All right, you knew it was coming.
I even promise that I'll be as "fair and balanced" as Fox News.
This is the Super Bowl of Super Bowls, and who better to open for Springsteen (a man who usually needs no warmup act to preceed him) than the Steelers?
The theme of this Super Bowl is "an irresistable force [Kurt Warner and his trio of WRs] hits an unmovable object [the Steelers Defense]."
If this game were to be played in Pittsburgh, in January, I think we know who would leave the field battered and bruised. But it is not. It is Tampa, and February. Even though the high temperature was 55 degrees last week when I was at Clearwater Beach (not a good way to get a suntan), I understand it has warmed back up.
This matchup will be strength on strength. How the Steelers offense does against the Cardinals defense likely won't make any difference (with one caveat, below), and special teams likely won't make any difference. If Warner & Company can move the ball and strike quickly, this game will be competitive and the Cardinals can win. If they can't, I'm not sure the game will even be competitive.
Caveat: If Big Ben turns back into Turnover Ben, and gives the Cardinals the the same type of field position that he gave Manning, it could be a real problem for the Steelers defense. However, Ben only has one interception in the past three games, and with the exception of the Titans game in Week #16 has really protected the ball well over the past two months.
Now to the articles:
From Monday's Tribune:
Five Underhyped Super Bowl Stories
(I love the "bricks used to build Heinz Field are softer than Taylor's hands line... its so true.)
Fitzgerald has 419 receiving yards in the playoffs and, more than any other player in the Super Bowl, has the ability to dominate the game. Though Taylor will have help from a blitzing pass rush and safeties over the top, the cornerback typically assigned to the opponent's top receiver must believe he has to be the best player on the NFL's best defense. If Taylor can be, it could create quite the Super Bowl legend for a fourth-round draft pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette. It wouldn't be the first time Taylor has shut down an elite receiver. In back-to-back wins this season, he limited Randy Moss (45) and Terrell Owens (32) to fewer than 100 yards combined. Bears cornerback Charles Tillmans's college teammate plays a similarly physical style. People in Pittsburgh will tell you there are bricks used to build Heinz Field softer than Taylor's hands, but knocking down passes would suffice against the Cardinals.
Born to not lose: Grown-up Big Ben leads Steelers
Alan Robinson, AP
Much has been made about Ben's new, big contract. It is very out of character for the Steelers to believe in paying big money to a QB. The sentiment throughout Steelers Nation is that Ben is proving to be worth the money. Its not gaudy passing stats that will ever impress Steelers Nation. On the other hand, what Ben did late in the regular season in Baltimore against the Ravens defense, marching 92 yards in 12 plays in just under three minutes for the game winning score.
“I hate to lose. I hate being second,” Roethlisberger said. “When it comes down to it, I want the ball in my hands and I want to win the game.”
And which NFL quarterback won the most games by age 26? Brady? Dan Marino? John Elway? Joe Montana? No, Roethlisberger, with 51. In a few days, he could join only Brady by winning a second Super Bowl before he turns 27.
Consider this, too: Roethlisberger has started during each of his five NFL seasons. Terry Bradshaw, against whom all Steelers quarterbacks are measured, didn’t become an unquestioned starter until midway through his fifth season, in 1974. Before then, Bradshaw endured several awful seasons, benchings for Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam, while he did a lot of growing up.
So much has happened to Roethlisberger during those five seasons: Going 13-0 as a rookie before losing in the AFC title game; winning the Super Bowl in his second season; the motorcycle crash that seriously injured him in 2006; the down season that followed; a comeback year (32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) under a new coach in 2007; another Super Bowl appearance this season, despite a falloff in production (17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions).
“I have been through a lot,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s rewarding to get here, it would be more rewarding to win it. A lot of people find ways to doubt you and hate you and love you, and it’s fun to prove people wrong.”
His reckless, playground style creates some of the punishment he absorbs. He doesn’t believe any play is irretrievably broken, so he hangs onto the ball longer than many quarterbacks.
Or as Nate Washington said after the AFC Title game,
Big Ben's scrambles produce one key play after another
Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ben may not be the best QB in the NFL. But I don't think you can name a better football player at the QB position. Maybe Brady, but I'm not certain I've seen Brady throw his body into a block on a reverse like Ben does, or make an outstanding open field tackle when he has to.
"I tell people all the time, he's a good quarterback but he's one heck of a football player," receiver Nate Washington said yesterday after a team meeting. "There's a difference in those two. That's what Ben does, he prides himself on making plays."
Moving on, my all-time favorite player, who will be elected to the Hall of Fame this week, has a very good analysis of the strength-on-strength aspect of the game. And it scares me.
Rod Woodson sees trouble ahead for the Steelers; praises Cardinals' passing
Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
So the Steelers need Harrison, Woodley, and Timmons to put a lot of pressure on the QBs. Nobody else has been successful at pressuring Warner this season, but nobody else has the Steelers' front seven, either. Again, strength on strength.
"I think it's going to be a tough task in the secondary for the Steelers just to match up on a play-by-play basis and shut those receivers down," Woodson said yesterday. "To me, this is the toughest draw the Steelers had in the NFC.
"Playing against Philly, I think they could out-tough the Eagles. Playing against the Arizona Cardinals against spread-out football, who can find all their receivers? And Kurt Warner's doing an outstanding job. I think it's a tough draw for them."
"If the Steelers are going to win this football game, the secondary -- the back end -- and the linebackers in coverage have to play the best they played all season long," Woodson predicted. "And if they can do that, they can win the football game. But if they have a bad day, it's over for the Steelers."
The Steelers often had trouble with spread offenses in the early part of this decade, but they've tightened up since Dick LeBeau's return as coordinator in 2004.
"You have to think ... a little advantage has to go to the Cardinals just for the fact they can spread you out, they can throw the football," Woodson said. "I can see them going to their two-minute [strategy] in their first series. What that does, you don't have the whole blitz package for Dick LeBeau at hand because you can't get into all that, the checks."
Speaking of Harrison...
Harrison makes his statements on field
Barry Wilner, AP
And his partner in crime, Woodley:
His development was slow through the next two seasons, held back in part because the Steelers had a Pro Bowler at outside linebacker in Joey Porter.
But the Steelers allowed Porter to leave for Miami as a high-priced free agent in 2007, and Harrison efficiently moved into the starting spot.
Pittsburgh was so impressed by Harrison’s improvement that it already had extended his contract through 2009 even though he was not a starter.
“I figured the last time I got cut, that if I didn’t get picked up, that it would probably be over for me,” Harrison said. “Fortunately for me, Clark broke his hand and the Steelers called me back and here we are now.”
At the Super Bowl, and without the kind of attention the league’s top defensive performer should command.
Toward the end of the Steelers’ one-hour availability, as Harrison counted down the minutes, along came a camera crew and a hulking, sweating man holding a microphone.
“Sapp,” Harrison said, “You got a question for me?”
Warren Sapp, the 1999 defensive player of the year, did, indeed. But first, Harrison played the reporter’s role.
“Hey, Sapp, how come you never had tough times and got drafted first round?” Harrison asked, a smile barely crossing his lips.
“Because I was a better player than you,” Sapp said, quickly adding, “In college.”
“Now, we’re both defensive players of the year,” Sapp said.
Both own Super Bowl rings, too. But Sapp was a regular for the Buccaneers when they won in 2003. Harrison was a backup in 2006 and was involved in three tackles on special teams.
So Harrison admits he has a little more catching up to do with Sapp, beginning Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
“It means a little bit more to me because I am a starter instead of playing just on special teams,” he said. “I have matured. I handle situations a lot differently now than I would back then. I have gotten better since then, too. I have learned the game and taken time to study the game.
“I didn’t know if I had it in me to play this well, but it has all come out.”
OLB Woodley becomes disruptive force
Ron Musselman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
That's true, Troy. But come on, he lists the Steelers all-time great LBs and leaves out the two best: Jack Lambert and Gregg Lloyd?? Come on.
"You think of some of the great linebackers they've had here, names like Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Jack Ham, Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, and you want to be a part of that group," Woodley said. "You want people talking about you like that when you're done playing football."
Woodley's popularity skyrocketed when he was featured on the cover of the Dec. 22 Sports Illustrated, glaring down at Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco after yet another sack.
"[LaMarr] has played at a high level," Tomlin said. "The thing that we need from him is consistent pressure. I think that he provides that."
Woodley, who dreamed of being a WWF wrestler or an NBA player as a youngster, was the Steelers' sixth-leading tackler in the regular season with 78 stops. He also tied for the NFL lead with four fumble recoveries.
"He's played great for us this year," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "To only be a second-year pro and make the type of plays he makes and do the things he's asked to do is pretty amazing."
Woodley's pass-rushing skills have drawn the most attention. He has 21 1/2 sacks since joining the Steelers and making the successful transition to outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense.
At Michigan, he was primarily a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment.
"It's always hard to draft a college defensive end and turn them into a pass-rushing linebacker," Polamalu said. "But, obviously, LaMarr's done a great job with it.
"This defense is built for our linebackers to have a lot of success, and he's had a lot of it so far in a short period of time."
And lastly, if you aren't familiar with the story Aaron Smith and his son Elijah's battle with Leukemia this season (don't confuse Aaron with loudmouth Anthony Smith, who has been "inactive" for both playoff games and Tomlin has probably stuffed a sock in his mouth), you should read this article.
Football becomes nice distraction for Smith
By Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports
But don't underestimate Smith's importance to the team. When he got hurt (torn bicep muscle) last season, that was far worse than Willie Parker's broken foot.
For three hours and change every week, Aaron Smith can escape.
He can leave behind the image of long needles being stuck in his 5-year-old son Elijah as doctors check his bone marrow, measuring the effects of the medicine the little boy is taking to fight leukemia. Smith can escape from having to explain to his son that, despite the painful evidence to the contrary, the doctors are trying to help, not hurt.
For those few, precious hours, Smith can forget about such scary words as “oncologist” and “chemotherapy” and terms like “white-cell count,” the stuff most people hope they never have to deal with or at least get a chance to live a full life before hearing.
Sure, Smith gets to spend much of that time in the midst of violent collisions with other men weighing 300 pounds – men who would like nothing more than to inflict the kind of pain that would cause their opponent to quit.
But when you compare that to the pain and fear inspired by a doctor asking you, “What do you know about leukemia?” or the image of your little boy bloated by steroids as he goes through chemo, double-team blocks don’t measure up.
Same article/ links as above...
Few people in football understand what Smith means to the Steelers. He is a lynchpin of the team’s 3-4 defense, particularly against the run.
In 2007, after Smith was placed on injured reserve with three games remaining, the Steelers went into a tailspin. They gave up 224 yards rushing at home to Jacksonville in the first game without Smith; they proceeded to lose three of their final four, allowing at least 135 yards rushing in each of the losses. That included a first-round playoff loss to Jacksonville at home.
“He’s the focal point of our run defense, no question,” nose tackle Chris Hoke said.
“This is the best way I can say it,” said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “I’ve been here five years since I came back, and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen Aaron Smith blocked. He never gets blocked, and there’s no way you can overstate that value to any defense. He gets his job done on a consistent basis.”
OK, but that sounds like hyperbole.
“You would say that, but I’m telling you,” LeBeau said. “That’s why I can never understand why he doesn’t go to the Pro Bowl every year. He doesn’t get quite as many sacks as the defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme, but I think our guys should be in competition with the defensive tackles. …
To me, Aaron Smith is a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl.”
Said LeBeau: “I could never overstate my admiration for him. He has been unbelievable – every day, to be with your son and to deal with this. He’s a great husband, a great father, a great family man, and he’s been a great leader for our defense.”