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.
Advantage: Arizona. Given Big Ben's struggles in Super Bowl XL and Warner's supporting cast, the Cardinals' signal caller holds a slight edge.
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.
Advantage: Pittsburgh. Parker is back healthy and the Cardinals' regular season woes could resurface against a stout Pittsburgh run defense.
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.
Advantage: Arizona. The Cardinals are nearly untouchable in this department.
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.
Advantage: Arizona. With the Cardinals' improved performance and Pittsburgh's inability to keep Roethlisberger off his back, Arizona gets the nod.
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.
Advantage: Pittsburgh. Arizona's defensive line has been superb of late but the Steelers still hold a slight edge up front.
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.
Advantage: Pittsburgh. The Steelers' vaunted linebacking corps is arguably the best in the NFL.
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.
Advantage: Push. The secondary that's able to make the biggest impact could very well dictate the winner of Super Bowl XLIII.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org