The League

Gene Wang
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Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

Praising Arizona

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We're all familiar with the mantra defense wins championships. That's why conventional widsom insists Pittsburgh will triumph in the Super bowl. The Steelers, after all, have the No. 1 defense in the NFL and the reigning defensive player of the year in James Harrison.

Throw logic out the window on Sunday. I'm picking Arizona, and the reason is Larry Fitzgerald. We have never seen a wide receiver have a playoff run like him. His 419 yards in a single postseason set an NFL record.

Fitzgerald presents all kinds of matchup problems for the Steelers. Pittsburgh does not have a cornerback who can play Fitzgerald consistently one-on-one. That means the safeties will have to help in coverage, and thus the Steelers won't be able to sneak either Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark near the line of scrimmage to help stop the run.
The combination of Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower should be able to run the ball just enough to keep the Steelers defense guessing. Fitzgerald will do the rest.

Even if Pittsburgh gets pressure on quarterback Kurt Warner -- and that's a big if considering the blitz-heavy Philadelphia Eagles couldn't do it -- the veteran simply can fling the ball in Fitzgerald's vicinity, and he'll go get it.

The Steelers had to get through Tennessee and Baltimore to reach the Super Bowl. Neither of the those teams have near the offensive firepower of Arizona. Pittsburgh could load up on stopping the run against those teams because it didn't fear their deep passing game.

The Cardinals are a completely different story. Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston all eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving this season, and they'll have the Steelers secondary on its heels. Plus the Cardinals faced a defense similar to Pittsburgh's in the NFC championship game, and we saw what Fitzgerald did to the Philadelphia secondary that day.

Therein lies the conundrum for Pittsburgh. Do they blitz Warner and risk leaving those wide receivers in single coverage? Or do the Steelers try to play tight coverage and presumably allow Warner plenty of time?

Yes, defense usually wins championships, but this season has been nothing if not unconventional. The Miami Dolphins went from 1-15 last season to a playoff team this year. An Eagles team that was 5-5-1 turned their season around and advanced to the NFC title game. With a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback, both Atlanta and Baltimore made the playoffs.

All those unlikely scenarios suggest it makes perfect sense for the Arizona Cardinals to win the Super Bowl.

By Gene Wang  |  January 30, 2009; 7:15 PM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , Gene Wang , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Gene Wang wrote, "The Steelers had to get through Tennessee and Baltimore to reach the Super Bowl. Neither of the those teams have near the offensive firepower of Arizona." That is incorrect - The Steelers had to get through San Diego and Baltimore to reach the Super Bowl. The Ravens did the heavy lifting and eliminated Tennessee.

So the Steelers did have to play a team with real offensive firepower - the Chargers - and they beat San Diego 35-24. I'd like to see the Cardinals pull off the upset, but I doubt it will happen.

Posted by: TaoJones | January 31, 2009 3:09 AM

Nice call!

Posted by: cash2money | February 2, 2009 12:27 AM

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