Saturday, January 31, 2009
SUPER BOWL BREAK DOWN ONE.
Good morning. It is 47 degrees this morning at 6:32 with a windchill of 41 degrees. The high will be 65 today and this cool weather should last through Wednesday. Perhaps our last cold front of the season? Enjoy it.
Cardinal Defense versus Steeler Offense:
The Arizona Cardinals Defense has been superb in the playoffs. While still giving up 4.1 yards per rush (which could be a problem as discussed below) the defense has 12 turnovers in the playoffs out of which they scored three touchdowns and three field goals.
But for the Cardinals to have a chance, their defense needs turnovers.
The Cardinals defense is a unit subject to breakdowns, giving up 56, 48, 37, and 35 points during different games this past year. Meanwhile, the Steeler defense finished the year number one in the league, giving up 13.9 points per game and giving up over 21 points only four times all year. Only Tennessee managed to score more than 30 points (31) on this Steeler defense.
The Steelers clearly have the superior defense. Indeed they had the best defense in the league this year by far. However we see this Super Bowl has having two intangibles that could allow the Cardinals to upset the Steelers- the first is which defense for the Cardinals shows up? The one that produced 12 turnovers in 3 playoff games? Or the one which regularly got lit up during the regular season.
The second intangible is the Steelers suspect punting game, and we'll get to that next time.
Super bowl fact: ten teams have returned interceptions for touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Those teams are 10-0. Lesson learned: In the Super Bowl, it's much harder to rebound from a costly mistake on offense.
If the Cardinals defense can neutralize the inconsistent Steeler offense, then we have a game. If the Cardinal defense can get a turnover or two, we may have an upset. Look for the Steelers to try and establish their troubled running game. With a healthy WIllie Parker at the end of the season, the Steelers were able to run against the Browns in the last game of the season, and the Chargers in the divisional playoffs. The Ravens however, were able to shut the Steeler running game down. The Steeler running game looks like a favorable matchup against a Cardinals defense that is weak against the run.
Running the ball has two advantages for the Steelers on Sunday: one- time of possession keeps the ball out of the explosive Cardinals offense; two-running the ball reduces the likelihood of the type of turnover that the Cardinals have thrived on during the playoffs.
If the Steelers have to throw, they like to do it out of a spread set. The more pressure a defense tends to bring, the more the Steelers spread out their offense, exploiting the larger passing lanes the defense gives up when they blitz. The Cardinals will closely watch Hines Ward early to see how healthy he is. They will mostly double team Santonio Holmes, the Steelers WR breakaway threat. And that leaves Steeler wideout Nate Washington as the guy mostly like to break open the game that nobody is talking about. The Steelers like to run Washington deep several times a game and take a shot. That has worked out for them this year, and the Cardinals have a choice to make: shut down the Steeler running game and risk getting beat on the deep ball, or double both wideouts and try to contain Parker.
The advantage here goes to the Steelers. The Cardinals have been too inconsistent to pick their defense tomorrow. The Steeler QB has played fully up to his potential in the playoffs, avoiding turnovers and throwing the ball with a lot of zip. The Cardinals need their defense to show up to make a game of it. The Steelers just need to exploit whatever the Cardinals give them, and that's the better position to be in.
Tomorrow: Steeler defense versus the Cardinals offense.
One betting tip: As we have already told you, the coin flip will be tails. But what you don't know is that the Cardinals are just about guaranteed to get the ball first. If the Cardinals win the tip, they take the ball. If the Steelers win the tip, they defer to the second half, choosing to put their defense on the field first. If you want to bet the prop who scores first, the Cardinals look like the team to take; if you want to bet the prop which team gets the first turnover or sack, the Steelers are the team to take.