Breaking Down the Cardinals
For Warner, Another Unlikely Trip
Wedneday, January 28, 2009
The “Greatest Show on Turf” from his days as a two-time league most valuable player for the St. Louis Rams are no longer, but Kurt Warner is back in the Super Bowl. Either he or the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger will emerge as a two-time Super Bowl winner, and some think a victory by Warner would cement a place for him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His initial rise to being a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Rams was improbable enough. He was a journeyman player and a former grocery bagger, an Arena Football League and NFL Europe graduate and an undrafted rookie in Green Bay too timid to step into the huddle and call a play, recalled Eagles Coach Andy Reid, a Packers assistant at the time.
The return is every bit as unlikely. Warner played only nine games with the Rams over 2002 and 2003. The glory days seemed over. He left St. Louis and spent a season in New York in 2004, serving as a mentor and seat-warmer for top overall draft choice Eli Manning after Kerry Collins refused to stay around to do that job. He made only nine starts for the Giants before Coach Tom Coughlin benched Warner and decided to get the Manning era under way.
Warner landed in 2005 in Arizona, the place where pro football careers often go to die. Another celebrated young quarterback, Matt Leinart, arrived in 2006, and the script for Warner was supposed to be the same as the one he followed in New York.
But something happened to Leinart on his way to being a franchise quarterback in the NFL: He didn’t play particularly well, and his off-field decision-making led Cardinals coaches to question his leadership abilities. Coach Ken Whisenhunt surprisingly went with Warner over Leinart as the starter entering this season, and now Warner is back on the sport’s biggest stage with a team that entered this season with one winning season since 1984.
Warner’s task today is to get the ball in the hands of Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who’s having a postseason for the ages. The Steelers undoubtedly will do all they can to force Warner to look elsewhere, so fellow wideout Anquan Boldin could have a more prominent role than in recent weeks. Warner is better now than he used to be when facing blitzes, but the Steelers almost certainly will be aggressive and attempt to pressure Warner into mistakes.
Don’t Forget Boldin: Remember when people talked about the Cardinals having two great wide receivers, not just Larry Fitzgerald and the “other” guy with the hamstring injury and penchant for a sideline temper tantrum? Today Arizona might need more from Anquan Boldin, who would be a No. 1 wideout on many other teams.
Pressure Points: Arizona ranked only 19th in the NFL in total defense during the regular season. But the defense has played far better than that during the postseason, and the Cardinals must take advantage of the Steelers’ pass-protection deficiencies. Making Roethlisberger hurry throws gives the Cardinals a much better chance at winning the turnover battle.
Play From Ahead: If the Cardinals fall behind early and get into pass-only mode, it could get ugly. If that happens, the Steelers will rev up the pass rush, and Warner might not have much chance to duplicate his exploits during these playoffs.
Run the Ball: The Cardinals don’t have to churn out an abundance of rushing yards. They just have to stay committed to the running game and keep giving Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower enough carries to keep the mighty Pittsburgh defense honest.
WHEN: Sunday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.
TV: WRC-4, WBAL-11.
RECORDS: Steelers 14-4, Cardinals 12-7.
RADIO: WTEM-980 AM.
Cardinals' Team Stats
|COMP.-ATT.|| 418-630 |
| 323-517 |
|3RD DOWN EFFICIENCY|| 83-198 |
| 92-207 |
|4TH DOWN EFFICIENCY|| 8-16 |
| 13-17 |
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