Sunday, February 01, 2009

Point/Counterpoint: Myself on the Steelers

And here's my piece on why Pittsburgh will win today:

If life was a Hollywood story, there's no question that the Arizona Cardinals would take today's game. Their unlikely playoff run feels like it should be on the silver screen, and the revitalization of Kurt Warner could be turned into any number of movies. This is reality, though, and the Cardinals are long past due for turning into pumpkins.

That's not to underestimate Arizona. They've proven to be a very capable team in these playoffs, and much more dangerous than their regular-season performance would indicate. They have the great quarterback play from Warner and the tremendous ability of Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, and they'll certainly be in this game. They won't win it, though, and that's because they're a one-dimensional team.

The Steelers can hurt you in a variety of different ways. Their defence is terrific against the run and the pass, and their zone blitz means that you never know which players are coming at you. Arizona's offensive line is okay, but not great, and they'll have a lot of difficulty coping with the wide variety of defensive looks Dick LeBeau and the Steelers will throw at them. The Steelers don't need to shut down Fitzgerald completely; if they can contain him and put pressure on Warner, that should be enough. By contrast, Arizona's offence is largely just Warner-to-Fitzgerald. The Cardinals have only had minimal success running the ball this year, as Aaron Schatz of the excellent Football Outsiders pointed out earlier, and they finished last in rushing during the regular season. They won't be able to pound it on the ground against the tremendous Steelers run defence, and once they go pass-wacky, look out for some big sacks and interceptions from the likes of James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh has a good-but-not-great offence, but they only have to deal with a marginally effective Cardinals' defence. They can mix true runs from Willie Parker with screens to Mewelde Moore and passes to the likes of Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington. Tight end Heath Miller is one of the league's best, and Ben Roethlisberger is one of the top scrambling quarterbacks in the league and excels at picking up big yards on the run. Moreover, he can take a hit and he knows when to take one; that's why he doesn't throw a ton of interceptions. The Steelers buy into the team mentality and are probably the best in the league at blocking for each other downfield. Pittsburgh's offence isn't spectacular, but it should be more than good enough against Arizona.

The other point to consider is how the teams got here. The Cardinals beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first round, a team just slightly less surprising than themselves in the remarkable turnaround category. They then knocked off a good Carolina team in the second round, but that was mostly due to a five-interception performance on the part of Jake "Daylight Come and I Wanna" Delhomme (as christened by Chris Berman); it was more poor play from the Panthers than anything special on Arizona's part. In the NFC Championship Game, they took down a flawed Philadelphia Eagles team marred by poor coaching decisions and inconsistent play. That's not bad, but it doesn't compare to the Steelers knocking off one of the league's best offences (San Diego) and then beating their only competition for best defence (Baltimore). Pittsburgh's strength of schedule is another good reason to take them.

Finally, there's the crucial battle of the nicknames. Thanks to Deadspin's Will Leitch, Arizona shall forever be known as "The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals". That's not bad, and they've certainly cut through the playoffs to this point. However, buzzsaws tend to fail when they come up against steel. Arizona's had a great run, but Pittsburgh will be too much for them to handle.

No comments:

Post a Comment