You have to love this matchup, even if on paper, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the edge (no pun intended) in most categories. You could even call this the Whisenhunt Bowl; former Steelers assistant (now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals) Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals host the Steelers at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Steelers’ bread-and-butter is their running game. led by stud running back Willie Parker (74-368-1 TD). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, while not posting big numbers (46-for-77, 563 yards) is making the key throws (6 TD’s, only 1 INT). Wide receiver Hines Ward is the leader of the receiving corps, but will be absent for at least this week (sprained knee), which means additional responsibility will probably fall into the hands of WR Santonio Holmes (8-157-1 TD). The Steelers’ defense is as advertised (#2 in yards allowed, #7 in rushing yards allowed, #6 in passing yards allowed and #1 in points allowed), led by linebacker James Farrior (2 sacks), cornerback Ike Taylor (1 sack, 1 INT) and LB LaMarr Woodley (2 sacks).
The Cardinals are like the proverbial “girl-with-the-curl” (when they’re good, they’re very good; when they’re bad, they’re very bad). They obviously have the offensive weapons in place, led by RB Edgerrin James (60-277-2 TD’s) and the WR duo of Anquan Boldin (22-286-3 TD’s) and Larry Fitzgerald (15-192). But it is the QB situation that bears watching. It is common knowledge that coach Whisenhunt has been talking about a QB rotation, depending on the ebb and flow of the game. QB Matt Leinart is scheduled to start the game, but if he repeats what he did against Baltimore last week, do not be surprised if Whisenhunt pulls him and brings in QB Kurt Warner. Warner used the “no-huddle” against the Ravens last week and would be expected to do the same vs. the Steelers, should the need arise.
For the Steelers to win today, it is simple: run the ball often, pass efficiently, and get a good effort by their secondary. The Cardinals, on the other hand, may be best served to copy the Steelers “run-first” blueprint. They will also need to get some inspired play from Leinart as he knows there’s a fire lit under his butt to produce – or else. And that’s what I think will happen this week as Leinart will be productive against the Steelers’ secondary, as will Boldin and Fitzgerald and possibly WR Bryant Johnson. These efforts should be enough for the Cardinals to pull out the upset in Glendale.