Friday, January 30, 2009

Looking Ahead to the Super Bowl

The president will not exactly be an impartial observer on Sunday.

For football fans, I guess Super Bowl weekend is always a bittersweet time.

It's the weekend when the pro football season comes to an end (the college season wrapped up three weeks ago), and there won't be much football news for the next six months — other than the NFL draft in the spring.

But it's also the weekend when this season's champion will be crowned amid all sorts of hoopla.

Bruce Springsteen will be on hand to provide the halftime entertainment. And even non-football fans tune in — some to watch the commercials, some because it's what everyone else will be doing. I have a friend who is not a football fan, but he says he records the game every year, then fast-forwards through it to watch the commercials.

Anyway, just as a reminder ...

Super Bowl XLIII
Pittsburgh (12-4-0) vs. Arizona (9-7-0)
6 p.m. (EST), NBC

Now, let's break this thing down.

Who has the advantage at ...


Statistically, this looks like a mismatch. Arizona's Kurt Warner had the third-best QB rating (96.9) in the entire NFL — and the best in the NFC. His counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh, wasn't in the Top 20 in the NFL, and he ranked 12th (with an 80.1) in the AFC.

Warner passed for 4,583 yards. Roethlisberger accounted for 3,301. Warner connected for 30 TDs through the air. Roethlisberger had slightly more than half as many (17). Warner completed two-thirds of his passes. Roethlisberger completed just under three-fifths.

Neither had a distinct advantage in avoiding turnovers. They were about even in the number of interceptions they threw — Roethlisberger was picked off 15 times, Warner 14. And both quarterbacks lost seven fumbles.

To be fair, Warner attempted 129 more passes than Roethlisberger did — probably because Pittsburgh had a stronger running game and could rely on it more often. But, even though he had fewer pass attempts, Roethlisberger was sacked nearly twice as often. Big Ben was tackled for a loss 46 times while Warner was brought down 26 times.

Advantage: Arizona.


Neither team has a 1,000-yard rusher.

Pittsburgh's top runner is Willie Parker, who ran for 791 yards. Mewelde Moore was second with 588. Each produced five rushing touchdowns.

Arizona's leading rusher is Edgerrin James, who only compiled 514 yards, probably because the Cardinals relied so much on the aerial attack. He scored three touchdowns. Tim Hightower gained only 399 yards, but he accounted for 10 TDs.

Of the two teams, Pittsburgh probably got more from its ground game this season, so ...

Advantage: Pittsburgh.


With their edge at the quarterback position, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Cardinals have the upper hand at receiver — Larry Fitzgerald was the NFC's leader in receiving yards with 1,431, Anquan Boldin was ninth in the NFC with 1,038, and Steve Breaston was 11th with 1,006. Fitzgerald also led the NFC in receiving TDs with 12, Boldin was third in the NFC with 11, and Breaston had three.

Fitzgerald and Boldin were 1-2 in the NFC in receptions — Fitzgerald had 96 and Boldin had 89. Breaston was 12th with 77. Fitzgerald averaged 14.9 yards/catch. Boldin's average was 11.7, and Breaston's average was 13.1

I don't mean to suggest that Pittsburgh doesn't have any weapons at receiver, but if the QB doesn't have the numbers, neither will the receivers.

The Steelers' Hines Ward was seventh in the AFC in receiving yards with 1,043. Santonio Holmes was 20th with 821 yards. Ward was tied for sixth in the league in receiving TDs with seven; Holmes had five.

And Ward was ninth in the AFC in receptions with 81. Holmes wasn't in the Top 20 in the AFC, but he had a respectable 55 receptions, which was good enough for a 14.9 yards/catch average. Ward's average was 12.9.

Advantage: Arizona.


Pittsburgh's James Harrison was fourth in the NFL in sacks with 16.0, and teammate LaMarr Woodley was tied for ninth in the NFL with 11.5. Aaron Smith wasn't in the Top 20 in the NFL, but he tied for 14th in the AFC with 5.5 sacks. The Cardinals didn't even have anyone who finished in the Top 20 in the NFC, let alone the NFL.

Harrison also led the NFL in forcing fumbles, with seven. Arizona's Gerald Hayes was in the NFL's Top 20 in forced fumbles with four.
So the Steelers seem to have the edge when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback.

But, if Arizona's offensive line manages to hold up against Pittsburgh, how will Warner fare against the Steeler secondary?

Troy Polamalu tied for second in the NFL in interceptions with seven. Teammate Tyrone Carter wasn't in the NFL's Top 20, but he tied for 17th in the AFC with three.

Arizona's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie tied for 14th in the NFL with four. He was also the only Cardinal in the NFC's Top 20 in that category.

Advantage: Pittsburgh.


Both teams have accurate placekickers.

Arizona's Neil Rackers nailed 18 of 20 field goal attempts from inside the 39, and he made seven of eight attempts from beyond the 40. He made all 44 PATs.

Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed made 27 of 31 field goal attempts this season. He made all 10 of his attempts inside the 30, missed one between the 30 and 39 and made nine of 12 from the 40 and beyond. He missed one PAT.

If it comes down to the kicking game for either team, I don't see an advantage for either squad.


The game is being played in Tampa. The temperature should be in the 50-60 range with a light breeze. It should be mostly cloudy, but no rain is expected.

So who's going to win? Well, they say defense wins championships. If that proves to be true on Sunday, I think the advantage will belong to Pittsburgh.

It's always tempting to go with the underdog, but the New York Giants may have used up Cinderella's quota for awhile last year.

I predict Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 20.

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