Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Positional Breakdowns for SB43

Kurt Warner vs. Ben Roethlisberger
This is one of the more interesting matchups of the game in my opinion. Warner's come back for like the millionth time. The guy may technically be older, but he doesn't have the typical mileage of a 37 year old QB. Meanwhile, Big Ben has (at least in my mind) taken over the mantle of the best QB under age 30 this season. You can argue for others, sure, but really it all comes down to the W's, and if Big Ben wins this one, I don't see how you can even make an argument for anyone else.
The Edge: Steelers

Starting Running Back
Willie Parker vs. Edgerrin James
Fast Willie had a dynamo game against the Chargers but was predictably held in check against the Baltimore Birdies. This will be an interesting game for him because the Cards were gouged at times this year but they have been crazy good the last few games. Edge James may be playing better in the postseason than he has since he left Peyton Manning's side, but he hasn't played a defense with teeth like the Steelers.
The Edge: Steelers

Backup Running Backs/ Fullbacks
Carey Davis, Mewelde Moore, and Gary Russell vs. Tim Hightower, Terrelle Smith, and J.J. Arrington
Mewelde put in some workmanlike efforts this season in spelling the injured/ineffective Parker but hasn't been given much to do offensively in the postseason. I'd say J.J. Arrington has been kind of similarly doesn't touch the ball much and likely won't play a role in the game. Carey Davis is a solid enough blocker when he gets the chance but don't ask him to do much with the ball. Terrelle Smith is the same way. Tim Hightower is the deciding factor for the Cards here. Gary Russell may have developed a so-so nose for the goal line, but Hightower has turned into a pretty effective player for Zona.
The Edge: Cardinals

Wide Receiving Corps
Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, and Limas Sweed vs. Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, and Jerheme Urban
I think you probably have a pretty good idea where this one is going. Fitz has developed into without doubt the best receiver in football, and may even be the best offensive player now, too. Boldin has had his issues of late, but with two weeks to ready himself for the biggest game of his career, it's safe to say he'll be ready and focused. Breaston had a breakout year for the Cards, too and is probably the best third receiver in football, and Urban is a dangerous 4th option. The Steelers corps is effective but can't match up with that excellence. Ward is a gritty player and Holmes is developing into a playmaker anytime he touches the ball. Washington will still drive you absolutely insane with his inconsistencies but has still become a legit downfield threat. I don't even want to talk about Sweed...
The Edge:

Tight End
Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth vs. Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick
Heath Miller may be one of the most underappreciated tight ends in football. I'd love to see him get more attention in the passing game, but you can't underestimate his mad blocking skills, either. Don't forget the monstrous Matt Spaeth, either. The Cards mostly ignore their tight ends with just 3 completions their way in 3 playoff games.
The Edge: Steelers

Offensive Tackle
Willie Colon and Max Starks vs. Mike Gandy and Levi Brown
Why aren't more people talking about Max Starks right now? The guy may not be a latter day Orlando Pace or anything, but he has been damned good on the left side of the line since Marvel Smith was put out to pasture and I think has been the best player on the line for some time now. Unfortunately, he is bookended by Willie Colon. I'm not saying Colon will never be a good O-lineman, as I think he could still be a halfway decent guard, but he is, at his very best, a mediocre tackle. The Cards linemen have been steady if not spectacular for them. Levi Brown has turned into a pretty good player and Mike Gandy has been okay. This was a tough one to decide in the end, though, as I think Starks has been better than both Cardinals though.
The Edge: Push

Interior Offensive Line
Chris Kemoeautu, Justin Hartwig, and Darnell Stapleton vs. Reggie Wells, Lyle Sendlein, and Deuce Lutui
Darnell Stapleton has no business starting in a Super Bowl, and he terrifies the living hell out of me on every snap. Hartwig has been average at center, but isn't doing much to further the legacy of Steelers centers. Kemoeautu has been a disappointment, as I thought he was going to be a breakout player this season. For Zona, Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui both turned in good seasons and are steady linemen.
The Edge: Cardinals

Defensive Ends
Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Travis Kirschke vs. Antonio Smith, Travis LaBoy, and Bertrand Berry
It gets a little tougher to compare the linebacker and D-Line positions because of the different schemes, but we'll plow ahead anyway. The Cardinals ends may play in a 4-3, but no one really expects them to generate a ton of heat on the QB. Berry is a solid pass rush specialist, but with LaBoy injured he figures to get more snaps than he should and could be exploited. The Steelers have one of the most underrated ends in football in Aaron Smith. Despite being in the 3-4, Smith registered 5.5 sacks, a number which would have led the Cardinals entire team. And to the fact that he and Keisel are spectacular run stoppers and this one's no contest.
The Edge Steelers

Defensive Tackles
Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke vs. Darnell Dockett, Bryan Robinson, and Calais Campbell
Again, the comparisons are a bit tough here. Dockett has had a very, very good postseason and Robinson and Campbell have played well also. AFter watching a few games in person this season, my opinion of Casey Hampton has gone way down after watching him barely make it to the sidelines. Literally I don't think the guy can run 5 yards. His role as a gap-stuffer is a bit overrated in my mind.
The Edge Cardinals

Outside Linebackers
James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley vs. Chike Okeafor and Karlos Dansby
Against most teams the Cards stack up pretty well at OLB. Dansby is a very good young linebacker and may even be a slightly better all-around player than Woodley. However, the Steelers have a force of nature in James Harrison opposite Woodley.
The Edge Steelers

Inside Linebackers
James Farrior, Larry Foote, and Lawrence Timmons vs. Gerald Hayes
Farrior had a renaissance season, and is probably a hair better than Gerald Hayes, a young emerging tackle machine for the Cards. The Steelers other weapon here, and I'm talking about Timmons not the badly aging Foote, makes the difference for the Steelers. Timmons can cover anyone on the Cards roster except Fitz and can also bring the pressure up the middle like few others can.
The Edge Steelers

Starting Cornerbacks
Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Roderick Hood
It's arguable who really starts opposite Taylor as it seems like Deshea and Bryant pretty much play the same amount. Anyway, Taylor is having a great season and it will be fascinating watching him match against Fitzgerald. However, Rodgers-Cromartie has turned into a fantastic ball hawk and Roderick Hood has been equally good as a cover man. These two make me quite nervous.
The Edge: Cardinals

Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark vs. Antrel Rolle and Adrian Wilson
Again, the Cards would have an edge against a lot of teams, but not the Steelers. Rolle is a very good young safety and Wilson is one of the better all-around strong safeties in the NFL. Unfortunately, they are being compared to the best strong safety and one of the 3 or 4 best free safetys in all of football here. Polamalu and Clark are perfect complements and will give the Cardinals fantastic passing game a real challenge.
The Edge: Steelers

Other Defensive Backs
William Gay and Deshea Townsend vs. Aaron Francisco and Ralph Brown
I felt this needed to be included because we are likely to see a fair amount of nickel and dime packages in this game. And this is a spot where I think the Steelers have a big edge which could play a definite role in at least containing the Cards passing game. Townsend is a long-time starter who now has lost a lot of snaps to Bryant McFadden, but he is still a tremendous football player. William Gay showed a ton of promise I think this season, and figures to be given a shot to play for a starting job sometime in the future. Francisco and Brown are nice enough players, but they don't compare.
The Edge: Steelers

Kicker/ Punter
Jeff Reed and Mitch Berger vs. Neil Rackers and Ben Graham
This one gave me some problems deciding. Neither punter is really any good. Berger has been better this season than he's been given credit for and has outperformed Graham on most statistical levels. Still, he's Mitch Berger and is never too far away from shanking a 25 yard punt. Jeff Reed may be a very good cold weather kicker, but this wasn't his best season, even if he was very solid all year. His leg also doesn't compare to the cannon that Neil Rackers walks around with.
The Edge: Cardinals

Return Men

J.J. Arrington and Steve Breaston vs. Santonio Holmes, Mewelde Moore, and Gary Russell
Santonio may have housed that huge punt return in the San Diego game, but this one isn't really a contest.
The Edge: Cardinals

CoachesMike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Bruce Arians vs. Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm, Todd Haley, and Clancy Pendergast
This one left me debating back and forth for quite a while. Few would argue that Tomlin was the right choice for the Steelers considering the results, but Whiz and Grimm are going to be plenty motivated. The Todd Haley- Dick LeBeau matchup should be fascinating to watch, as Haley is one of the brighter young coordinators in football and LeBeau may be one of the 2 or 3 best defensive coordinators in NFL history. On the other side, Bruce Arians can leave you a little frustrated and irritated at times, but the same can be side for the Cards' overly aggressive Clancy Pendergast. I really, really want to pick the Steelers, but this is just too close to call.
The Edge: Push

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