Super Bowl XLIII Breakdown: Offense

With just days away from Super Bowl XLIII, the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers are in full preparation mode. Both teams have created their game plans and will need to successfully execute in order to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. Brad Wilbricht identifies which matchups can be exploited on Super Sunday, starting on offense in part one of a two-part series.

Click here for part two of Brad Wilbricht's Super Bowl XLIII breakdown, which analyzes the defensive side of the ball.


Quarterback

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger seems to be endlessly fighting injuries but always finds his way onto the playing field. During the Steelers' run to the 2005 Super Bowl title, Roethlisberger leaned on a tremendous running game but struggled once the team reached the Super Bowl. In his first three playoff games of ‘05, Roethlisberger tossed seven touchdowns and had a QB rating of over 124.0 in two of those outings. However on Super Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, Roethlisberger completed just 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards and was intercepted twice. A similar performance in Tampa could spell disaster for Pittsburgh.


Kurt Warner
(Getty)

Meanwhile, Arizona QB Kurt Warner continues to defy the odds with his outstanding play. The former Super Bowl MVP has racked up 770 yards passing in three postseason games and has connected on eight touchdowns. Throughout his career, Warner has struggled to protect the ball but he's been sufficient during the playoffs. Warner has turned the ball over only twice and has helped limit the Cardinals' offense to three total turnovers. Additionally, he's received adequate protection in the pocket and has been sacked just three times in the postseason. If Arizona's offensive line keeps Warner upright, he should find success down the field.

Advantage: Arizona. Given Big Ben's struggles in Super Bowl XL and Warner's supporting cast, the Cardinals' signal caller holds a slight edge.


Running Back

The Cardinals' running game has experienced a major resurgence of late but is still somewhat of a question mark. The Steelers come in with the NFL's top ranked defense and is allowing only 80 yards per game on the ground. RB Edgerrin James has come alive since rejoining the starting lineup, racking up 203 yards on 52 carries in three playoff games. During the regular season, Arizona managed a mere 74 yards per outing. In addition, rookie RB Tim Hightower has moved back into his role coming off the bench. Hightower failed to rush for more than 35 yards in the final eight weeks of the year but has teamed up with James to supply the Cardinals with a formidable backfield.


Willie Parker
(Getty)

Pittsburgh's success on the ground will be dictated by the health of RB Willie Parker. "Fast Willie" has been in and out of the lineup this year but should be near full strength given the two-week layoff. Parker has rushed for over 100 yards in four games this season, all resulting in Pittsburgh victories. Backup RB Mewelde Moore filled in admirably during the regular season and is a weapon in the passing game as well. In limited playing time, Moore rushed for 588 yards and compiled 320 yards receiving. So far in the postseason, the Cardinals have given up just 76 yards rushing per contest but they still remain a notch below the Steelers' run stuffing unit.

Advantage: Pittsburgh. Parker is back healthy and the Cardinals' regular season woes could resurface against a stout Pittsburgh run defense.


Wide Receiver

Although the Steelers' receiving corps is no slouch, this is an area where the Cardinals excel. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin make up arguably the best wide receiving tandem in the NFL. Furthermore, Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban are both capable players. Fitzgerald has already complied a playoff record 419 yards receiving while finding the end zone five times. Boldin has plenty to prove after fielding countless questions regarding his sideline blowup with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Arizona hasn't received much production at tight end but Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick could be wild-cards given the attention Pittsburgh will devote to the Cardinals' receivers.


Hines Ward
(Getty)

Like Roethlisberger, Steelers WR Hines Ward comes in nursing an injury. Ward is recovering from a MCL sprain but has repeatedly stated that he'll be on the field in Tampa. Ward and his counterpart, Santonio Holmes, are Pittsburgh's version of Boldin and Fitzgerald. Ward is a jack of all trades and thrives on underneath routes while Holmes is the team's primary deep threat. The Steelers' wide receivers have been quiet in the playoffs, as Ward has a team-high seven catches for 125 yards in two games. TE Heath Miller gives Pittsburgh a solid target over the middle. After an inconsistent start, he's reeled in at least three catches in each of the Steelers' last eight games.

Advantage: Arizona. The Cardinals are nearly untouchable in this department.


Offensive Line

One area of concern all season long in the Steel City has been pass protection. Pittsburgh's offensive line allowed 49 sacks during the regular season and could find the going tough against an aggressive Cardinals defense. Roethlisberger has taken several shots and even suffered a concussion against a lackluster Cleveland Browns defense in Week 17. Given the way Arizona has been getting after the passer and forcing turnovers, this should be a major area a concern for the Steelers faithful. If the Cardinals are able to pressure Roethlisberger and force him into bad decisions, Arizona's chances of pulling the upset will rise substantially.


Lyle Sendlein
(Getty)

The Cardinals' offensive line has outplayed its regular season performance thanks to improved play on the interior. LT Mike Gandy and LG Reggie Wells have been anchors along an offensive line that has been otherwise suspect. RT Levi Brown continues to experience growing pains from time to time but has been sufficient in the postseason. At center, Lyle Sendlein was shaky earlier in the year but has shown steady improvement in the past two months. Sendlein's play, coupled with RG Deuce Lutui's continuing progression has been a vital element of Arizona's run to the Sunshine State.

Advantage: Arizona. With the Cardinals' improved performance and Pittsburgh's inability to keep Roethlisberger off his back, Arizona gets the nod.


Click here for part two of Brad Wilbricht's Super Bowl XLIII breakdown, which analyzes the defensive side of the ball.


Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com

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