Breaking Down the Cardinals

Kurt Warner won it all with the Rams after a journeyman’s start. Now he’s back after his starting days were thought to be over. (By Donald Miralle -- Getty Images)

THE QUARTERBACK

For Warner, Another Unlikely Trip

Washington Post Staff Writer
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.

KEY MATCHUP

Fitzgerald
Steelers secondary vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald: Pittsburgh finished the regular season with the No. 1 pass defense, allowing 156.9 yards per game. In this postseason, however, the Steelers have yielded 200 yards per game. Fitzgerald, meantime, has 419 yards receiving in these playoffs, breaking the NFL record held by Jerry Rice for most yards in a single postseason. Fitzgerald can make catches despite double-teams, and if he continues his postseason success, Arizona may have more running room with Pittsburgh focused on the pass.

FOUR DOWNS

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.

Game Info

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'
Projected Starters

OFFENSE
WR 11 Larry Fitzgerald
LT 69 Mike Gandy
LG 74 Reggie Wells
C 63 Lyle Sendlein
RG 76 Deuce Lutui
RT 75 Levi Brown
TE 82 Leonard Pope
WR 81 Anquan Boldin
QB 13 Kurt Warner
RB 32 Edgerrin James
FB 45 Terrelle Smith

DEFENSE
LE 94 Antonio Smith
LT 97 Bryan Robinson
RT 90 Darnell Dockett
RE 92 Bertrand Berry
SLB 56 Chike Okeafor
MLB 54 Gerald Hayes
WLB 58 Karlos Dansby
LCB 26 Roderick Hood
RCB 29 D. Rodgers-Cromartie
SS 24 Adrian Wilson
FS 21 Antrel Rolle

SPECIAL TEAMS
PK 1 Neil Rackers
P 5 Ben Graham

Cardinals' Team Stats

CATEGORY ARI OPP
PPG 26.7 26.6
YPG 365.8 331.5
PASS YPG 292.1 221.2
COMP.-ATT. 418-630
(66.3%)
323-517
(62.5%)
RUSH YPG 73.6 110.2
ATT.-AVG. 340-3.5 445-4.0
1ST DOWNS 328 312
3RD DOWN EFFICIENCY 83-198
(41.9%)
92-207
(44.4%)
4TH DOWN EFFICIENCY 8-16
(50.0%)
13-17
(76.4%)
INT.-YDS 13- 321 15-276
SACKS 31 28
PEN.-YDS 107-781 98-816
TOP 30:10 29:50

Stats  |   Roster  |   Depth  |   Schedule

Playoff Schedule

FIRST ROUND

Saturday, Jan. 3

Arizona 30, Atlanta 24

San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17

Sunday, Jan. 4

Baltimore 27, Miami 9

Philadelphia 26, Minnesota 14

SECOND ROUND

Saturday, Jan. 10

Baltimore 13, Tennessee 10

Arizona 33, Carolina 13

Sunday, Jan. 11

Philadelphia 23, N.Y. Giants 11

Pittsburgh 35, San Diego 24

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Sunday, Jan. 18

Arizona 32, Philadelphia 25

Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 14

SUPER BOWL

Sunday, Feb. 1

Pittsburgh vs. Arizona, 6 p.m. (NBC)


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