Super Bowl XLIII Breakdown: Defense

After breaking down the offensive side of the ball, the Arizona Cardinals hold a slight edge but the Pittsburgh Steelers could have the upper hand on defense. Although the Cardinals' defense has been playing at a high level, Pittsburgh has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses all year long. Brad Wilbricht concludes a two-part series, taking an in-depth look at the defenses of Super Bowl XLIII

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


Defensive Line

Both units are disruptive but the Steelers were able to muster more consistency in the trenches. Thanks to their linebackers' ability to rush the quarterback, DT Casey Hampton and company have been able to almost exclusively focus on stopping the run. Pittsburgh did just that, allowing their opponents to rush for 100-plus yards only five times all year. If the Steelers can bring Arizona's recent success on the ground to a halt, they could be poised to win their sixth Lombardi Trophy. In that scenario, the Cardinals will be forced to be one-dimensional on offense and Pittsburgh's secondary will be able to key on Fitzgerald in the passing game.


Darnell Dockett
(Getty)

Arizona was adequate against the run all year but has taken it to another level in the postseason. thanks in large part to the defensive line. Both the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers came in averaging over 150 yards per game rushing while the Philadelphia Eagles were surpassing 106 yards per contest. Thanks in large part to the defensive line, the Cardinals allowed only 76 yards per game on the ground in those three playoff outings. Arizona is led by DT Darnell Dockett who's capable of playing all positions along the defensive line. Veteran DT Bryan Robinson and DE Antonio Smith have helped fortify things in the trenches for the Cardinals.

Advantage: Pittsburgh. Arizona's defensive line has been superb of late but the Steelers still hold a slight edge up front.


Linebacker

Although they've been ineffective at times this year, Pittsburgh likes to employ a hard nosed approach in the running game. The Cardinals' linebackers are excellent in space but aren't known as the most physical bunch around. If the Steelers can consistently reach the second level of Arizona's defense, their lack of physicality could be exploited. Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes man the inside linebacker positions but there is little depth behind them. Chike Okeafor, Bertrand Berry and Travis LaBoy split time between linebacker and defensive end, but are better suited in a pass rushing role. Pittsburgh's running game will likely be the key to their game plan in order to open things up for Roethlisberger.


James Harrison
(AP Photo)

It's hard to imagine a better linebacking corps in the league than what the Steelers deploy. Led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, Pittsburgh's linebackers are the heart and soul of the NFL's top-ranked defense. On the year, Harrison totaled 101 tackles, 16 sacks and forced seven fumbles. LaMarr Woodley, a pass-rushing specialist, finished with 11.5 sacks and has four sacks in two playoff games. Veteran James Farrior has been a model of consistency, leading the Steelers with 133 tackles. This unit was an integral part of the team's pass rush that racked up 51 sacks on the season. Arizona was able to counter Philadelphia's blitzing tendencies in the NFC Championship with the running game and short passes. Given their success against the Eagles, the Cardinals will be confident against Dick Lebeau's blitzing schemes.

Advantage: Pittsburgh. The Steelers' vaunted linebacking corps is arguably the best in the NFL.


Secondary

While Troy Polamalu might be the best safety in the NFL, Arizona's secondary has evolved into an extreme ball-hawking unit. The Cardinals have forced 12 turnovers in three playoff games and the secondary has done their fair share with nine interceptions. Adrian Wilson is among the hardest hitting safeties in the league and rivals Polamalu as one of the best in the business. Antrel Rolle's transition to free safety has been fairly smooth and he's a terrific playmaker with the ball in his hands. The emergence of rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has helped transform Arizona's secondary into a fearsome unit. If DRC and Rod Hood can hold up in single coverage, Wilson and Rolle will be able roam free and continue to create big plays.


Troy Polamalu
(AP Photo)

Polamalu is certainly a difference maker in the secondary but the fate of the Pittsburgh defense may lie in the hands of cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend. The Steelers allowed a NFL-best 157 yards per game through the air but will be facing their toughest test of the year. If Pittsburgh is able to neutralize Fitzgerald and Boldin, the Cardinals will return to the desert still in search of the franchise's first Super Bowl title. Thankfully for Arizona, the Steelers haven't seen much of a challenge on the perimeter, as the AFC North severely lacks game-breaking wideouts. Even if Pittsburgh can simply slow down the Cardinals' receivers, namely Fitzgerald, they could be headed back to the Steel City with their second Super Bowl title in the last four years.

Advantage: Push. The secondary that's able to make the biggest impact could very well dictate the winner of Super Bowl XLIII.


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


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

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