It is Pittsburgh East versus Pittsburgh West in Super Bowl XLIII at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium. The Cinderella Arizona Cardinals are led by former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and former Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm. Their best player, WR Larry Fitzgerald, went to University of Pittsburgh and played his college games at Heinz Field. There are even a few Steelers players from their Super Bowl winning team of three years ago now on the Cardinals. Besides the obvious storylines added to Super Bowl Hype Week(s) this could also come to matter for the game itself. The last time a coach faced his old team in the Super Bowl was Super Bowl XXXVII. Former Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden and his new team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers destroyed the Raiders, 48-21. Buccaneers players went on to say they that their defense knew what the Raiders offense was going to do for virtually the entire game. In this game Whisenhunt will know the tendencies of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger well, he will know what he likes and dislikes. But the Steelers should be able to negate that advantage as some of those Steelers offensive players know Whisenhunt's philosophy on offense and could possibly tip their defensive coaches to the type of offensive game plan the Cardinals might run Sunday.
Fitzgerald has stolen the headlines for the Cardinals and deservedly so. But the main reason he has gone off in these playoffs is that the Cardinals actually have the threat of a running game again. The Cardinals aren't setting the world on fire but with RB Edgerrin James once again entrenched as the starter teams have had to respect the run and thus the play action fake. The Steelers defense has been amazing all year, virtually number one in every major statistical category. Neither the Chargers or Ravens got much of a running game going against the Steelers in the playoffs. If the Steelers can limit the Cardinals yardage on the ground I think people will be surprised at how easily they can shut down the Cardinals passing game. Also, when pressured Cardinals QB Kurt Warner can become a turnover machine. I believe Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison will get pressure, as will Casey Hampton, and James Farrior. I think Warner will get picked at least twice and fumble once.
I am confident the Steelers can limit the Cardinals offense but the biggest player in this game will be Roethlisberger. In Super Bowl XL he was horrific but the Steelers defense forced turnovers and the offense managed a brilliantly executed gadget play and a long touchdown run by RB Willie Parker. I think Roethlisberger needs to be at his best from the beginning of this game. The Cardinals defense has been feasting on turnovers in the playoffs. The Cardinals have been jumping on their opponents recently, much different from what was seen for some of the season. I think Roethlisberger will manage the game well. I also think that Willie Parker and Melwelde Moore can run on the Cardinals defense. WR Hines Ward being less than 100% is definitely a concern for the Steelers, but WRs Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes have stepped up before.
I have picked against the Cardinals each round in the playoffs and have been proven wrong. I am going to do it one more time. The Cardinals have played excellent the last four weeks but I still remember them getting blown out by the Eagles, Patriots, Vikings, and Jets. This is not a world beating team by any stretch of the imagination, they can play poorly. That old mantra keeps sticking in my head, defense wins championships. The Steelers defense will win this team their sixth Super Bowl title.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 23, Arizona 17
Last Round: 0-2