Sunday, February 01, 2009

Point/Counterpoint: Mike Woods on the Cardinals

Here's Mike's piece on why he thinks Arizona will win today's game:

According to today’s New York Times, Kurt Warner wears number 13 to show that his spirituality overrides any need to be superstitious. If that isn’t enough to convince anyone of the Cardinals’ impending victory tonight, then it’s tough to know what else to say.

In last year’s Super Bowl, Andrew wrote in the Journal that if the New York Giants played their best possible game and the Patriots faltered as they hadn’t before, the Giants had a chance to win. I countered that the game wasn’t even worth watching, since the 18-0 Patriots would run roughshod all over them. We all know what happened next, and I’ve been eating my words ever since.
Even though analysis of every statistic and match-up flew in the face of a New York victory, the Giants managed to pull it out.

This year’s Cardinals increasingly remind me of last year’s Giants. They’ve shown that with a quarterback who’s on his game (Manning or Warner), a receiver who consistently makes difficult catches in double coverage (Plaxico “sure, sweatpants work as a holster!” Burress and Larry Fitzgerald) and a defense that comes together at the right time, mediocre regular season records can be overcome in the playoffs.
As such, I’m not making the same mistake twice. While it will surely be a ferocious battle, and not the cleanest game, the Cardinals can pull it out.

Arizona’s defense has forced 12 turnovers this post-season, excellent numbers compared to their regular season. Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, tossed 15 interceptions this season. Guys like Darnell Dockett (who took 10 hours out of his Tuesday to get some new ink done…crazy) can wreak havoc and keep Roethlisberger on the run and hesitant to make quick decisions.

The status of Hines Ward is key to the Steelers’ offensive success. If he’s at his best, the Cardinals may not be able to stop him. Having just been declared fit to play after a knee injury in the AFC Championship game, though, his health is questionable.

The matchup worth watching, though, is the Cardinals’ lights-out offense against the Steelers’ menacing defense.
Kurt Warner is at his best throwing quick passes out of the pocket. The Cards’ running game doesn’t stack up against the Steelers’ defense, but it doesn’t have to with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin running rampant in the secondary. It’s worth noting that the Steelers lost to a much-inferior Cardinals team playing a similar style last season.

The game will come down to Warner’s ability to get the ball to Fitzgerald—now statistically the greatest single-playoff receiver in NFL history. With his staggering numbers, it’s hard to bet against him, even against the Steelers’ stingy defense.

Steeler fans will point to experience as a factor in the game. Aside from countering with the Giants as a blueprint to the contrary, the Cards’ underdog status must be taken into account. The Steelers have all the pressure in the world on them as the team favoured to win by a touchdown. The Cards, meanwhile, probably feel fortunate just to be anywhere near Tampa at this point. For them, from here on in, it’s just gravy.

Above all, I refuse to make the same mistake as last year, where blind homerism and overconfidence led me to ignore the importance of team play and coming together at the right time. As such, I’m looking forward to later tonight when Kurt Warner, with God on his side, gets to hoist the Lombardi Trophy once again.

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