The League

Zach Leibowitz
Sideline Reporter

Zach Leibowitz

A former sideline reporter for ESPN

Under Card Match

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I really don't think there's an underdog advantage for the Cardinals -- not in this game against this Steelers defense. I think the pressure is much more on Arizona's ability to re-create the passing dynamic they thoroughly established against Philadelphia. As I referenced Monday, the expected comfortable weather conditions benefits the Cardinals. So they had better make the most of their opportunities. When Pittsburgh was last in the Super Bowl, three seasons ago, it beat up on Seattle. Now, they get another NFC West opponent in Arizona. I guess we should expect the Steelers to get the 49ers in 2011. Book it.

Interestingly, Pittsburgh and Arizona battled last season in the desert. The Cardinals were experimenting with the two-QB offense. They actually won the late September game 21-14. Larry Fitzgerald posted 11 catches for 123 yards. Santonio Holmes caught six balls for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Both Anquan Boldin and Hines Ward were out due to injuries. Troy Polamalu was out as well. Now, Boldin is making headlines off the field for his bruised ego and Ward for his sprained MCL. I'd be surprised if Ward didn't play and make plays. He's a big game receiver.

Against the Eagles, Ken Whisenhunt put into motion the tremendous flea flicker that burned Philly's aggressive defense. It was remarkably similar to the play Whisenhunt drew up for Antwaan Randle El and Ward in Super Bowl XL. The familiarity is evident. Both teams will try to outgrind and out maneuver the other. That goes for coaches as well. This is the dream matchup for Whisenhunt, going against his former team, the one he badly wanted to coach.

But Arizona will need to play more than just the underdog card. It will need to keep the Steelers guessing. It will need to take advantage of a potentially overeager Steelers defense. And they must stop Willie Parker and get to Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers are a second half team and Roethlisberger is a tremendous fourth quarter guy. Pittsburgh consistently wins the time of possession battle. They did so against Baltimore and especially against San Diego. The longer Pittsburgh has the ball, the less you will hear the names Warner and Fitzgerald.

Pittsburgh is the overall better team, with the better defense, with a core group of players who have won the Super Bowl before. So Arizona can play the underdog role as much as it wants. But it'll need to execute like the favorites in order to win the game.

By Zach Leibowitz  |  January 21, 2009; 8:55 AM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , Pittsburgh Steelers , Zach Leibowitz Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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