'Steel Curtain II' vs. a big offense: a contest of styles
Super Bowl XLIII will put on display how football is being redefined in front of fans' eyes.
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They were the Card-Pitts. They were so bad the rest of the league called them "The Carpets."
These days, the franchises have opposing game-time philosophies. The Cards, their offense led by former grocery-store stock boy Kurt Warner, face the Steel Curtain II defense and its wild-haired Greek Orthodox Samoan safety, Troy Polamalu.
The game will not only arc across history and put into crushing motion a mix of regular guys-turned-gridiron mavericks. It will also delve into the heart of a game that is being redefined in front of fans' eyes.
The adage that defense wins championships dies hard, but today's champions are more likely to rely on a balanced game plan built as much on offensive grit as defensive formations.
"The main story line is the dynamic offense of the Cardinals versus the defense of the Steelers and how these teams have built their squads," says Jeffrey Ohlmann, a University of Iowa researcher who does quantitative analysis of NFL teams.
Nimble as 250-pound ballerinas, the Steelers' front line in many ways defines an emerging style of fast but bone-crunching defenses. It's gotten the team to two Super Bowls in four years and is setting them up as 7-point favorites this Sunday. A win would give the Steelers a sixth overall title.
Engineered by 50-year NFL veteran Dick LeBeau, who sometimes amuses his players by doing push-ups on the sidelines, the Steelers are drawing inspiration from the team's 1970s-era Steel Curtain, which won four championships.
Anchored by pass rusher James Harrison, the league's best defensive player, the D's plan is to intimidate the front line and rattle Warner with blitzes – before the Cardinals quarterback can use his quick release to lob a game winner to one of three wideouts, who all have more than 1,000 yards on the season. Polamalu, who has traveled to Greece and Turkey to search for his faith, will unwind his prodigious locks and key in on Warner's eyes, becoming, as he says, "One with the game."
Arizona will try to counter with a high-flying passing game and, more critical, an emerging running game led by rookie running back Tim Hightower, who ran for 73 yards in the Cardinals' playoff win over Atlanta.
"They're the most aggressive defense that we'll face this year. We're going to have our hands full," says Cardinals defensive tackle Levi Brown.