Super Bowl Report Card: Cardinals
After a slow start, Kurt Warner put on a fourth-quarter show
Larry Fitzgerald continued his amazing play in the postseason
Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett turned in a stellar effort
Kurt Warner showed he is Hall of Fame worthy with an outstanding performance against the Steelers' top-ranked defense. Warner connected on 31-of-43 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns. Though his interception at the goal line changed the momentum of the game before halftime, the veteran bounced back with a scintillating show in the fourth quarter. Warner calmly guided the Cards to two fourth-quarter scores and had the team in a position to win a title with a little more than two minutes to go. Grade: A-
Edgerrin James, J.J. Arrington and Tim Hightower couldn't muster yards on the ground, but their ability to catch swing passes out of the backfield effectively countered the Steelers' double coverage on Larry Fitzgerald. The trio combined for eight receptions for 79 yards and came up big on a few third-down conversions that helped the offense stay on the field. Grade: C+
Fitzgerald had no impact during the first half due to the Steelers' frequent use of double coverage. However, he broke loose in the fourth quarter and finished with seven receptions for 127 yards, including two touchdowns. His spectacular 64-yard touchdown reception showcased his improved running skills and gave him a postseason record for receiving scores (seven). Anquan Boldin took advantage of the single coverage opposite Fitzgerald to finish with 84 receiving yards on eight catches. His 45-yard catch-and-run set up the Cards' first score. Steve Breaston finished with 71 receiving yards, including a couple of big catches in the fourth quarter that helped spark the offense. Grade: B+
The Cards' front five allowed one sack, but had difficulty containing James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley off the edges. Mike Gandy was flagged three times for holding penalties, and his penalty on the Cards' second-to-last drive took the team out of field-goal range. Though Warner eventually put the team in a position to the win the game, the unit's inability to protect the edges forced the Cards to rely on a short passing game to move the ball. Grade: C+
Darnell Dockett was phenomenal. His consistent penetration snuffed out the Steelers' running game, and his two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger came in critical situations. Chike Okeafor's penetration forced a holding penalty, which resulted in a safety and gave the Cards an opportunity to win the game on their last drive. Additionally, Okeafor finished with six tackles and teamed with Dockett to keep Roethlisberger on the run for most of the night. Grade: B
The Cards' had difficulty slowing down Willie Parker during the early stages of the game, but eventually settled down to hold the speedster to only 53 rushing yards. Karlos Dansby was all over the field and added an interception that nearly led to a score before halftime. Gerald Hayes and Monty Beisel didn't have any highlight plays, but made solid contributions against the run. Grade: B
The Cards' secondary let the team down with its poor play in critical moments. The unit allowed three passes of more than 20 yards in the game's opening minutes and enabled the Steelers to run out to a quick 10-0 lead. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came up with two pass break ups early, but the Steelers took advantage of the rookie's soft cushion and poor tackling by getting the ball to Santonio Holmes on an assortment of quick screens. Reserve safety Aaron Francisco missed a tackle on Holmes' 40-yard catch-and-run that set up the Steelers' winning score. Francisco was also a step late on Holmes' game-winning, six-yard touchdown reception in the back of the end zone. Adrian Wilson was a monster near the line of scrimmage against the run, but was a non-factor as a pass defender for most of the night. Grade: D
Steve Breaston nearly changed the momentum of the game with a 35-yard punt return. Though it didn't lead to a score, it flipped the field and gave the Cards a chance to put points on the board. Ben Graham averaged only 35 yards a punt, but pinned the Steelers inside the 20 three times and knocked down a pooch punt at the one-yard line that eventually led to a safety. Grade: B
Ken Whisenhunt was solid in his game management against the Steelers. He wisely used a replay challenge to keep a Steelers' touchdown off the board, and made good use of his timeouts to have the team in position to win the game down the stretch. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley surprisingly waited until the fourth quarter to spread the Steelers' defense out with three-and-four receiver sets. Though the Cards were in position to win the game with over two minutes left, their success in the fourth quarter makes you wonder if they could've scored more points by employing a wide-open strategy earlier in the game.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast crafted a solid game plan to stop the Steelers' running game, but failed to adjust to the host of quick passes used by Roethlisberger. Pendergast never instructed Rodgers-Cromartie to disguise his alignment or crowd the line of scrimmage to eliminate the quick throws to Holmes. Pendergast's aggressive strategy in the two-minute drill was undone by a secondary that made several mental mistakes down the stretch. Rodgers-Cromartie repeatedly bit on pump fakes, and was out of position on a couple of big plays on the Steelers' final drive.
The Cardinals were also hurt by their uncharacteristically high number of penalties (11 for 106 yards). The Cardinals had three personal foul penalties on a field-goal drive in the fourth quarter, and committed several other penalties that sustained drives for the Steelers' offense in key situations. Grade: B-