So many Super Bowl matchup features this week will breakdown how Ben Roethlisberger compares to Kurt Warner. Or how Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin compare to Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. The problem is, none of these things matter. The Cardinals don’t care how Fitzgerald stacks up against Ward. They care how Fitzgerald stacks up against Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor.
Here is Part I of a breakdown of the actual personnel matchups we’ll see on the field come Sunday.
Cardinal quarterback vs. Steeler safeties
Pittsburgh thrives on using superstar strong safety Troy Polamalu in a variety of ways. He is both the focal point and X factor in Dick LeBeau’s defense. However, no QB in football – other than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady – is as good at diagnosing a defense presnap as Kurt Warner. With two weeks to prepare, Warner shouldn’t have much trouble figuring out what the Steelers are doing with Polamalu on each play. Of course, once the ball is snapped, Warner will be facing not just the best strong safety in the game, but also one of the shrewdest free safeties (Ryan Clark). The seventh-year veteran Clark is rock solid and alert in coverage, and isn’t likely to give up anything deep.
Cardinal running backs vs. Steeler linebackers
The resurgence of Edgerrin James is a big reason why Arizona has won three consecutive games to reach the promise land. Youthful as James has looked in gaining 203 yards on the ground this postseason, he’s going up against perhaps the most physical quartet of linebackers in the NFL. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodely are primarily pass-rushers, but both men have enough speed to cover the flats against the run. Larry Foote is a demon against blockers inside, and his partner, James Farrior, is as smart as they come. The Cardinals won’t be able to get a lot of linemen to the second level against the Steeler front three, so the play of fullback Terrelle Smith will be critical. That is, when Arizona actually runs. Teams simply can’t move the ball on the ground against this Steeler defense. Expect James to play far more than Tim Hightower for pass-blocking purposes. But also, expect James to see no more than 11-13 carries in this game.
Cardinal receivers vs. Steeler cornerbacks
The unsung heroes of the league’s best defense are the cornerbacks. Veteran Ike Taylor drops interceptions but makes up for it with stifling, physical coverage. No. 2 starter Deshea Townsend is brilliant when he slides into the slot, and reserves Bryant McFadden and Willie Gay almost never get caught out of position. Best of all is that the Steeler corners can all thrive in man and zone coverage.
That said, there’s no defense for the way Larry Fitzgerald is playing right now. The Steelers are such a good tackling secondary that Anqaun Boldin, who led the league in average yards after the catch this season, should be contained fairly easily. And Pittsburgh has shown that they can eliminate just about any slot receiver if need be, so the speedy Steve Breaston doesn’t make many people nervous. But what to do about Fitzgerald?
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