Although many football fans would say the Super Bowl doesn’t have the best of match-ups, the game on Sunday is shaping up as an intriguing contest.
On the one hand, there’s the traditional, hard-hitting, universally-celebrated Pittsburgh Steelers. Facing them is the Cinderella-like Arizona Cardinals with a reputation for being one of the NFL’s worst franchises.
Judging by the lofty point spread (7 points), it would appear Pittsburgh has the Super Bowl practically wrapped up. After all, defense wins championships and the Steelers have the league’s top rated defense.
But appearances can often times be deceiving. Over the past three weeks, the Arizona Cardinals, which has one of the NFL’s worst defenses, beat the fourth ranked defense (Philadelphia); the eleventh ranked defense (Atlanta); and the twelfth ranked defense (Carolina). None of those wins was a fluke.
For whatever reason, the Cardinals have defied the stats (and the odds-makers) throughout the playoffs.
For instance, three key stats – the ratio of defensive sacks to offensive sacks, the ratio of rushing yards gained to yards allowed and the ratio of passing yards gained to yards allowed – were all in favor of the Cardinals’ opponents.
But Arizona somehow elevated their play in the post season to win games the stats dictated they should have lost.
Of course, you can only take statistics so far. It’s the intangibles that often decide big games.
Some of those intangibles are well documented. The Cardinals have intensified their play in the post season, on both offense and especially on defense.
For most of the season, Arizona’s defense was a sieve, allowing more than 26 points a game – more points than the Texans, Seahawks, Raiders and Bengals.
But in the playoffs, they’ve allowed about 20 points a game (to solid teams) and, more importantly, they’ve forced turnovers and pressured opposing quarterbacks.
On the other side of the ball, the offense has elevated its rushing attack far beyond its 32nd and dead-last ranking, and they’ve protected Kurt Warner, giving him valuable time to find his talented receivers.
Of course, few will debate the notion that Arizona’s offense is its strong suit and that its defense, while still playing better, is not yet ready to completely stop solid offensive teams.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, its offense is mediocre at best – its rushing attack is ranked 24th and its passing game is ranked 16th.
Still, a healthy Ben Roethlisberger brings a lot to the Steelers attack. He has the intangibles that make for a winner – determination, resolve and a short memory. His record in big games, especially with revenge on his side (Arizona beat Pittsburgh last season), is phenomenal.
Which brings us to what will happen this Sunday. Despite Pittsburgh’s outstanding defense, the Cardinals’ offense is playing so well that it won’t be stopped completely. They’ll make enough plays to move the ball and find the end zone.
Conversely, the Arizona defense won’t be able to completely stop the Steelers. Pittsburgh will also score in what should be an entertaining game.
The difference will occur somewhere where it’s least expected: a late turnover, a costly penalty or a coaching blunder. It may not be much of a difference maker, but just enough to swing the outcome of the game: Arizona 30, Pittsburgh 26.