February 2, 2009


Ten Things I Think I Think during Super Bowl week in Tampa (Peter King, 1/28/09, Sports Illustrated)

I sidled up to Larry Fitzgerald this morning at the Cardinals' media availability (kid, you really don't have to call me "Mr. King,'' even though I have a daughter eight days older than you), and told him I thought the Steelers would be playing lots of two-deep coverage in the game, with safeties Ryan Clark and TroyPolamalu both playing center field. He nodded, smiled, then said it would be fine with him if they played some single-coverage, too.

Not a chance, Junior. Not if the Steelers know what's good for them. I don't mean to give a shameless plug here, but as I write in Sports Illustratedthis week, it'll be stunning if the Steelers aren't very physical with Fitzgerald in the five-yard bump zone, and consistently have a safety (or maybe linebacker) ready to joust with Fitzgerald and cover him far downfield. "The chess match is going to be the Pittsburgh linebackers on the Arizona receivers," 49ers secondary coach Johnnie Lynn told me for the SI story, "because on early downs Pittsburgh usually lets the linebackers drop in coverage.'' So get ready to see several players -- Clark, Polamalu, LaMarr WoodleyandJames Harrison-- helping out on Fitzgerald.

Kurt Warner is going to need to be quick with his release, obviously, because of the pressure he'll see from different spots. I wrote about the clock in his head -- he knows he has maybe three seconds from the snap of the ball to decide where to throw -- and about how the 49ers had success by re-routing Fitzgerald off the line of scrimmage, forcing him to start his pass route over. Look for the Steelers to do that.

"I think the most important element against this team is recognition,'' Warner said. "They've got a lot of different guys that they can use in different spots. I think the key for us is going to be being able to recognize who's who, where the blitz is coming from, who's got to block who, who's going to be free and when I need to get the ball out. I think that's going to be the biggest key. If we can recognize what they're doing and are able to handle it or attack it, we have a chance to have some success. If we don't and they win that battle, then it could be a long day for us."

Agreed. I like the Steelers, narrowly, but the game is in Warner's hands and head. If he plays turnover-free and smart, and is his usual expert self in reading his receiving progressions, Arizona will continue to shock the world. But Pittsburgh has steamrolled lots of dreams, and teams, this year. It should be a great game.

The whole key to the game is that Ben Rothlisberger is soft mentally and Ken Whisenhunt knows him well enough to exploit that. Recall that the biggest play call of his Steelers' career was having a wide receiver throw the ball instead of his QB. The only question is whether his defense is now playing well enough that they can execute his game plan. That's a darn big question though. Offensively, Kurt Warner just needs to get the ball to Steve Breaston. Between Pittsburgh blitzing and trying to shut down Fitzgerald and Boldin he's going to a very good receiver who's wide open a lot. Once they're forced to account for him then the top two receivers can go wild.

Cardinals 31--Steelers 20

Make your pick and call the points and we'll give whoever's closest a book. We've got an advance copy of Alex Berenson's new one: The Silent Man.

Bryan Francoeur also had an idea for a contest: name the day the last jihadi leaves Guantanamo Bay. I'm taking June 7, 2015.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 2, 2009 6:33 PM
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