Ten Things I Think about SB XLIII
Steelers defense will throw kitchen sink at Larry Fitzgerald
The NFL's insistence on using roman numerals is maddening
Kurt Warner's graciousness, Todd Haley's temper and more
TAMPA -- I sidled up to Larry Fitzgerald Thursday morning at the Cardinals' media availability (kid, you really don't have to call me "Mr. King,'' even though I have a daughter eight days older than you), and told him I thought the Steelers would be playing lots of two-deep coverage in the game, with safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu both playing center field. He nodded, smiled, then said it would be fine with him if they played some single-coverage, too.
Not a chance, Junior. Not if the Steelers know what's good for them. I don't mean to give a shameless plug here, but as I write in Sports Illustrated this week, it'll be stunning if the Steelers aren't very physical with Fitzgerald in the five-yard bump zone, and consistently have a safety (or maybe linebacker) ready to joust with Fitzgerald and cover him far downfield. "The chess match is going to be the Pittsburgh linebackers on the Arizona receivers," 49ers secondary coach Johnnie Lynn told me for the SI story, "because on early downs Pittsburgh usually lets the linebackers drop in coverage.'' So get ready to see several players -- Clark, Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison -- helping out on Fitzgerald.
Kurt Warner is going to need to be quick with his release, obviously, because of the pressure he'll see from different spots. I wrote about the clock in his head -- he knows he has maybe three seconds from the snap of the ball to decide where to throw -- and about how the 49ers had success by re-routing Fitzgerald off the line of scrimmage, forcing him to start his pass route over. Look for the Steelers to do that.
"I think the most important element against this team is recognition,'' Warner said. "They've got a lot of different guys that they can use in different spots. I think the key for us is going to be being able to recognize who's who, where the blitz is coming from, who's got to block who, who's going to be free and when I need to get the ball out. I think that's going to be the biggest key. If we can recognize what they're doing and are able to handle it or attack it, we have a chance to have some success. If we don't and they win that battle, then it could be a long day for us."
Agreed. I like the Steelers, narrowly, but the game is in Warner's hands and head. If he plays turnover-free and smart, and is his usual expert self in reading his receiving progressions, Arizona will continue to shock the world. But Pittsburgh has steamrolled lots of dreams, and teams, this year. It should be a great game.
Now, 10 random things I think I think during Super Bowl week:
1. I think I wish the NFL would stop using the Roman numerals. Call it Super Bowl 43, not XLIII. Who knows what XLIII is, and who will know what XLIV is next year? Is that 44 in Roman numerals?
2. I think Willie Parker, on the Pittsburgh side, is the key to the game. I take you back to the day before the AFC Championship Game, when I asked Mike Tomlin what he'd said to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians that week about Pittsburgh's offensive approach to playing Baltimore. "We can't lose our personality,'' he said. "We need to be ourselves. We need to run it, whether we run it effectively or not.''
Parker slammed into a brick wall all evening -- 24 carries, 47 yards -- and the Steelers rushed for just 52 yards in all. But it ate some clock and wore down a defense already battered by the physicality of the season. I look for Parker, who is running like it's July, to get 25 carries and to make the most of them ... 25 for 113, say.
3. I think one of the most heartening sights at the Cardinals media availability at their hotel this morning was seeing ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli back on the beat. We compete in this business, but there's no one who doesn't respect the work ethic and professionalism of Pasquarelli, felled at last year's Super Bowl by a variety of internal ailments. Weird thing to say, but I hope Lenny's beating me on stories here soon.
4. I think ESPN, by the way, is insane for sticking the great NFL matchup show -- the thing that's most about football on cable TV right now -- at 6:30 in the morning Sunday. Groundhogs might be watching TV then, or religious grandmothers, but football fans will be dead to the world. What genius said, "Hey, let's put our best show on when no one's watching?'' I bet Merrill Hoge and Ron Jaworski, if you gave them sodium pentathol, would have some interesting things to say about that programming decision.
5. I think Tom Cable's a good choice for the Raiders, if that's how they chose to go, because the players responded to him in the last month of the season. I don't buy the John Madden comparisons, even if Cable is a full-figured offensive-line maven. But there was a difference in the Raiders effort down the stretch, particularly in the win against Houston. If he stays on, he's going to have to get in JaMarcus Russell's head and find out how to make him great.
6. I think Warner might be the most cooperative, thoughtful star in Super Bowl history -- at least in the 24 years I've been covering The Big One. He treats no question as stupid, and is patient to a fault with all the hoo-hah here.
7. I think the Steelers will absolutely, definitely be ready for those downfield jump balls to Fitzgerald. Whether they can stop them is another thing, but they'll be ready.
8. I think the TiVo will be on, postgame, for The Office.
9. I think there's a chance Todd Haley's occasionally flaring temper will be a factor in whether he one day gets a head-coaching shot.
10. I think this is the most overdone story of the week: Larry Fitzgerald Sr., the writer, covering Jr., the player. I mean, does EVERYONE here have to write the same story? Is it a law that the league will revoke your credentials if you don't opine on the ethics or cuteness of a dad writing flowery stuff about his son?