Five reasons why Steelers will win
Defenses have won championships the majority of the decade
Ben Roethlisberger is determined to make up for XL stinker
Well-traveled Steelers fans will dominate Raymond James Stadium crowd
TAMPA -- It has been a quiet, quiet week here at Super Bowl XLIII, with no screaming headlines, controversies or off-field distractions to really take the focus of this game somewhere besides between the white lines. Nobody has issued a tired guarantee, made some foolish prediction about what will or won't happen or generally stirred the pot unnecessarily.
All of which is just another reason to believe this is an NFL championship that will be decided entirely on the field, between two teams that haven't needed to rely on anything cheaply generated as they have made their move through January's playoffs.
All the calm this week tells me this is a game that the best team will win, with the veteran-populated, more experienced Steelers being that team. Pittsburgh is a club built solidly, that performs with steady, predictable results. They were under this particular microscope three years back, and that'll serve the Steelers well Sunday as they weather their emotions, the pre-game hoopla and whatever the Cardinals have to throw at them.
Here are my five best reasons why the Steelers will win:
1. Defense really does win championships. The Super Bowl in this decade, for the most part, really has born out the cliché. The 1999 Rams were one of the last clear-cut offensively dominated teams to earn a ring, but the trend toward dominating defense coming out on top started the next season when the Ray Lewis-led 2000 Ravens ran roughshod over a Giants team that exploded for 41 points in the NFC title game.
The story of the Super Bowl the next year was the defensive job that the 2001 Patriots did on Kurt Warner and the high-flying Rams, and whatever you have to say about the 2002 Bucs, defense was their calling card. While the 2003-2004 Patriots were a well-balanced team, it was Bill Belichick's knack for having his defense more prepared than their opponents that really made the difference in every key game they played.
The 2005 Steelers fit the pattern as well, and clearly the 2007 Giants were a great example of how a great defense -- with a superior pass rush -- can make a record-setting offense like the 2007 Patriots look average on Super Bowl Sunday. With the exception of the 2006 Colts, whose offense found enough ways to score against a Chicago Bears defense that had reigned supreme that season, this decade's Super Bowls have belonged to the club that could stop the other guys.
That's why the Steelers are well positioned to take care of business against the Cardinals and win their second ring in four years. Pittsburgh's defense was ranked first overall this season in points allowed (13.9), yards allowed (237.2) and pass defense (156.9). Their 80.2 rushing yards allowed per game was second in the league, but still set a franchise record. The Steelers won't shut down the potent Cardinals attack entirely, but I trust that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will find ways to disrupt Arizona's crisp passing game enough to turn the momentum Pittsburgh's way.
2. The Steelers' sixth sense. When two teams are evenly matched, motivation can be the edge that matters, and the Steelers have the check mark in that box in my estimation. The feeling I get from these teams this week is that while the Cardinals would love to win and complete their Cinderella story, the Steelers have to win in order to live up to the lofty expectations of their fan base and to carry on the franchise's gloried Super Bowl history.
To play in a Super Bowl for Pittsburgh comes with the clear expectation of winning it and adding to the Steelers' ring collection. Winning a record sixth Super Bowl is incredibly significant for these Steelers, because of what it would mean to the franchise and its longtime owners, the Rooney family. Like no other NFL owners anywhere, the Rooneys are beloved in Pittsburgh. Within the locker room, the coaching staff and the front office, there is an universal desire to deliver another championship to a family that has had to deal with a difficult ownership situation this year.
It might sound trite to pin so much of the Steelers' motivation on the Rooneys, but that's not how it plays in Pittsburgh.