How should Steelers cover Larry Fitzgerald?
ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson: "I think the first thing you do is double him, play Cover 2 man, the safeties over the top. If you do that, there's a small window of opportunity in terms of throwing the football. … You play a trail technique in Cover 2 man, once he releases, you follow his hip. The safety is paying attention to his eyes. And that's how you close a lot of those windows, you cut the field in half."
ESPN analyst Cris Carter: "You have to get up on Fitzgerald. You can't let him off the line of scrimmage. I'd put someone at the line of scrimmage and play two man the whole game, a safety over the top — the same way they stopped Randy Moss."
How can Larry Fitzgerald get open?
ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer: "He's going to have to play in the slot. You have to work the middle of the football field. You're going to have to attack between the numbers with post routes or crossing routes, deeper in cuts and double moves. … (The Steelers) know how to take away the perimeter."
Biggest injury question
Health of WR Hines Ward: Ward, the MVP of Super Bowl XL, sprained his right knee in the AFC title game and likely will not be his regular self today. Considering he doesn't have blazing speed that can beat you deep, the question is whether he can cut and be effective. "He's capable of making plays at times that help lift the spirit of the Steelers offense," ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson said. "He's a guy who knows how to get open in a zone, he's not going to beat you man to man. … He's not going to catch a lot of balls outside the numbers. He's an inside guy, motion guy."
WR Santonio Holmes
With Hines Ward's effectiveness a question, Holmes may have to carry more of the load (and see more double teams). Holmes is a dynamic playmaker, the Steelers' best deep threat, including in special teams. "Once a game, he's going to break your back," Cardinals special team coach Kevin Spencer said. "He is going to go five, five, and then 55, so we'll have to punt intelligently. We've got to cover our rear ends. He can change a game in a heartbeat, offensively and in the kicking game."
RB Edgerrin James
James, disgruntled and in the doghouse for most of the year, has been at his best during the playoffs (203 yards in three games). "He's been playing angry throughout the course of the playoffs," NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said. "That little bit of running game and some plays that allow this offense and Kurt Warner to not just be a pass, pass, pass all the time kind of offense is what has made such a difference.''
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Can the Cardinals' prolific offense score on the league's top-rated defense? To Steelers Pro Bowl S Troy Polamalu, the key to stopping the Cardinals passing attack is simple; don't let QB Kurt Warner throw the ball. The Steelers can do just that with their vaunted pass rush, making the key to this game the battle up front.
Steelers OLB James Harrison and OLB LaMarr Woodley
They're similar: "They're not as tall, and I think they use that to their advantage," LB James Farrior said. "In football, it's all about leverage and being the low man – the low man always wins. They already have an advantage cause of that lower center of gravity, it's hard for tackles to block them."
They're different: "We've got different styles," Woodley said. "Harrison he's one of those guys that beats linemen by speed rushing. I'm the type of rusher that goes in there like a bull rusher and powers over guys. Both gets the job done."
They're dangerous: Combining for 27½ sacks.
DE Aaron Smith
"He's a technician – he's always in the right position," Farrior said.
NT Casey Hampton
"Hampton is a Pro Bowl player – if you don't double him, you're going to have a lot of problems," Steelers DL coach John Mitchell said.
DE Brett Keisel
"He's the motor guy," Farrior said.
RT Levi Brown
LG Reggie Wells
C Lyle Sendlein
RG Deuce Lutui
LT Mike Gandy
"Mike Gandy is an accomplished tackle, but you're going to find a way to help him with Harrison for the most part," said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a three-time Super Bowl champion. "So that means the key matchup will be LaMarr Woodley with Levi Brown. I would say that Woodley is obviously superior and a better player — that matchup would really favor Woodley.
"The Steelers are able to create double teams across the line of scrimmage, and when you're trying to zone block, (the Steelers) hold their points so well," Schlereth said. "It makes you a little bit late getting to the linebackers. It's tough to defend."
How the Cardinals can overcome the Steelers pass rush
Be efficient early
"I think (Kurt) Warner has to be successful on first or second down," NBC analyst John Madden said. "We were talking about the Steeler defense and the illusion of a rush, and not knowing where they are coming from. That stuff mostly comes on third down, if you look at the Steeler defense, they'll be more basic on first and second."
Get rid of it quick
Warner has a quick release, but help yourself out with playcalling, Schlereth said: "If you have to leave (Gandy on Harrison) one on one, it'll be a (three or) five-step drop, you're never going to do a seven-step drop with hitches to it. Everything is going to be quick.''
Identify blitz early
The Steelers disguise their blitzes well — they may have one guy with his hands down and seven roaming. 'You've got to make designations easier, by spreading the formation, using false snap counts, double counts," Schlereth said.
Spread them out
"I'd play everything out of nickel so I won't have to face the 3-4 front," said Schlereth. "I'd line up three wides."
Keep Harrison guessing
One minute, you slide to him. Another minute, you do an aggressive three-step drop where you attack him. Another, chip him with a back, or a tight end. "You have to mix it up – if you line up and do the same thing every time, he'll kill you," Schlereth said. "You've got to invite him upfield and run a draw underneath. All of a sudden, he's got to be alert to it. That will slow a guy down."
Sizing up the safeties
Newly elected Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, one of the best defensive backs of all time, knows a thing or two about safeties. Woodson, now an NFL Network analyst, provided a scouting report on the two star safeties in the Super Bowl.
Troy Polamalu, Steelers, strong safety
Woodson: "Troy is kind of both Brian Dawkins (of the Eagles) and Ed (Reed). He's starting to emerge as a playmaking safety in terms of making interceptions. He's always been around the ball, he'll be in the A gap and then the ball is snapped, and he's in the deep half. That's really a no-no for a defensive back but … he's made it an artwork. He never gets tired. He's like the Energizer bunny."
Adrian Wilson, Cardinals, strong safety
Woodson: "Adrian is more like a true Ronnie Lott in-the-box safety. He's a safety in a linebacker's body (6-3, 230). He's a solid run-stuffing safety but very agile. He can get after the quarterback — and they do a great job of moving him around, bring him on the blitz. … Adrian is one of those guys who can change the complexion of the game with a hit. He's very similar to Dawkins, but bigger. And he's similar to Brian in that he's the heart and soul of the defense."