Familiar faces square off in Super Bowl XLIII

Corey Marine

With Super Bowl XLIII a few days away, the country is focused on the matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The story is oddly reminiscent of last year’s Super Bowl champion New York Giants. On one end, we have a powerhouse AFC team that many people are not surprised to see and that some expected to be there. On the other end, we have an underdog Cardinals team that has shocked the football world and is playing their best football at the best time of the season.

Any true football fan could tell you that football is a game about matchups and execution. Here are some playmakers and matchups to look out for during Sunday’s big game.

Players to Watch

Kurt Warner: The grizzled 37-year-old veteran is the third oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl game and is appearing is his third Super Sunday game. He has an 8-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio this postseason, showing that he is taking care of the football, although the Cardinals take many shots down the field. If he has time in the pocket, Warner can be as good as almost any other quarterback in the league. His quick release could be the difference between a touchdown reception and taking a sack.

Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben has often been criticized for holding onto the ball too long. However, with his ability to move around in the pocket and standing at 6 feet 5 inches, 241 pounds, this is also what makes him one of the more difficult QBs in the league to defend. Although he did not put up astronomical passing numbers this season (17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions), he has been among the most clutch players at his position. There have been countless drives when Roethlisberger needed to drive down the field in the fourth quarter to get the Steelers ahead or put a game away, and Big Ben was usually able to seal the deal. Roethlisberger will have to manage the game and avoid turning the ball over if he wants to be able to score against a fast, resurgent Cardinals defense.

Larry Fitzgerald: This wide receiver has been the best player this postseason. Fitzgerald has been double-teamed multiple times, only to out-leap the defenders around him and come down with the football. He leads all wide receivers in reception yards this postseason (419) and has more yards than the second and third place leaders combined (Kevin Curtis 211, DeSean Jackson 207). Although he has been the center of many defensive game plans, no team has managed to stop No. 11. Fitzgerald has dazzling on-field separation speed. At 6 feet 3 inches, he can out-leap almost any safety or cornerback in the game and has also shown the ability to run over defenders. At only 25-years old, he will continue to get better, which must make the rest of the league quite uneasy.

Willie Parker: Now healthy, Parker is once again the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh Steeler offense. The speedy running back can shoot through gaps in the inside and also turn the corner and out run defenders. Without him playing well or on the field, Roethlisberger and the wide receivers could have a long day ahead of them. The Steelers receivers are not the most dynamic and need to be able to run play action to be able to get an advantage over opposing secondaries.

Troy Polamalu: The Steelers’ strong safety is amongst the best in the league, and it shows. He has had many timely plays this postseason and always seems to be at the right place at the right time. He will have his hands full Sunday plugging gaps and stopping the run, as well as helping defend against Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Warner will need to know where Polamalu is at all times if he wants to avoid turning the ball over and possibly having the safety take it back the other way for six as he did to seal the Steelers victory against the Ravens in the AFC Championship.

Matchups to Watch

Steelers Offensive Line vs. Cardinals Defense: The Steelers O-Line pass protection has garnered much criticism this season as being highly suspect and porous at times. They have been known to let Roethlisberger fend for himself and had many fans worried after the quarterback suffered a concussion in week 17 of the regular season. The entire offensive line will have to avoid communication breakdowns and getting caught out of position if it wants to keep Big Ben upright. Because of his playmaking ability, it does not always have to keep a pocket for him; it just needs to be able to make sure he does not end up on his back all game. The line has been good at providing a push for running backs. Expect the unit to open up gaps for Parker to storm through, but if they want to be able to consistently run the ball, it must protect the quarterback.

Cardinals Running Game vs. Steelers Defensive Line: Despite making statements about wanting to leave Arizona, Edgerrin James has been utilized quite frequently during the Cardinals’ playoff run. Paired with rookie Tim Hightower, the two running backs have been a force to be reckoned with this postseason, providing the wide receivers with some breathing room in the secondary. If the Cardinals can run the ball, they can keep the Steelers’ defense on its toes. Pittsburgh must get a major push at the line so they can keep defenders in the secondary to guard against the explosive Cardinals receiving core. However, if the Cardinals force the Steelers to put extra men in the box to defend the run, the Cardinals can take shots downfield.

The Steelers want to avoid getting into a shoot out with the explosive Arizona offense. Therefore, look for Pittsburgh to run the ball and try to keep the Cardinals’ offense on the sideline. In this case, the best defense may very well be a good offense.