Sadly, we are at our Mr.Green NFL pick of the year. Come now, dry your eyes, pick your head up and wipe that nose, face the end of football season like a man. The storylines may have been a little more dull than usual and the Cardinals may have come out of nowhere, and the Steeler fans may be annoying and even more so if they win, but we still have the chance of an entertaining game. If you are a true sports fan, you could give two shits about who is singing the sponsored pre-game show or what Springsteen will open with at halftime, you only care about watching the game and that is why the Super Bowl has become almost unbearable for those who follow football all year long. It has become so bloated with corporate partnerships, desperate attempts to reach all audiences, and media hype that it is not just a football game. It is painful if your team is in it, especially if it is a closee game; trying to focus on what is going on the field when you have Joe Buck and Troy Aikman waxing poetic about inane storylines and celebrity gossip makes you want to stab yourself with the cheeseknife coated with hotwing sauce. Just as in the BCS title game I will be rooting more against one team that for another one, so if the team I loathe jumps ahead, the 30 minute halftime show is going to seem like an eternity. More diatribing and my pick for the game after the break.
Regular Season: 158-97 (.614)
My all birds Super Bowl fell short as the Ravens could not seal the deal. I have done my best this year to avoid as much media coverage as I could these past two weeks and for the most part I did. I started this ritual last year since my team was in the game and believe I will follow it from here on out on every Super Bowl. In fact in my opinion the best way to get through the two weeks before the Super Bowl is to ignore it as much as possible. This does not mean refusing to speak about it or listen to the radio or what not, but just thinking of the game in the context of your own mind and then trying your best to enjoy it on Sunday. This may be an emo approach, and I'm not saying do not enjoy whatever function you are heading to for the game, but you want to watch the game don't you? If you want to be social and try to score by all means buddy, just don't come walking around on Monday like you broke down the game film overnight. If someone says to you at any point "I don't like the game, I just like the commercials" and they don't have breasts you are well within your rights to punch them in the face.
First, my breakdown of the game:
On offense the obvious key is to protect Warner. This is not groundbreaking news, the quarterback has to remain upright in order for the team to win. Can the O-line hold off Harrison and Woodley? Another key is to get Edge and Tim Hightower involved early, but they cannot just expect to do the basic handoffs and create a solid running game. Remember how great Darren Sproles was playing going into the Chargers divisional game in Pittsburgh? 11 rushes, 15 yards. You're not going to establish your running backs with simpe handoffs against theis defense. Arizona is going to have to run screens, draws and get Hightower one on one with Steeler tacklers just like the Titans did with Chris Johnson, forcing it up the gut will not work. If you ask most people they probably could not name a single offensive lineman for the Cardinals, but they have to play very well for the Cards to have a shot and not just in pass protection. If Warner is on his game, the line does not need to give him tons of time, Kurt is one of the best at releasing the ball a split second before he gets hit and getting it there on time. The Titans defense was relentless in Warner's Super Bowl with the Rams, but he got off a pass just before getting leveled which lead to Isaac Bruce's winning touchdown. In Super Bowl 36 against the Patriots, the defense rarely blitzed and dropped 5,6, and sometimes even 7 defensive backs in coverage. The Steelers do not have the personnel to do this and besides, blitzing is what they do best. The blitz is coming and if the Cardinals get down early or into 3rd and long, the pass rushers will pin their ears back and make life tough for the passing game. Seeing as how Larry Fitzgerald is going to be blanketed, Catfish's point of emphasis on Anquan Boldin will be huge, and also look for the tightend Leonard Pope to be a factor early.
On defense for the Cardinals, just like the offense, it starts up front with the play of the defensive line. Getting to Roethlisberger is not enough, they have to put him on the ground while he still have the ball in his hands. Baltimore got plenty of pressure on Ben, but with the protection he was seeing all year he knew how to escape it and make plays down the field. The Cardinals need sacks, not hurries. Willie Parker had a great Super Bowl 40, and if the Steelers get running early, they will slow the game down and prevent the Arizona offense from getting on the field. A final key for the Arizona defense is to be physical and set the tone early. Pittsburgh prides themselves on being a tough team and hard hitting, Arizona needs to show that they can match that intensity. I would almost suggest a 15 yard penalty on the Steeler's first possession unless they have good field position, that or a jarring hit on a wide receiver would send the message.
For the Steeler offense, run the ball early and often. Given the numbers, Ben can get you a game-winning drive and can steer a steady ship, but you do not want him tossing it all over the field because he can throw picks. Give him a solid run game and he is deadly. Setting up play action and utilizing Heath Miller will keep the defense off-balance, especially if Roethlisberger has time or makes time to throw. Pittsburgh usually has someone on offense step up and make a big play and they will need it for this game. Santonio Holmes can blaze(see what I did there?) down the field and perhaps Limas Sweed will emerge as the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot player of the game, especially if Hines Ward is unable to be effective.
The Steelers defense hardly needs breaking down. Dick Lebeau is 71 years old and looks like he is 56, his players love him, and his defensive schemes have shut down almost every opponent. So the Steeler D just needs to do what it does. Hit hard, shut down the run, and get Warner on his back. With two weeks to prepare and watch Larry Fitzgerald burn Asante Samuel and Panthers linebackers, I'm dying to see how Lebeau and company are going to approach this. My guess would be to have Polamalu shade over to Fitz all night. Troy can definitely break up or catch those jump balls that Larry has been snatching out of the air. This will leave a large burden on the other Pittsburgh defensive backs: Townsend, Ike Taylor, Gay, and Mcfadden. But if you are going to give up yards in the air, you have to believe they don't want it to be by Fitzgerald's hands(claws).
WR Hines Ward(Questionable- Knee)
DB Deshea Townsend(Questionable- Hamstring)
OLB James Harrison(Questionable- Hip)
DE Travis LaBoy(Questionable- Bicep)
DE Antonio Smith(Questionable- Knee)
WR Anquan Boldin(Probable- Hamstring)
WR Steve Breaston(Questionable- Ribs)
OT Mike Gandy(Questionable- Ankle)
As a Patriots fan and a person who lives in a city full of Steeler fans, particularly their scary female contingent I can honestly say I will be rooting against Pittsburgh. I'm sorry if that makes yins angry, but I am not alone in my sentiment. When we watch the game on XM's 60" 61" HD TV, myself, he and Catfish will be cheering Warner, the Almighty, and the Cardinals on. Here's hoping they can defeat the evil Steelers before we are faced with this:
That being said, my pick is the Steelers. I think the Cardinals coaching staff is strong and will come out with a good game plan because of the Whisenhunt factor, but in the end, the Steelers defense makes the difference. The Cardinals will hang in their early but the Steelers force mistakes and pull away in the second half by two possesions. All I can do now is sit back and hope I am wrong. Enjoy the game everyone.
(Photoshops courtesy of KSK)