers into long down-and-distance situations, which gives them the best opportunity to exploit the Steelers' mediocre pass protection and get after QB Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers are not going to eliminate Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, but they can't allow him to dominate like he did in the NFC Championship Game. However, this will not be easy because he brings an extremely rare combination of size, strength, ball skills, hands, route-running and after-the-catch ability. His ability to pluck the ball at the highest point presents massive problems because double coverage often isn't enough of a deterrent to keep him from coming down with the football. As evidenced by his five playoff touchdowns, Fitzgerald is even more dangerous near the goal line, and no one in the league runs the fade route better. The Eagles played a lot of man-coverage against him and the Panthers played a lot of off-coverage with two-deep safety support, but neither worked. The Steelers should eliminate the Cardinals' run game and make them one-dimensional, but that one dimension is very dangerous and difficult to contend with. Fitzgerald is on a tear right now that no wideout has matched in postseason history. He has already eclipsed Jerry Rice's playoff-yardage record and still has a game to play.
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