'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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Warner is a former Super Bowl winner and a father of seven who credits his Christian faith for his remarkable return to the top of the league. He's stabilized the sometimes volatile Arizona squad, famous for sideline confrontations between coaches and players. He's also taken the role of a grizzled leader who brought the team back from the brink of defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago.Skip to next paragraph
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Second in pass completions during the regular season, the graying Warner is flanked by a receiving duo: muscle-bound tackle-breaker Anquan Boldin, whose comeback from a crushing early-season hit has defined the Cardinals' toughness, and Larry Fitzgerald, who has amazed fans with his ability to catch balls with one hand and, sometimes, with his eyes closed.
Epitomizing the NFL's new focus on offense, the Cardinals often put a third receiver, Steve Breaston, on the line.
"Anytime you can make big plays in games, it really limits what the defense can do, and it doesn't really matter what kind of pass rush you get," says the Steelers' Polamalu. "So far, nobody's figured out how to stop Fitz [Fitzgerald]."
To be sure, defense still rules the Super Bowl. In the past 12 years, only four winning teams have had a top-10 offense, while nine of the teams have featured a top-10 defense, says Thomas George, a senior analyst with NFL.com.
However, Mr. George says, the domination of Warner and the Steelers' much-improved quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is likely to give this Super Bowl a decidedly offensive tilt. Both QBs are known to call their own plays.
"What's particularly evident in this Super Bowl is the fact that defenses have gotten better and a return to the QB getting more opportunity to take control of the game," George says.
Yet the Cardinals' greatest strength may come from its connections with the Steelers organization. Former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is now the Cards' coach, his head full of intelligence about a Steelers squad that has hardly changed since he walked the chilly sidelines in Pittsburgh.
In addition, former Steeler John Lott, who is now the Cardinals' strength coach, has played a role in bringing the Steel City's working-class style to Phoenix, says Arizona offensive linebacker Karlos Dansby.
"We cut over 300 pounds of fat over the off-season as a team, and we've been rolling ever since," says Dansby. "We admire stuff like that when you see guys just coming out and ... making big hits."
Yet Arizona's defense plain stunk in the regular season, giving up only one point fewer than the offense managed to score. But it's a different story in the postseason: The team hasn't given up 100 rushing yards in a game yet and has seven sacks total in the three playoff games (compared with 31 for the 16 games of the regular season).
"We're just going out and playing freely, and I guess everyone else has been tensed up," explains key defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, a first-time Pro Bowler. "We love being the underdog. We love being called the worst Super Bowl team ever."