Super Bowl Matchups - Steelers vs. Cardinals

SportsFootballPittsburgh SteelersSuper BowlNFLNew England PatriotsKurt Warner

One year after the Patriots [team stats]' pursuit of perfection was extinguished by the Giants, the Super Bowl is once again upon us.

This season's Super Bowl XLIII matchup of the Steelers and Cardinals is nowhere near as sexy and is unlikely to approach last year's record of 97.5 million viewers. But there are still a number of fascinating plots and subplots to the game.

Can Kurt Warner win his second Super Bowl nine years after his first? Can Arizona's high-octane offense reach 30 points for the fourth straight postseason game, or will its luck run out against the dominant Steelers defense? And just what kind of an advantage, if any, will Arizona head man Ken Whisenhunt have against his former team?

By late Sunday night, we'll have the answers. In the meantime, here's a capsule breakdown of the positional matchups in the game.

Quarterbacks
Arizona's Kurt Warner vs. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger
This is a battle of old vs. young former Super Bowl champs. Warner is the flashier of the two, putting up numbers that rival what he did during his days leading the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf to a title in 1999. Roethlisberger is the perfect embodiment of the city he calls home - strong, unflashy, tough as nails. Warner is capable of putting up huge numbers, but Big Ben shouldn't be discounted, particularly in the clutch. And as good as Warner is, he's by far the more likely of the two to make some mistakes, particularly considering the defense he'll be playing against. That said, he's the best chance the Cardinals have of pulling off the upset. Advantage: Cardinals

Running backs
Arizona's Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower, J.J. Arrington and FB Terrelle Smith vs. Pittsburgh's Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell, and FB Carey Davis
To call the Cardinals' rushing attack an afterthought would imply that it was considered at all. The Cards had by far the greatest run/pass disparity in the league during the regular season, rushing only 340 times, good for last in the NFL. However, they've carried 100 times in three postseason contests and averaged 111 yards per game, with James being hauled out of the dumpster to lead the way with 203 yards. Still, they should have zero success against Pittsburgh's second-ranked rush defense, which is anchored in the middle by gigantic nose tackle Casey Hampton. On the flip side, Steelers sparkplug Willie Parker is coming off a bit of a lost season that saw him fail to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in four years. Still, the Steelers are the tougher team, and that should be reflected in the running game. Advantage: Steelers

Wide receiver
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban vs. Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, Limas Sweed
Few Super Bowl teams in history have been defined by so few players, but the Cardinals' success basically boils down to Warner and his top three receivers. Fitzgerald is completing an historic postseason that has seen him record more yards - 419 - than anyone, with a game still remaining. Boldin is another ball hawk on the other side, assuming his balky hamstring lets him go, while Breaston cleans up what's left. The group will have its hands full against the league's No. 1 passing defense, particularly strong safety Troy Polamalu, who seems like he's everywhere. The Steelers' receivers get the job done, with Ward the only elite talent among the group, though he, too, is battling an injury. Roethlisberger generally makes enough plays to his wideouts to keep defenses honest. Advantage: Cardinals

Tight end
Arizona's Leonard Pope, Ben Patrick, Jerame Tuman vs. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Sean McHugh
The best player of this bunch is Miller, a huge target (6-5, 256) who could find himself matched up underneath with hard-hitting Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson. If the Steelers can stretch the field with Holmes and Washington, Miller could have some room to operate over the middle. The Arizona tight ends don't figure prominently in the offensive game plan, being asked to help protect Warner while he looks downfield. Advantage: Steelers

Offensive line
Arizona's LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Levi Brown vs. Pittsburgh's LT Max Starks, LG Chris Kemoteau, C Justin Hartwig, RG Darnell Stapleton, RT Willie Colon
One of these groups is going to be asked to account for Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and fellow linebacker Lamarr Woodley. The other is not. The winner of this matchup should be selected accordingly. The Cardinals' line has protected Warner exceptionally well, considering how often he throws (28 sacks in over 600 attempts), but he absorbed a couple of shots, albeit late ones, in the NFC title game and will likely be under siege Sunday. Roethlisberger has absorbed some monstrous shots of his own, including one that left him concussed in the regular season finale, but the Cardinals do not possess the most fearsome defense to take advantage of the 54 sacks the Steelers have allowed thus far. Advantage: Steelers

Defensive line
Arizona's LDE Antonio Smith, LDT Bryan Robinson, RDT Darnell Dockett, RDE Bertrand Berry vs. Pittsburgh's LDE Aaron Smith, NT Casey Hampton, RDE Brett Keisel
Patriots fans should be able to appreciate the Steelers' line, because it's much like the one in Foxboro. Pittsburgh's front three does all of the dirty work in the trenches, tying up blockers so the linebackers and safeties can flow to the ball. Hampton makes it all work as an immovable force at the point of attack, while Smith and Keisel are unheralded. On the other side, the Cardinals' front four helped force 30 turnovers during the season, including 17 fumble recoveries, which Patriots head coach Bill Belichick preached in the week leading up to that game. Still, if one group is more likely to control the game, it's definitely Pittsburgh's. Advantage: Steelers

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Linebackers
Arizona's WLB Karlos Dansby, MLB Gerald Hayes, SLB Chike Okeafor vs. Pittsburgh's LOLB Lamarr Woodley, LILB James Farrior, RILB Larry Foote, ROLB James Harrison
Harrison is the Defensive Player of the Year. Woodley has piled up four sacks in the postseason. Farrior and Foote dominate against the run. There's really nothing the Steelers can't do, and the Cards' group is pretty anonymous by comparison. Outside linebackers are often the stars of the 3-4, since they're often asked to rush the passer. That's definitely the case in Pittsburgh, with Harrison and Woodley combining for 27.5 sacks and terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are hoping to continue a turnaround mildly reminiscent of the Colts in 2006. Indy's defense got hot in the playoffs that year and led the team to its only title. The Cardinals have improved since a mediocre regular season, with Dansby the most versatile of the group, Okeafor the best pass rusher, and Hayes improving. Still, this one's not even close. Advantage: Steelers

Secondary
Arizona's LCB Roderick Hood, RCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Antrel Rolle vs. Pittsburgh's LCB Ike Taylor, SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark, RCB Bryant McFadden

Another area where the Steelers own a clear advantage. Polamalu might be the best player on the field for either team, a hard-hitting center fielder who can blitz, cover and stop the run thanks to Rodney Harrison [stats]-esque instincts and off-the-charts athleticism. Clark is a hard hitter as well, while the corners are solid, albeit unspectacular, their job made that much easier by the dominant front seven and Polamalu. On the other side, Arizona's corner duo tied the Pats' Ellis Hobbs [stats] and Deltha O'Neal for most touchdown receptions allowed, according to Stats Inc. The lone difference maker on Arizona's entire defense is Wilson, a disruptive force who will be a factor in the running game. Polamalu is the X-factor among this group. Advantage: Steelers

Special teams
Arizona's K Neil Rackers, P Ken Graham, KR J.J. Arrington, PR Steve Breaston vs. Pittsburgh's K Jeff Reed, P Mitch Berger, KR Gary Russell, PR Santonio Holmes
In 2006 and 2007, one of Pittsburgh's biggest weaknesses was an inability to defend kick returns, but the Steelers led the NFL in that category this year, allowing just 19.1 yards per return. They should have the slight advantage against Cardinals return men Arrington and Breaston. With the elements unlikely to be a factor, the kicking edge goes ever so slightly to Rackers, who is nearly automatic from within 50 yards. The Cardinals had some struggles at punter early in the year before Graham replaced starter Dirk Johnson and dropped one-third of his punts inside the 20. Marshfield native Sean Morey is a Pro Bowl cover guy for the Cards, while Holmes has been dangerous on postseason punt returns for the Steelers. Advantage: Even

Coaching
Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt vs. Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin
What a delicious subplot. When Bill Cowher retired after the 2006 Super Bowl, Whisenhunt interviewed for the job that went to Tomlin. Whisenhunt then left for Arizona and has guided the Cardinals to the franchise's first Super Bowl in just his second season. There's a belief that Whisenhunt has an advantage because he knows the Steelers' personnel, particularly on offense. However, Tomlin has proven no slouch in his second year while becoming the youngest coach in history (36) to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Whisenhunt is considered an outstanding offensive mind, while Tomlin has already won a Super Bowl as a defensive assistant with the 2002 Buccaneers. This should be an outstanding matchup. Advantage: Even

Original Story: Boston Herald

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