Friday, January 30, 2009

Super Bowl things to think about

The Super Bowl is a little more than two days away and the players are making their final adjustments.

It seems everyone has broken down every angle in this game over the last two weeks, but I'm going to offer something else to think about. My thought was about the regular season schedule, because it can predict how the team will respond to big, high-pressure games.

The Steelers were written-off at the beginning of the season because they had such a tough schedule. The team played six teams in this year's playoffs, winning 3 (Ravens twice and Chargers). The losses came against the Eagles, Titans and Giants.

There also were highly hyped games against the Cowboys (a Steelers win) and Patriots (win). That's eight games out of 16 regular season games that were covered like a playoff game.

The Cardinals played five of this year's playoff teams and won only one, against Miami in week two. The four losses came against the Eagles, Giants, Vikings and Panthers. Other "big" games came against the Cowboys (a win) and Patriots (a loss).

There is no game bigger than the Super Bowl, but experience playing in high-pressure situations is a big deal. The Cardinals did not perform well under those conditions in the regular season, 2-5, while the Steelers played much better, 5-3.

Something else to consider when thinking about the Cardinals. This year's playoff performance has been impressive, but Larry Fitzgerald has not always played well in big games.

During the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl, his last college game at the University of Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald had five catches for 77 yards and no touchdowns. It broke his 18-game streak scoring a touchdown. Virginia beat Pitt by rushing the passer and limiting the number of throws at Fitzgerald. The game also was the first since he was runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting.

By the way, the same year was Ben Roethlisberger's last year at Miami (Ohio). He torched Louisville in his final game, the GMAC Bowl, for 376 yards and four touchdowns.

More recently, Fitzgerald scored all three of his touchdowns in the first half of the NFC Championship game. He had three catches in the second half, all on one drive in the fourth quarter. That happened to be the drive that led to the game-winning score. My point is receivers can disappear during a game. The Eagles figured it out in the second half of that game.

The Steelers also have stopped offenses headed into the game on a roll. Remember the San Diego Chargers? There were several pundits who picked the Chargers because their offense was on fire coming into the game. The Steelers gave up 308 yards and three TD passes to Philip Rivers, but two of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was over. And many of those passing yards came because the Chargers only could rush for 15 yards.

Be careful listening to all this talk about the Cardinals offense and how it will beat the Steelers. Remember, defense still wins championships.

1 comment:

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