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30 Jan 2009

Super Bowl XLIII Preview

by Aaron Schatz, with sidebars by Bill Barnwell

This Sunday night in Tampa, the Pittsburgh Steelers will attempt to proclaim total dominance over the NFC West. If the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII, they will have won three Super Bowl titles over three different NFC West teams: the 1979 Los Angeles Rams, the 2005 Seattle Seahawks, and the 2008 Arizona Cardinals. By doing so, they will take the all-time franchise lead with six Super Bowl titles, breaking a tie with the other NFC West team, the San Francisco 49ers.

Pittsburgh has been one of the favorites for Super Bowl XLIII all season, but a month ago the idea that the Steelers would face the Arizona Cardinals seemed completely ridiculous. As we all know, that's no longer the case. Over the past three games, the Cardinals have seemed like a completely different team compared to the Cardinals that slept through half the season after clinching the NFC West sometime around Rosh Hashanah. Are they really a different team? Let's accept the premise that trends and splits from the entire regular season won't show us how the "real Cardinals" might do against Pittsburgh on Sunday. In that case, we need to answer two questions:

1) Which aspects of Arizona's postseason performance represent significant improvement, and which aspects just show the Cardinals going back to their performance level from the first half of the season, before they clinched their division?

2) What are Arizona's current strengths and weaknesses, if we expect their improved postseason play to continue into the Super Bowl, and how do these match up against the strengths and weaknesses of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Those are the two questions we're going to try to answer in the rest of this Super Bowl preview.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. This year, we're going back to the old school for our in-game discussions, so please feel free to use this thread to discuss the Super Bowl before, during, and after the game itself.

If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

In an attempt to answer our questions about the Arizona Cardinals, I split the season into four parts:

  • Weeks 1-6: This is when Arizona was playing very well. The Cardinals went into their bye week at 4-2 and sixth overall in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings.
  • Weeks 8-12: Arizona cooled down a bit, losing close games to good teams (Panthers, Giants) and winning close games against bad teams (49ers, Seahawks).
  • Weeks 13-16: The Cardinals collapse, getting stomped on by Philadelphia, Minnesota, and New England while beating the hapless St. Louis Rams.
  • Weeks 17-20: Arizona gets its act together in the final regular-season game against Seattle, then runs through the NFC playoffs.

The DVOA ratings below are listed with what the rank would be among the 32 teams if this had been Arizona's rating for the entire regular season. I've also taken those week-to-week DVOA charts for Arizona and separated passing and rushing, so you can get a better idea of how the Cardinals played in each facet of the game during different parts of the season. I'm not running the basic stats for the Steelers, because by now we're all pretty familiar with their basic strengths. Unlike Arizona, Pittsburgh has been basically the same team for the entire season. (The Pittsburgh graphs also represent total offense and defense, not split into passing and rushing.)

WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL

Arizona
Pass Offense
Rank Arizona
Run Offense
Rank
Weeks 1-6 30.2% 5 0.0% 18
Weeks 8-12 44.7% 1 -29.0% 32
Weeks 13-16 -12.3% 25 -24.3% 32
Weeks 17-20 50.4% 1 2.3% 14

The Cardinals have won three postseason games in three different ways. They beat Atlanta by playing a strong all-around game. The Carolina game was all about the pass defense, especially with Jake Delhomme throwing a pick roughly once every 15 seconds. As you will see below, the pass defense was actually below-average against Philadelphia, but Kurt Warner and the receivers had their best day of the entire season.

When we look at the development of the Arizona offense over the course of five months, it seems pretty clear that the passing game has never really suffered an extended slump. (This should really surprise nobody.) Arizona's passing DVOA is poor during the Week 13-16 period, but even that is almost entirely based on the snow game in Foxboro where Warner completed just six of 18 pass attempts for a total of 30 yards. (To quote a message I got this week from FO programmer Patrick Laverty: "I gotta think one of the keys to the game for Arizona is to not play in the snow in New England.") It's pretty safe to say that the passing game we're seeing in the playoffs represents "the real Cardinals."

The biggest weapon in that passing game is, of course, Larry Fitzgerald, currently enjoying one of the finest postseason performances by any wide receiver in NFL history. Most of Fitzgerald's highlight plays have been deep bombs, and nobody hit the bomb like the Arizona Cardinals this season. Arizona averaged a league-leading 17.2 yards per pass on deep passes, those that went over 15 yards through the air (not counting passes intentionally thrown away). However, the Pittsburgh defense was the league's best against deep passes, allowing just 8.5 yards per pass. The Steelers were especially good against passes to the deep left, which is where cornerback Ike Taylor is usually stationed. Only six of 25 deep left passes were completed during the regular season by Pittsburgh opponents, for an average of just 6.8 yards. That's generally the side where you will find Larry Fitzgerald. However, Fitzgerald also runs a lot of routes that have him crossing into the deep middle of the field, and Ike Taylor isn't so great covering those types of routes. We have Taylor listed as the defender on six deep middle passes -- including two by San Diego in the Divisional round -- and five of those six were complete for a total of 127 yards. (Note: Obviously, we're talking about a really small sample size here, so judge things accordingly.)

If we want to look at short and deep passes combined, we can see that Pittsburgh generally did a pretty good job of containing opposing number-one receivers, ranking seventh in the NFL in DVOA. Only one of the Steelers' three losses was notable for a strong performance by the other team's best receiver -- when Justin Gage caught five passes for 104 yards in Week 16. DeSean Jackson had just 40 yards when the Eagles beat Pittsburgh in Week 3, and Plaxico Burress had only 15 yards when the Giants beat Pittsburgh in Week 8.

The Steelers also do an excellent job of neutralizing slot receivers, which means they should be able to contain whoever is in the slot, Anquan Boldin or Steve Breaston. Pittsburgh ranked fourth in DVOA against "other wide receivers." According to our game charting, Pittsburgh nickel back William Gay led all NFL cornerbacks (starters or reserves) by allowing just 3.3 yards per pass in coverage, and his 71 percent Success Rate was close to the top of the league. If the Steelers decide to use safety Troy Polamalu more in coverage instead of keeping him in the box, well, it just so happens that Polamalu's game charting stats include 3.7 yards allowed per pass and a 72 percent Success Rate, better in both stats than any other safety listed in coverage on at least 20 charted passes.

The best way to shut down Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston is to make sure that Kurt Warner can't actually get them the ball, and the Steelers are in excellent position to do that. The Cardinals had superb pass protection this season, and Warner actually averaged more yards per pass against five pass rushers (8.2) than he did against four pass rushers (7.1). That's important since Pittsburgh sends five pass rushers on 31 percent of passes, more often than any team except Dallas, but almost never sends more than five. However, the issue here is not how many pass rushers but where they are coming from. Arizona struggled against the zone blitz, with Warner averaging only 4.0 yards per pass during the regular season on plays our charters marked as zone blitzes. The issue is probably not Warner but rather the ability of the offensive linemen to identify where the rush is coming from. Let's be honest, none of these guys are known for being among the NFL's best. Pittsburgh's pass rush doesn't qualify as zone blitz under FO charting standards, because the three linemen rarely drop into coverage, but it works off the same principles -- you know one or two other guys are coming, but you never know where from. When Philadelphia started sending guys from every direction after halftime of the NFC Championship game, the line struggled to protect Warner. The Steelers should be able to harass him if they keep constantly switching the direction where the pressure comes from.

What about the ground game? Well, in reality, the Cardinals haven't been running the ball in the playoffs as well as conventional wisdom seems to believe. Their good running games came against two poor run defenses in Atlanta and Carolina, and while Edgerrin James ran well in the first half of the NFC Championship, the Eagles run defense clamped down in the second half (except when they let Tim Hightower get around them on a fateful fourth-and-1).

Arizona benched Edgerrin James after his dismal seven-carry, 17-yard performance against Carolina in Week 8, but replacement Hightower was actually much worse over the course of the season. Edgerrin James finished with exactly 0.0% rushing DVOA, 21st out of 49 running backs with at least 100 carries. Hightower had -20.6% DVOA, the second-worst figure among backs with at least 100 carries. Take only the games with Edge as the starter, and the Cardinals basically were an average running team, and that's what they've been in the playoffs now that Edge is starting again.

The best way for Arizona to try to gain yardage on the ground would be to run outside on the left. Left end runs would match the strength of the Arizona running game against one of the few weaknesses of the Pittsburgh defense. The three Arizona running backs combined to average 5.1 yards per carry on runs to the outside (left end or right end) but only 3.3 yards per carry on runs listed as middle, tackle, or guard. Yes, most teams gain more yardage on outside runs than they do on inside runs, but the gap for Arizona is triple what the gap is for the average offense. This split has continued into the playoffs, where the Cardinals' backs have gained 120 yards on 20 outside carries (6.0 yards per carry) and 220 yards on 72 other carries (3.1 yards per carry).

As for the Steelers, they ranked seventh overall in Adjusted Line Yards during the regular season, but just 21st against runs around left end and 29th against runs behind left tackle. So far, however, they haven't had a problem in the playoffs, allowing just 10 yards on six carries listed as left end or left tackle.

The other good move for Arizona might be the draw play. It's a favorite strategy of Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and our game charters marked Arizona with more draw plays than any team except New England. The Steelers defense, meanwhile, allowed a surprising eight yards per carry on regular-season draws, more than any defense except Kansas City.

On the other hand, there are reasons to believe that draw plays won't do any better than other runs against the Steelers. They've tightened up on draws in the postseason, allowing San Diego and Baltimore just 11 yards on six draws. And while the Cardinals like to run the draw, they aren't particularly good at it. The Cardinals averaged just 3.9 yards on draws during the regular season, much less than the NFL average of 5.5 yards. Even in the playoffs, the Cardinals have averaged 4.1 yards on draws.

A better way for Arizona to take advantage of Pittsburgh's pass rush tendencies might be the screen pass. 50 percent of Arizona's running back screens this season met our definition of success (based on down and distance), one of the best figures in the NFL. Remember, the touchdown that sent them to the Super Bowl was a screen pass to Tim Hightower. While the Steelers were overall the best defense in the league against running backs in the passing game, they were only average against running back screens.

BILL BARNWELL on STOPPING LARRY FITZGERALD

Trying to stop Larry Fitzgerald is a classic case of picking your poison.

Take trying to jam him at the line with a cornerback, which the Eagles have been criticized for not doing. There are two things wrong with that strategy. First, the Cardinals don't run a whole lot of timing routes like a West Coast offense does, so you're not really throwing off their timing unless they're running a pick play. Second, you need a cornerback who is actually capable of successfully jamming the 225-pound Fitzgerald at the line; neither Sheldon Brown (200 pounds) or Asante Samuel (185 pounds) had any prayer of consistently doing that. Brown jammed him on the first play of the game, but Philly stayed off him until late in the third quarter; he was jammed only four times the entire game. The Steelers' corners are all around 190 pounds, so don't expect any of them to be able to jam Fitzgerald consistently.

In addition, Fitzgerald is fantastic at getting through the jam; he has the upper-body strength to simply toss the hands of defenders aside, throwing them off balance and allowing him a free release. If the cornerback doesn't get his hands on Fitzgerald immediately, the former Pittsburgh star is also great at feigning an outside release with his first jab step and then cutting back inside for another free release. If he does go outside, most cornerbacks have to respect the possibility of a deep pass being lofted to him before the safety can get over to help, which opens up a back shoulder fade pattern that the Cardinals love to throw.

If you give Fitzgerald a deep cushion, you're creating a whole new set of problems. Allowing him a free release gives the Cardinals the option of throwing him a quick hitch or a quick slant, both of which have been successful plays for Fitzgerald this year in a limited sample.

Jamming him's only an option if he actually lines up on the line of scrimmage -- while he mostly serves as the Cardinals' split end (or "X" receiver), he'll also move to different sides of the field and even occasionally line up in the slot. One of the Cardinals' core offensive plays involves lining up Fitzgerald in the slot next to Anquan Boldin (if only Todd Haley had told him this!), from which they can run a variety of different pattern combinations. The most common one involves Boldin running a deep post or deep curl pattern, designed to bust open zone coverage while keeping corners off of Fitzgerald, who gets a free release and runs a drag (basically an in) designed to get him the ball with momentum and free space. The Steelers will know this, so expect them to try and use Troy Polamalu as a physical deterrent when the Cardinals send Fitzgerald over the middle.

The solution, of course, is to beat up the guy trying to give you poison. The Eagles' best success against Fitzgerald didn't come through a player or coverage combination; it came from attacking Kurt Warner and preventing him from getting a clear, consistent shot at getting Fitzgerald the ball. The Eagles had five hurries against the Cardinals, all of which came between 1:27 of the second quarter and 4:01 of the third quarter. During that period, Fitzgerald had only one catch for 14 yards, a dumpoff against a Prevent defense that was the lone Cardinals pass attempt without a cornerback matched up against Fitzgerald before the snap. Otherwise, he was kept totally in check. Taylor will likely follow Fitzgerald around the field on Sunday, but it won't really matter; the Steelers' best shot at keeping him quiet will be to cut off his supply.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Arizona
Pass Defense
Rank Arizona
Run Defense
Rank
Weeks 1-6 13.2% 18 -8.5% 8
Weeks 8-12 2.8% 11 -15.4% 6
Weeks 13-16 53.0% 32 21.4% 30
Weeks 17-20  -24.0% 2 -17.9% 4

Like the pass offense, the Arizona run defense has been strong for almost the entire season. The exceptions: two early games, and then those three crushing losses near the end of the season. It is pretty easy to look at this chart and say that Weeks 13-16 did not show the "real" Arizona run defense. Teams like Philadelphia, Minnesota, and New England got out to early leads against the Cardinals and then proceeded to run the ball down their throat, up the gut, and in directions towards other body parts. Sometimes Adrian Wilson was penetrating into the backfield, but more often the defense looked like 11 guys trying to make a play, not a team flowing to the ball as a unit. Gaps were abandoned in an attempt to make big plays that didn't work out, while normally sure-handed tacklers like middle linebacker Gerald Hayes seemed to miss arm tackle after arm tackle when they weren't already blocked. The Cardinals switch back and forth between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, and in the postseason they've used the 3-4 more frequently. This lets the linebackers get off the line to make more plays, plus the overall tackling has improved.

The real mystery of the Arizona playoff surge is the improved pass defense. If we look at the season split into four segments, the pass defense from Week 17 to Week 20 really stands out. However, if we look at Arizona's week-to-week performance, the postseason just looks like a continuation of the defense's general inconsistency. For most of the year, the Cardinals pass defense was up and down; the exception was five straight terrible games between Week 12 and Week 16. The game against Carolina was the pass defense's best of the season, but the Jake Delhomme turnover festival wasn't that much different from Week 1's J.T. O'Sullivan turnover festival (three fumbles and an interception). More importantly, the Arizona pass defense actually has a DVOA rating above 0% in two of the past four games. (Remember, this means the Cardinals gave up more pass offense than the league average baseline in those games.)

It's hard to look over trends with a sample size of just one or two games, so we combine those two strong performances with the two slightly below-average games against Seattle and Philadelphia. That's still the Cardinals' best pass defense over any four-week period this season. Are they doing anything differently?

Statistically, much of the improvement of the Arizona pass defense comes in the red zone, where they ranked 22nd in DVOA during the regular season. Their numbers for the postseason are excellent (-53.5% DVOA) but that's entirely because of two red-zone interceptions thrown by Jake Delhomme. Donovan McNabb and Matt Ryan still combined to complete 9 out of 11 passes in the red zone. Three of those passes were touchdowns, and three more gave the offense first-and-goal. Changing our period of consideration from the playoffs to "Weeks 17-20" does even more to show how fluky the Carolina game was. Include Week 17, and now the pass defense in the red zone goes from -53.5% DVOA to -8.6% DVOA, only slightly better than average. In the final game of the regular season, Seneca Wallace was 4-for-6 in the red zone with a three-yard touchdown, a five-yard pass that set up that touchdown, and two other conversions that created first-and-goal.

An improved pass rush is certainly part of Arizona's recent defensive surge. The Cardinals had a high Adjusted Sack rate early in the year, then dropped off, but their ASR in the playoffs resembles that from the first six weeks of the season. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they're getting more pressure on the quarterback. Here's a table showing the Arizona pass rush in each segment of the season, with three stats: Adjusted Sack Rate, quarterback hits per pass play, and hurries per pass play. The "pass plays" counted for these last two stats include scrambles but not sacks.


Pass Pressure by Arizona Defense
Adjusted
Sack Rate
QB Hits
per Pass
QB Hurries
per Pass
Weeks 1-6 8.8% 13.6% 17.9%
Weeks 7-12 2.8% 8.9% 14.8%
Weeks 13-16 5.0% 7.2% 12.3%
Weeks 17-20 6.5%* 5.9% 11.8%
*8.3% ASR if we only include the playoffs, not Week 17 vs. Seattle.

The Cardinals were only 23rd in Adjusted Sack Rate during the season, but they were sixth in total quarterback hits (not including sacks). At first, I thought this was partly Arizona official scorer home cooking, but going back and watching some of the games where Arizona had a ton of hits, these hits were for real. So Arizona's pass rush was putting pressure on quarterbacks all season long, even if they didn't necessarily have the sacks in the middle of the year. The flip side of that is the fact that the Cardinals aren't really getting to the quarterback much more than they did during the regular season -- they've just been a little better at taking the quarterback down before he was able to pass the ball. Adjusted Sack Rate is up, but hits and hurries are down.

Even if it has not improved quite as much as people think, the Arizona pass rush seems primed to take advantage of one of Pittsburgh's biggest weaknesses: Ben Roethlisberger's proclivity for getting sacked. Part of the issue is a mediocre offensive line, but there's also Roethlisberger's own desire to scramble and keep plays alive. Then again, Roethlisberger's ability to throw well on the run often makes the decision to hold onto the ball too long look a lot less stupid.

However, just as Arizona's pass rush has changed over the course of the season, so too has Roethlisberger's ability to avoid pressure. In previous playoff previews, I had noted that Roethlisberger took fewer sacks in the second half of the season. It's actually easy to mark the change with Pittsburgh's Week 6 bye, and there actually were two personnel changes that could help explained the improved pass protection. Right guard Kendall Simmons was injured early in the season, and second-year guard Darnell Stapleton replaced him in the lineup as of Week 5, the week before the bye. (Stapleton, who went undrafted out of Rutgers, is yet another example of Pittsburgh's excellent ability to spot talent among rookie free agents.) Then, the week after the bye, veteran left tackle Marvel Smith finally gave up trying to play with a painful back injury, and was replaced with healthy backup Max Starks. Roethlisberger didn't exactly turn into Peyton Manning when it comes to avoiding pressure, but you can see a clear difference in the numbers:


Pass Pressure on Pittsburgh Quarterbacks
Adjusted
Sack Rate
QB Hits
per Pass
QB Hurries
per Pass
Weeks 1-5 13.2% 8.5% 19.1%
Weeks 7-17 7.7% 6.0% 14.6%

There are a few other splits to look at, but they don't tell us much about how Arizona has changed in the last few weeks. The Cardinals' pass defense has improved in pretty much every down-and-distance situation. They've improved against passes to the deep left and short right, which doesn't tell us much because, based on our game charting data, Roderick Hood and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie don't play specific sides of the field -- both cornerbacks are listed in coverage on passes of every length and direction. (Below, Bill Barnwell delves deeper into the issues surrounding Hood and Rodgers-Cromartie.)

One thing Arizona did relatively well during the season -- defend passes to running backs -- has actually become a problem in the postseason. The Cardinals allowed 125 yards on 15 passes to running backs over the past three games. This is one reason why Karlos Dansby told the NFL Network that the Cardinals are more worried about Mewelde Moore than Willie Parker. Pittsburgh threw only 15 percent of its passes to running backs, less than any team except Denver, but if they throw, they're going to throw to Moore.


Pittsburgh Running Backs as Receivers (includes postseason)
Player DVOA Passes Yards Catch
Rate
First
Downs
21-M.Moore 4.6% 57 341 75% 17
39-W.Parker -81.9% 14 13 36% 0
38-C.Davis -43.7% 10 54 90% 2

If Arizona can hold Pittsburgh to runs and shorter passes on first and second down, it could have a big advantage on third-and-short. During the regular season, the Steelers were horrible in short yardage, and the Cardinals defense was excellent -- except during the late-season period when they were getting slapped around. Pittsburgh ranked last among all 32 teams in offensive DVOA on third and fourth down with 1-3 yards to go. The Arizona defense ranked 18th in the league for the full season, but seventh if we remove Weeks 13-16.

What about the playoffs? Nothing has changed for the Steelers, who converted only three of seven chances on third-and-short, and blew both shots at fourth-and-short (including the fake punt against San Diego). However, this is one place where Arizona's struggles from Weeks 13-16 have continued into the postseason. From Week 17 through the playoffs, Arizona opponents have converted 8-of-11 third-and-short opportunities, plus all three fourth-and-short opportunities.

BILL BARNWELL on THE ARIZONA CORNERBACKS

Roderick Hood and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be the starting cornerbacks for the Cardinals on Sunday. If the Steelers win, they are the most likely Cardinals to play the role of scapegoat.

Hood is a player who's been tricky for us to analyze in the past because his 2007 Game Charting numbers pegged him as one of the league's best cornerbacks. This came despite the fact that he wasn't regarded as a great corner, a data point confirmed by the fact that threw the ball at him 113 times, the sixth-most of any corner.

Having just completed his 16th game, we can say that Hood's numbers took a step down this year. He's been targeted 114 times, but he's averaging 7.5 yards per pass attempt as opposed to 6.3 yards per game a year ago. His success rate has fallen from 56 percent to 52 percent in the process. He was in coverage on a team-high nine touchdowns, including three touchdowns against the Vikings in the Cardinals' humiliating Week 15 loss at home.

The most obvious sign of how other teams regard him, though, is not just how often they target him, but instead how and why they do it. When you watch teams play the Cardinals, they try and maneuver their personnel around to isolate receivers against Hood and then throw at him. The Eagles did this last week with a couple of guys; first, it was Greg Lewis, who they first had run a go pattern that would have been a touchdown if Donovan McNabb hadn't underthrown his pass. The Eagles also ran a quick hitch to Lewis with Hood in coverage, a play stopped by Antrel Rolle. They later got their first touchdown when they motioned out Brent Celek, of all people, one-on-one against Hood and ran a quick slant.

Hood is simply not regarded around the league as a premium corner; in particular, he's known as a poor tackler. The FOX coverage noted before their game against the Vikings that Minnesota head coach Brad Childress -- a member of the Eagles staff when Hood was on Philadelphia -- had every intention of targeting Hood as frequently as possible during the game, both in the air and on run plays. His only run tackle in the game came 32 yards downfield, and Hood was successfully sealed off on the outside by such blocking luminaries as Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian.

Teams will go after Hood because rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has shown some signs of brilliance across from him, but the hype about DRC ignores the still-significant weak points in his game. As a pass defender, the elite speed that was his calling card at the combine is still there, and he has good ball skills, but he still has the natural issues with double moves and bigger receivers that all rookie corners have.

Primarily, his problems have to do with his tackling and his play against the run. At the moment, Rodgers-Cromartie's play in run support varies from indifferent to mediocre. Assuming that he actually wants to contribute in this facet of the game, it's clear that he doesn't have confidence in his ability to tackle running backs and take on blockers at the NFL level. Watching him on film throughout the year, he'll almost exclusively go after running backs with ankle tackles and half-hearted dives. He frequently gets frozen when confronted with larger blockers like tight ends and pulling guards, which creates a mismatch on the outside if he ends up against even a gimpy Hines Ward.

Based on our game charting stats, Hood is the guy to target when you want a big play, and Rodgers-Cromartie is a better target if you just need to move the chains. DRC only gave up 5.8 yards per pass this year, and while we have Hood listed as giving up seven plays over 30 yards (including the postseason), DRC has just one, the DeSean Jackson touchdown in the NFC Championship game. On the other hand, DRC has given up 14 first downs or touchdowns on passes that gained less than 10 total yards, while Hood has given up only seven.

The ideal way to attack the poor tackling of the Arizona cornerbacks is the screen pass, a play which the Steelers don't run particularly well. They've only run 32 screens this year, with success rates of only 21 percent on screen passes to running backs and 28 percent to wide receivers. (The league average success rate for those plays are 40 percent and 50 percent, respectively.) Meanwhile, offenses had a success rate of 50 percent on running back screens and 47 percent on wide receiver screens against the Cardinals, along with a 67 percent success rate on plays our charters marked as quick hitches (versus a league average of 43 percent).

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special Teams
PIT ARI
DVOA -1.1% (23) -3.1% (28)
PIT kickoff 8.1 (5) -1.8 (18)
ARI kickoff -10.3 (30) -7.7 (28)
PIT punts 4.4 (13) -6.5 (28)
ARI punts -9.4 (31) -6.6 (26)
FG/XP 0.9 (16) 4.2 (11)

There's a lot of talk about each team's strengths, but one of the most intriguing matchups in the Super Bowl comes where each team is weakest: special teams. When Santonio Holmes returned a punt for six against San Diego three weeks ago, it was Pittsburgh's first special teams return touchdown of the year. Combining kickoff and punt returns, our numbers estimate that poor returns cost the Steelers 19.7 points worth of field position compared to a team with average returns. However, the Arizona coverage teams were also the worst in the league, allowing a combined 22 points worth of field position compared to the NFL average.

Pittsburgh has one particular strength on special teams: kickoffs. Jeff Reed was an average kicker, but the Steelers had excellent kickoff coverage. Pittsburgh was the only team not to allow a kickoff return longer than 40 yards this year.

OUTLOOK

Here we are again, back in the same situation we've been in twice before. This is our sixth Super Bowl preview, and the third time where the Super Bowl matches two teams with dramatically different regular-season performance. I'm left writing the same conclusion I wrote the first two times. AFC team was clearly better than NFC team all year. Two or three strong postseason performances just don't give us enough sample size to be able to say for sure that NFC team will continue its improved play in the Super Bowl. However, we also can't say we have objective evidence that NFC team hasn't actually improved since the regular season. If NFC team plays like it did during most of the year, this will be a blowout. If NFC team plays like it has over the last couple weeks, this will be close. Nonetheless, AFC team has played better than NFC team even if we only look at the playoffs and ignore the regular season entirely. Even the most optimistic view of NFC team's improvement still leaves AFC team as the slight favorite, yet probability is not a guarantee. If NFC team wins, they will claim that "nobody gave us a chance," but only a total idiot would claim NFC team has absolutely no chance to win this game.

Perhaps the Arizona Cardinals will become legendary, the ultimate underdog that finally turned around a franchise-long history of losing. Larry Fitzgerald grew up in Minnesota, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind playing the role of Kirby Puckett, leading an inferior team to victory on the ultimate stage. More likely, Super Bowl XLIII will go down as yet another glorious moment in the long, storied history of the modern NFL's most successful franchise, and the Arizona Cardinals will go down as just another mediocre opponent eventually wiped from the earth by the Terrible Towel of Fate. Hey, nobody remembers the 1979 Rams either.


STATS EXPLAINED

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list red zone DVOA and WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here). These numbers are all regular season only, except for WEIGHTED DVOA which includes the playoffs.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team also gets two charts showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to offensive and defensive DVOA The Pittsburgh charts also include a third-order polynomial trendline showing the development of their performance during the season. The Arizona charts are split into pass and rush, and the trendline is left out to make them easier to read.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 30 Jan 2009

267 comments, Last at 02 Feb 2009, 3:26pm by Whatev

Comments

1
by Nick (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:02pm

"...beating the hapless Rams." Did we watch the same team. The Rams were excellent team this year, they just did not get the good bounces that the Cardinals did. The Rams will return next year to prove that they are the NFC's best in the NFC West.

4
by Doug Farrar :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:21pm

ramjoe?

5
by mathesond :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:26pm

I was thinking the same thing, Doug

11
by jds (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:08pm

Except for spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. Otherwise, same delusions.

37
by MC2 :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 9:37pm

Actually, I counted 3 grammatical mistakes in a 3 sentence post. That's not quite up to Raiderjoe's high standards, but it's pretty close.

13
by Dbeezy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:23pm

really? the rams were excellent this year?!? i guess all those games i watched and they not only lost but got douched completely were just a series of bad bounces.

wow... you, sir, are a moron. cut your losses and pick a new team.

18
by KyleW :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:51pm

Do you pick a new team each time your current one has a bad season?

How bad a season does it have to be to warrant a change? Is 7-9 bad enough?

16
by KyleW :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:45pm

not enough alcohol to truly be ramjoe.

33
by emcee fleshy .S... :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 2:55pm

I think he was kidding. (Admittedly, though, I'm not sure.)

2
by Dr. Historical Perspective (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:13pm

This is our sixth Super Bowl preview, and the third time where the Super Bowl matches two teams with dramatically different regular-season performance. I'm left writing the same conclusion I wrote the first two times.

For the handy reference of readers, I believe these are the other two times:
http://footballoutsiders.com/game-previews/2008/super-bowl-xlii-preview

http://footballoutsiders.com/dvoa-ratings/2004/super-bowl-xxxviii-previe...

7
by Kenneth (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:47pm

Really? I was thinking 2007 was one, when the Colts D went from turnstile to formidable in the playoffs--just add Bob Sanders!

12
by Eddo :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:19pm

No, the cut-and-paste preview refers to the NFC team being the one that showed much improvement in the playoffs. That means it refers to the 2003 Panthers, 2007 Giants, and 2008 Cardinals.

3
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:15pm

When you say, 'The Steelers were especially good against passes to the deep left'. Do you mean the qb's left or the defense's left because it's a little confusing. Fitzgerald usually lines up at flanker ie on Warner's right.

22
by MCS :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 2:13pm

According to NFL.com, Ike Taylor lines up on the defensive left

aka Cheezer

23
by MCS :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 2:15pm

Try link again.

aka Cheezer

6
by Jetspete (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:41pm

This year’s Steeler compares favorably to two Super Bowl teams in recent memory, the ’95 Cowboys and the ’03 Patriots. Both teams had already won at least one Super Bowl. Like the ’95 Cowboys, the Steelers didn’t have to face the two most dangerous opponents on the road to the Big Game (for Pitt it’s Indy and the Titans, for the Cowboys in ’95 it was Detroit and San Francisco). Dallas just absolutely owned Green Bay in the mid 90’s. Like the 2003 Patriots, the Steelers seemed to win a handful of games decisively, yet by small margins. Thirteen of their sixteen pre-Super Bowl wins were by twelve points or less. What was common about both Super Bowls 30 and 38? They were both surprisingly in-play at the end and were decided because the underdog made a boneheaded, inept mistake (O’Donnell’s brutal pick and Kasay’s kick out of bounds). Expect the same thing on Sunday, Arizona will have a shot in the end until a dumb mistake dooms them. That’s why seven points is too scary a line. But my prediction is simple, at 10:10 pm Sunday night the game will still be in doubt until a crippling mistake wins it for loser Steeler fans.

PS: are steeler fans whining about the amount of strip clubs in Tampa like they whined about Gate D at the Meadowlands?

10
by Theo :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:56pm

So the Cardinals are going to make a bonehead play, because the '95 Cowboys didn't play the Lions.

21
by Joseph :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 2:10pm

This is similar to my opinion:
Arizona passing game keeps them right there. Then in the 4th, tied/behind by 3/etc. Warner has a turnover, probably caused by pressure due to bad blocking. Steelers bleed the clock and score, and that's all she wrote. It is the classic case of "regression to the mean."
The same scenario nearly happened last year, except A. Samuel couldn't come up with Eli's bad pass, and then Tyree made the insane catch. Since probability indicates that "Jetspete" 's scenario is more likely, that's probably how it ends up. As every FO writer and reader knows, last year's SB is an EXTREME outlier. (And I say that having rooted for the G-men during the game!)

26
by ammek :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 5:56pm

Doesn't "compares favorably to (or with)" mean "is superior to"? Are you saying these Steelers are better than the 03 Pats? Hmmm.

Agree with you about those "dangerous" 95 Lions; they were only 51-7 behind midway through the third quarter of the wildcard game. Dallas dodged a bullet there.

And how can "loser fans" win? Does that make Jets supporters winner fans who lose?

34
by emcee fleshy .S... :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 3:00pm

Like the 2003 Patriots, the Steelers seemed to win a handful of games decisively, yet by small margins.

You'd fail TOEFL.

199
by pete (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:09am

A few points

- the '95 Lions won their last seven games to make the playoffs. They were the quintessential team nobody wanted to face, their putrid performance in philly not withstanding.

- I'm not saying pitt was better than the '03 patriots. I'm just saying that in 2003 the patriots won a lot of games by small margins, but if you watch those games it always looked as if they were in complete control. the margins rarely told the whole story of the difference between the pats and their opponent

- Steeler fans are losers because they whined to the new york times about Gate D. plain and simple. they root for a winning franchise, but that does not change the fact they are sissies who were sore losers that day last November.

8
by S.K. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:54pm

Why is everyone ignoring Anquan Boldin? This is ridiculous. I know that Fitzgerald is having an insane playoff run but that doesn't mean we should ignore everything that's come prior to that.
Fitzgerald Reg. season stats (per game): 6.0 catches, 89.4 yds, 0.75 TD
Boldin Reg. season stats (per game): 7.4 catches, 86.5 yds, 0.92 TD

And that's with Boldin having to recover from a horrific injury as he went... over their respective careers Boldin has more catches per game and more rec. yards per game. Like I said, Fitzgerald had been outstanding in the last two games, but Boldin is an excellent player as well... I'm not surprised that the mainstream media has latched onto Fitz as the Second Coming, but I'm shocked to see FO mention him only once in passing in this preview.

19
by BD (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:59pm

That was my big question with this preview as well. Ok, the Steelers might be one of the best teams in the league at shutting down #3 WRs, but Q is arguably still Arizona's best WR. I'm having a hard time thinking of two WRs who are better with the ball in their hands, and you can't write that of quite so easily.

9
by BaconAndWaffles :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 12:54pm

Aaron - Thanks for providing a thorough, rational and neutral preview. Your recent missives (mostly in the Audibles and Simmons' podcast) were rather bitter sounding, like the Cardinals had been kicking your dog. The above analysis is what I love about FO.

Bill - Props to you as well, I am looking forward to see how the passing matchups play out for both teams.

Go Cards! (I am a diehard Broncos fan that lives in the desert. I still have a hard time believing that I enjoyed the Cardinal's season more than the Broncos!)

14
by Eddo :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:26pm

I agree. I know I was critical of Aaron's performance on the Simmons podcast, but this preview was very, very insightful and professional. I'm actually really looking forward to the game.

15
by amarquis (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:42pm

I took Aaron and others' writing to be more about stats in general than the Cardinals kicking their dog. FO does a great job, but there are limits to the predictive value of past performance and even in our ability to understand past performance. Are the Cards in the throes of random variation or have they improved? How much can we say about this with such a limited sample size?

These questions are wicked hard, and the Cards brought them to the forefront. So I took the last few postseason writeups more as "grrr stats" than "grrr Cards."

24
by BaconAndWaffles :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 2:34pm

Yeah, I agree that it was not directed at the Cards specifically. I just wish the above about tone had been used in some of their prior work.

35
by emcee fleshy .S... :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 3:12pm

But I don't see anything wrong with the "dog-kicking" tone. No matter how much you understand (and freely admit) that your model is imperfect and will break down, it still pisses you off when it happens.

17
by Brandon (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 1:46pm

Reporter: "Will the Steelers legacy be tainted by the fact that their two most recent Super Bowl victories came against teams from the perennially weak NFC West?"

Matt Hasselbeck: "Good grief! C'mon Snoopy, let's get out of here."

20
by Dave O'Connell (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 2:09pm

Actually, there's another team in that all-time Super Bowl win tie: Dallas. Go Cardinals!

-D.

25
by DGL :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 2:50pm

While it's interesting that the Steelers gave up an average of 8 yards per carry on draw plays, this is one situation where FO's advanced stats would have been a lot more useful than conventional stats. If most of these draw plays were on third and >10, then so what if the offense averaged 8 yards per play; conversely, if they were largely in situations with less than 8 yards to go, it's significant.

I'd be more interested in seeing what the opponents' success rate was on draw plays. The Premium stats show that PIT had a DVOA of -19.5% (ranked third) on 3rd/4th down rushing plays, so I'd guess that even giving up 8 YPC on draws, there were a lot of 11-yard gains on 3-18 in there.

27
by ammek :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 6:03pm

People who live in houses that stink of fish, processed meat and/or faeces agree with Aaron. It's one for Hannibal Lecter's thumb.

28
by Brad (not verified) :: Fri, 01/30/2009 - 10:32pm

The 8 yard average on draw plays is a little skewed as they got burned against the Patriots and Cowboys (back to back weeks) on draws that went for long yardage. Especially in the New England game (towards the end of the 1st half)....they got hit for 2 draws for (I think) 40-50 yards with their Dime D on the field which didn't have more than two D-Lineman. They got gashed on draws by Kevin Faulk and Tashard Choice in back to back weeks but I only remember it being an issue in those 2 games (I watched all of them). Actually in the NE game they shut the same play down a couple of times in the second half for little or no gain.

29
by Bobman :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 2:32am

I came up with this when the Colts played the Pats last year in the (cue Wagnerian music) GAME OF THE CENTURY (at least until the next GOTC). I wondered if they would be better off putting a fast 225 lb LB across from Moss on the LOS to jam him. The logic went: Colts have small DBs and Randy is not small. The only way to stop him, aside from mobbing Brady, is to stop him before he gets going. And if the jam turns into a pancake, so much the better. (forget about Welker for the time being)

Could this work tomorrow? Could Pittsburgh put someone larger on Fitz only for the initial bump? Let a DB take him the rest of the way, and the LB then drops into short coverage in the flat, or rushes to the ball if it's a run...?

IMO it sends a great message--"we will hammer you guys." And might make AZ burn a TO right away (always a bonus). They might change their game plan (another bonus). It can be a fake, too, after the first slam. But it's worth trying, no?

...frustrated D coordinator.....

30
by td (not verified) :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 5:37am

These teams met last year in week four. Pittsburgh came in undefeated, and lost. This was when the Steelers were still a part of the 'best dvoa ever' watch, I believe. Polamalu and Boldin missed the game, and one of the Steelers d-linemen was out. As far as Xs and Os, I think this actually comes out as a fairly intriguing matchup. Pittsburgh's offense has looked downright pedestrian at times this year, but a lot of that has to do with just how brutal their schedule has been. They played just about every elite defense aside from their own. 12-4 against that difficult a schedule is very impressive. On the other hand, this Cards passing attack is on the verge of 'historically great'. I mean, Warner had a shot at Marino's passsing yards record, and in the playoffs Boldin and Breaston have been afterthoughts. I think its 60/40 that Pittsburgh wins, but it should be a fun game. I didn't see much of the Cardinals in the regular season, but, in the playoffs, both teams have been exceptionally well-coached. I'm far more impressed by Tomlin than I ever was with Cowher

/Cowboys fan, these two teams ruined our season

31
by Mr Shush :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 7:00am

It seems to me that the "playoff lottery" angle - the idea that regular season performance is somehow becoming less predictive off post-season success based on the exploits of the Colts, Giants and Cardinals - is far broader than the evidence warrants. Those three teams have something in common: during the regular season, all three were elite at one of the two most important things a football team does - throing the football (Colts, Cardinals)and rushing the passer (Giants). When you're really good at something this vital, it doesn't necessarily take an outlandish up-tick in other areas to turn you into an elite team. It's not unlike an intra-season version of the Colts' "spend all our money on an elite offense and rely on the general randomness of defensive performance to give us some great years" principal.

32
by td (not verified) :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 7:22am

I agree, and I hope we see that continue on Sunday. At the same time, New England last year and Pittsburgh this year also excell at one of those elements, too.

36
by Balaji (not verified) :: Sat, 01/31/2009 - 4:16pm

I daresay that the Steelers are also elite at a vital component of the game.

38
by t.d. :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 6:28am

I don't think anything has changed in the past few years. Playoff history is littered with wtf outcomes. If the Steelers win, the narrative will be 'they ran one of the toughest gauntlets in nfl history and came away champions'. If the Cardinals win, it'll be another crazy outcome in a decade full of them. Since John Elway retired, the only two 'chalk' Super Bowls were Oakland-Tampa Bay and New England-Philly, and they were both dull.
In the podcast, Aaron lamented about how if every year was a Villanova-Georgetown, it would stop being special. In the 80s, almost every year was Villanova-Georgetown, and it was the best decade the tournament ever had. If you aren't from the northeast, NC State-Houston was as big of an upset, and Kansas-Oklahoma and Louisville-Duke were close. I think things not going according to form is the most likely outcome of any tournament, and is part of their appeal. The alternative would be 'predictable' after all

39
by Paul-London UK :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 2:07pm

For those in the UK the choices are the BBC with a non-descript but non-irritating host plus Rod Woodson, the peerless Mike Carlson and no ad breaks or Sky with Kevin Cadle, Jerry Rice, the Buffoon Halling and five million commercials. Much as I liked Jerry Rice as a player, in what kind of world does anyone choose to watch Sky? Even allowing for the fact that Sky is in HD doesn't come close to compensating for the overwhelming downside of Halling.

41
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 4:52pm

Two questions/comments:

1) You get THREE different choices with three different crews with whom to watch the game? I know nothing about British TV, but is that typical?

2) In the non-commercial broadcast, what do they show when the commercials are on?

42
by Paul-London UK :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 5:37pm

Two choices....the BBC which is terrestrial TV and Sky which is via satellite dish or cable. Sky is payable on monthly subscription, the cost dependent on the package of channels chosen. Occasionally Sky and one of the terestrial channels will show the same event iut rarely.

When the commercials are on, the BBC team will analyse plays or discuss tactics etc.

172
by Big-Hairy-Andy (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:41pm

REALLY impressed with the BBC's coverage of the game - comparable even to my beloved Channel 5. (You may notice the Mike Carlson correlation/possibly even causation - I actually voted for him as my "local" writer in the FO awards, as he is excellent both on TV and on the 'net.)

Of course, it greatly aids the BBC's cause that in Kevin Cadle their only rival (SkySports) has the single most irritating studio anchor in history. Learn to talk, man! I'm also completely fed up returning from an advertising break to hear him tell viewers the wrong score, sometimes even getting the teams wrong! Nick Halling gets more annoying by the day too, Sky's set looks horrid, and most of their other regulars are annoying to the point where I struggle not to throw my remote at the TV. On BBC, Rod Woodson talks a decent game and apart from referring to Roethlisberger's overruled touchdown as a try (the rugby equivalent) the anchor's been actually quite decent. I've enjoyed this Superbowl more than any other since 2005, and I think the best TV team I've seen has had a lot to do with that.

40
by Jeff M (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 2:25pm

Ed Werder has now referred to Dick LeBeau's 50 years in the league as "half a decade" multiple times on the air.

43
by SteveNC (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 6:49pm

Any IRC for this game?

44
by TimK :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:28pm

Nice move by the NFL to invite the Flight 1549 entire crew along for VIP treatment.

And I'm with Paul on going for BBC coverage in the UK (personally I prefer to pay for NFL field pass radio coverage, watch the Monday/Sunday night games on terrestrial TV and forget about paying Sky anything...)

45
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:32pm

I cannot believe NBC is not streaming this, it seems so shortsighted. I know it drove me to using illegal streaming for the first time ever tonight. That I cannot watch the game on my computer for free with the commercials is just absurd.

46
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:37pm

Here we go!!! Finally. Pitt's first drive is impressive. From this distance-- even after the blown first play at the 1, they should score 6.

47
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:40pm

Ugh. Arizona had that play stopped and couldn't do it. Is it legal for the OL to more or less grab the QB and pull him in?

Oh-- and looking at the review, that may have been the right call. He may very well have been down before the TD!

48
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:44pm

With that defense, I totally disagree with Madden here. Go for it. Even if you don't score, the odds are very likely that you'll get the ball back without AZ scoring.

49
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:49pm

Now it's AZ's turn. Not very impressive so far as it's going to be 3rd and long early in their 3rd drive...

50
by zzyzx :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:49pm

God, I didn't need to see the review work 3 years too late...

I wasn't paying attention to the ref, why was it 1st and 20 instead of 3rd and 11?

51
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:55pm

I was wondering the same thing, and I didn't here Michaels and Madden comment on it.

56
by Matu (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:03pm

Michaels said before the play that the refs decided to call it a first down instead of 3rd and inches.

52
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:58pm

Wow, Roethlisberger runs for his life and still picks up the 1st down. Cool!

53
by James-London :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:58pm

Evening all. Holding on Gandy and there was a replay shown. And how in the name of Jesus does Roethlisberger get a 1st down there???

Wow.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

54
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 7:58pm

Jesus. How did that happen? I'm surprised that there wasn't a hold there! And they follow it up with a stupid "Wild Cat" call.

55
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:01pm

PIT has really dominated on offense. If this keeps up, they're going to win big. First and goal as the first quarter winds down, and it's pretty clear that a TD is coming up.

57
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:07pm

3rd and goal here. Another play-action?

58
by t.d. :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:12pm

yeah, this is looking like a blowout so far

59
by James-London :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:13pm

Does someone want to tell the Cardinals D the game has started?

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

61
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:16pm

Sheesh. Seriously.

62
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:18pm

No kidding. Your potent offense can't do much if they're sitting on the bench.

60
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:15pm

Not a good start to AZ's 2nd possession. As usual, the media meme how the game will be played is completely wrong.

63
by Shanny (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:19pm

Warner is in peril with the overmatched Cardinal offensive line

64
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:19pm

There is NO WAY Gary Russell is coring a touchdown in this game... :)

65
by Shanny (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:20pm

Warner is in peril with the overmatched Cardinal offensive line

66
by James-London :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:22pm

More Arizona offense please, s now we have a game

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

67
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:24pm

Wow. What a play. I have to say, given how this game has been played, being down 10-7 is NOT that bad. But, as James-London noted, AZ's defense needs to actually get a stop three, or this things are going to start looking bad for the Cards.

68
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:28pm

Yes Madden befroe the playoffs everyone thoughts BAL IND and SD were better than PIT...

The only team he got right was TEN...

69
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:31pm

Well, that's what you're looking for if you're rooting for AZ-- a stop, finally. With >5 minutes left in the game, and a NICE run back, AZ could go into halftime up 14-10. But that all assumes they keep the momentum going.

73
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:37pm

Yeah, well, if you blow it then you punt and PITT could end up with an even bigger lead going into the half.

69
by James-London :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:31pm

A punt. And with coverage like that Pittsburgh should try to keep there offense on the field ALL game.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

71
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:35pm

Damn. Those computer-generated talking babies still creep me out.

72
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:37pm

Me too. So far I have NOT been impressed with the commercials.

75
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:41pm

Well that Conan one was ok.

74
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:38pm

How many thousand dollars did that personal foul/drop combo cost James this offseason?

Killed that drive singlehandedly.

77
by t.d. :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:42pm

huuuuuuuuuuuuge drive coming up

or not

76
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:41pm

Wow, PIT D figured out how to stop Fitzgerald.

Oh crap, interception.

78
by SteveNC (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:42pm

Did the clock really hit 2:00 on that interception play?

80
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:46pm

I wondered the same thing. The TV clock was clearly at 2:01, and then after a long long pause, moved to 2:00. But perhaps that was just so it matched up with the game clock?

Wow-- and Hightower saved that drive right there!

91
by glengarry (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:23pm

oh my god, that was so tacky ... proof #452 of the ineffable awfulness of the Steelers franchise in toto. and there's a direct correlation between that and the play call with :18 left that led to the huge swing. Anyhow, i PRAY it was a matter of the NBC clock being off sync with the refs' clock. Because it's just unforgiveable otherwise.

79
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:45pm

WTF? Matt Millen should be horsewhipped, not allowed anywhere near a football field ever again.

81
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:49pm

43 seconds, and 1 time out. Do you still dink and dunk, or take shots at the end zone?

84
by SteveNC (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:04pm

Just make sure not to throw a pick on a slant pass.

82
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 8:52pm

Holy #@$##@@! 100-yd PICK SIX!!!!!!!!!

83
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:02pm

ZOMFG wtf teh HAX!

And the WINp goes from about ARI 55 to PIT 85, possibly the biggest swing in SB history this early in a game?

85
by Sid :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:06pm

I'm in shock.

The Cardinals are kinda dead after that.

Wow.

Al Michaels had a bad first half.

Ignored the fact that Harrison could've been seriously injured.

Claimed the challenge was upheld. The CALL WAS OVERTURNED. No such thing as a challenge being upheld. The call is either upheld or overturned.

By the way, on the Arizona INT, it should not have gone to the 2 minute warning. Arizona should've had another play before the 2 minute warning.

What a crazy first half.

Harrison was almost out of bounds a few times on his runback. Plus, there were a few times he could've been brought down, which would've resulted in no points for Pittsburgh.

86
by miqewalsh :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:14pm

If the Cards can get a score to open the second half, it's still a game, albeit one where we get to see who can lose it, not win it.

I don't blame Aaron for being a wee bit pissy about the Cards' run, but one of the things that metrics like DVOA can't avoid is crediting the team for the performance of players who are now injured and will contribute nothing to the upcoming game. You'd have to have player (or unit) DVOAs which you would sum up for the active roster for the actual game to get that to work.

87
by Kev the Steelers Fan (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:14pm

While I'm still in shock and giddy from the INT TD, I'm wondering if Larry Fitzgerald should have been flagged on the return. It is clear that on the return he ran out of bounds to avoid some fallen bodies, ran at least 5 yards out of bounds, then makes contact with Harrison while out of bounds on the sideline before completing the tackle inbounds. I have no idea what the rule is, but it just seems like it should be illegal, that he would have to at least reestablish himself inbounds or someone else would have to make the first contact before he could particpate.

Can someone set me straight with the rule?

88
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:17pm

Ken Whisenhunt looked in shock as well on that sideline interview. The extra long halftime will hopefully help the Cardinals recover from it

Collinsworth did a nice job breaking the pick down (regarding Hightower not motioning out as he had done much of the game, which he believes would have forced Harrison out of the box). I'd also argue that if that's your play (Boldin/Fitz pick route) and there's no audible planned, the WRs should have wider splits from the tackle box.

89
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:18pm

the Bruce/Little Stevie dialogue during Glory Days was painful.

90
by t.d. :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:19pm

corny

92
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:44pm

I have a feeling that Arizona being forced to challenge two crappy calls is going to hurt them in the end.

93
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:50pm

I don't sense we'll ever get to that point (although I hope we do).

94
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:53pm

If PITT scores a TD here, I think it will be too much for AZ to come back from. And the story of the game won't as much be their D as it will these long, time-consuming drives that AZ simply couldn't stop!

95
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:54pm

Wow. What the hell? What a fucking bullshit call. I mean, it's not like he was trying to hit the guy. These two calls have been really shitty.

96
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:55pm

I can't remember the last time I've seen 3 personal foul calls on a drive (the second of which was horseshit).

97
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 9:59pm

"punching small animals"-- the BEST commercial so far.

98
by adfrick@gmail.com :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:02pm

So, is Ben an automatic Hall of Famer with 2 Superbowl rings. And likely no Superbowl touchdowns.

Second question, are the refs more in the Steelers favor in this game or their last Superbowl?

99
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:05pm

In my mind, Ben isn't in the HoF, even with a win tonight. But his career is still early. As for the refs... well, it's a tough call! ;-)

101
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:06pm

Not yet on Ben although Plunkett is the only two-time Super Bowl winner not enshrined (other than Brady).

I don't think the game's been poorly officiated. The late hit on Roethlisberger was weak, but other than that every thing that's been called has been pretty legit. Super Bowl XL was bad.

102
by Bruce (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:07pm

Jim Plunkett's not a Hall of Famer and he was a Super Bowl MVP

103
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:09pm

As far as "Should he be" no way in hell. Already too many QBs, and 2 rings have little to do with being a good QB, and although unique he just isn't good enough.

Of course in the real voting it will help him greatly. I think it depends a lot on the next 5 years, if this is his ceiling I say no as he may not even be a top 5 player at his position over his career. Of course if Brady/Manning/Brees are in decline Ben might be one of the best for a few years, which I think will help his candidacy. He is still youngish.

100
by morganja :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:06pm

NFL has a serious problem. Terry McCauley and the refs are making a joke of the Super Bowl. A really bad joke. Why should we watch the rest of this crap?

104
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:11pm

Ugh. Not pretty. If you're hoping for a game tonight, I don't think you're going to get it. PITT gets the ball back with >14 left in the 4th, and it looks like we're going to be in store for another loooong PITT drive.

105
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:13pm

I think it's over. At some point, don't you have to huck the ball down the field to Fitzgerald and see if he can make a play?

109
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:18pm

I agree. AZ stopped them, but they really need to score quickly or it will simply be too late.

Oh-- and the Cash4Gold commercial may have taken the top spot.

106
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:14pm

BTW, I hate to be a geek, but re the Chuck commercial, they're in 2-D, not 1-D.

And re that hold-- eh. Sort of ticky-tack.

110
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:21pm

Agreed on the hold.

Good to see the no-huddle. A TD makes it interesting.

107
by t.d. :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:15pm

another dull Pittsburgh Super Bowl. I'm amazed they're so popular.

108
by Shanny (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:18pm

THE REFEREES MAKE MATT MILLEN KNOWLEDGABLE ABOUT FOOTBALL

111
by Sid :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:23pm

bad clock management by Arizona on this drive. Wasting way too much time and now wasting a timeout.

Incredible hands displayed by Fitzgerald yet again.

114
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:27pm

TO was by Pitt. 3 minute drive for 87 yards isn't bad.

Just throw the damn football to Fitzgerald no matter the coverage. Jesus Christ what a catch.

112
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:26pm

Good god. He's good. I was expecting a run here for sure. Not this fade route, but he gets it.

113
by lurking (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:26pm

Finally, some signature Fitz!

115
by Sid :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:27pm

good job, refs. Called the timeout for the wrong team.

Bad officiating strikes again, although that won't matter in the end.

116
by BucNasty :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:27pm

First there was the Moss and Toss. I nominate this: the Fitz and pitch.

117
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:32pm

Big stop. AZ gets the ball back with >6 needing a TD for the win. Can they do it??

118
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:34pm

In a perfect world yes. In my world, probably not.

119
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:35pm

Ok, a little karmic justice.

120
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:37pm

Arizona, please, never run the ball again.

121
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:38pm

Ugh. Pretty ugly game overall for AZ. That was a pretty horrible hold. Can't they double team him?

122
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:41pm

Wow. What a punk he is. Too bad that "half the distance" means about 6 inches.

123
by lurking (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:42pm

Harrison does THAT, and it costs his team--uh--nothing.

124
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:43pm

BULLSHIT. Total safety. TOTALLY.

125
by TimK :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:44pm

Deliberate safety time?

126
by TimK :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:45pm

OK, non-deliberate safety...

127
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:45pm

Fuck 'em. They get it anyhow!!!!

128
by miqewalsh :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:45pm

Wow. A critical call against the Stillers!!

132
by miqewalsh :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:48pm

Regardless of how this ends, this is the kind of ending the fans want.

They need to keep working on the first 56 minutes.

138
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:53pm

Absolutely. And since for so long it looked like PITT had this wrapped up, it's good to have a do-or-die game with > 2:00 left in the game.

129
by Telamon :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:45pm

Safety, bitches!

Also, James Harrison just made himself considerably poorer. But then again, he probably made some sponsorship money with that run-back, so it probably balances out.

130
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:47pm

Fuck 'em. They get it anyhow!!!!

131
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:47pm

Not the cleanest game by any stretch, but certainly exciting.

Arizona's O-line looks like it's done.

133
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:48pm

Oh my god. Arizona takes lead.

133
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:48pm

That Fitzgerald guy...he's pretty good.

137
by Telamon :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:50pm

Hey, I hear his father is a sportswriter.

135
by miqewalsh :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:49pm

Somewhere, Aaron is cleaning the corner drugstore out of its Maalox.

136
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:50pm

Great view of the safeties about 22 yards deep. Now the crossing stuff over the middle makes more sense

139
by Crus :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:54pm

For this second half, we've replaced the Pittsburgh Steelers' Guards with traffic cones, let's see if they notice..

140
by Sid :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:54pm

best Super Bowl I have ever seen.

Harrison should've been ejected for what he did. I hope he's suspended next season

On the safety call, three different Steelers could've been called for holding.

141
by Bruce (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:58pm

How about overtime.
Team wins the toss and kicks a field goal.
The overtime rules change.

142
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:58pm

Jebus this is exciting!

143
by miqewalsh :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:58pm

oh boy. first and goal. do the cards have another goal-line stand in them??

144
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 10:59pm

Wow! I don't think AZ can hold them off yet again for a TD inside the 10. I think this is over and PITT wins.

145
by SteveNC (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:00pm

Should not have called timeout after the long pass.

148
by SteveNC (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:03pm

There could be under 10 seconds left if no timeout taken after the long pass.

147
by miqewalsh :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:03pm

oh wow. is that for real?

So, is 35 seconds enough for AZ?

146
by Lance :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:02pm

Wow. Well, fun game! I'm stunned that PITT could really hold off the AZ pass rush for so long on this drive without a hold. This whole drive, it seems like protection would break down, Ben would step up and move, and he'd get a pass off, and no hold.

Not a fan, but PITT looks to be the winner.

160
by RickD :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:16pm

"I'm stunned that PITT could really hold off the AZ pass rush for so long on this drive without a hold."

Um....

149
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:07pm

3 shots to the end zone here with Fitz?

150
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:10pm

Wow! Probably the most exciting Super Bowl I've ever watched. Congrats to the Steelers!

151
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:11pm

Holmes should be MVP. Would have liked to see that last play at least reviewed.

Warner just has to let it loose there and see if someone can make a play.

152
by Sid :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:12pm

by far the best Super Bowl I've ever seen.

My MVP would actually be Larry Fitzgerald.

Goats of the game: the entire Arizona secondary.

153
by Shane S. (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:12pm

Seriously, on a change of possession play of potentially the last play of the game...and no review?

154
by RickD :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:12pm

Wow. What a terrible way to end a Super Bowl.

Somebody is going to have to explain to me how the last play was not an incomplete pass. Warner's arm is going forward, the ball is going forward...how did the refs screw up that call twice in one game?

HOW WAS THAT NOT REVIEWED???

155
by snik75 (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:13pm

Um, I suppose it probably was a fumble, but they don't review it? Odd.

156
by Crus :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:13pm

How can you not review that? Arm not going forward when the ball was hit, maybe, but it came through enough to launch the ball forward, and his hand wasn't empty.

Clearly the NFL needs new, cyborg, refs, who watch everything in slow motion and can analyse incidents at the microsecond level.

157
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:13pm

A fun and exciting game, but Super Bowl XXV is still the best one I've ever seen.

158
by Sid :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:15pm

http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/43/mvp-ballot

vote for MVP

I'm going to have to get tape of this game.

I feel strongly that Fitzgerald is the MVP, though. He didn't do much early because of the sheer attention paid to him.

159
by Keith (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:15pm

I would like to apologize to all Seahawks fans out there. I had no idea how you felt before, but after this game, your pain is my own.

164
by TimK :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:23pm

Congrats to Steelers, but also kudos to the Cardinals, they could so easily have folded and instead really looked as though they deserved to be there.

I just hope now that Harrison does not win MVP, still can't work out how he did not get ejected... (I'd be happy for Holmes or Woodley to get it, can't see anyone from Cardinals doing enough to overcome losing the game)

(edit to add a missing 'not')

161
by Nathan (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:17pm

homepage link says it all.

/except that it was a forward pass.

163
by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:21pm

I can already tell I'm going to get tired of the back and forth over this during the next week. Yes, maybe they should have had two seconds to score a 40 yard TD. W-t-f-ever.

168
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:28pm

Why don't we all just stipulate that they should have reviewed it, but it didn't cost Arizona the game.

223
by Jerry :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:25am

I'm sure the replay official upstairs looked at it. If he was sure the call was right, there'd be no reason for him to ask for a review.

254
by Cardinal sympathizer (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 9:09am

Replay official has the ability to decide if the call is right, just like college? I thought his job was to determine if the call was close enough to decide a second look.

I think the play would have stood as called if reviewed, but I didn't think it was the job of the replay official upstairs to make that call.

Finally, to the people saying the 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty was after the play - why don't you think it would be applied if the call was reversed? Is it only unsportsmanlike if you win?

185
by Nathan (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:15am

It wouldn't have been a 40 yarder, there was a 15 yard penalty. Ball would have been spotted around the 28.

201
by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:14am

That was an after the play penalty. Someone took their helmet off.

162
by Sid :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:19pm

Holmes had a great game and an amazing catch, but the two biggest plays by him were mostly due to terrible plays by the Arizona secondary.

Fitzgerald was facing a secondary that did a very good job, but he still came up with huge plays.

Too bad MVPs never go to losing players anymore after Howley won his.

165
by CathyW :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:25pm

Cool, Santonio Holmes got the MVP.

166
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:27pm

Yeah, kind of surprised they got that one right.

253
by Cardinal sympathizer (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 9:05am

They couldn't well give it to Harrison after the kidney puches / tackle gunner after the punt incident.

167
by Keith (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:27pm

On the Adrian Wilson penalty: His momentum carried him into the holder. If you watch the play, he stumbles the whole way. If you have ever stumbled, you know how difficult it is to control your path. I think this one was even worse than the Dansby call. To me, it promotes the idea that if the holder sits there and somebody stumbles into him, the holder's team has an advantage. That is just an awful call.

On the non-call of a James Harrison penalty: About half way through the third quarter, after Warner throws the ball, Harrison was laying on the ground on his back, getting up. He rolls right into Warner and trips him backwards. Harrison was previously motionless, so momentum had nothing to do with it.

Two extreme examples of the terrible judgment of this crew.

179
by Lance :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:06am

Re On the Adrian Wilson penalty: His momentum carried him into the holder. If you watch the play, he stumbles the whole way. If you have ever stumbled, you know how difficult it is to control your path. I think this one was even worse than the Dansby call. To me, it promotes the idea that if the holder sits there and somebody stumbles into him, the holder's team has an advantage. That is just an awful call. I agree completely. If Wilson were maliciously going after the guy, fine. But in this case, it's clear that f=m*a is taking him in the direction that it's taking him, and calling a penalty for that is lame.

On a related note, I hate that all facemask calls are now 15 yards. There ARE cases when one's grabbing of the facemask is unintentional. To call some of those as 15 yard penalties is too much.

182
by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:12am

That's why don't penalize minor face masks.
Oh and the 'Wilson momentum'. Bullcrap. He picked Berger up, put his shoulders through him.
What a negative, cynical crap.

200
by Keith (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:11am

I will have to rewatch the play, but the whole time he was stumbling, he was bent over. Berger was just at his shoulder level. He did not lead with either shoulder. He just pathed straight through him. Berger just sat there. Did not even attempt to move. That is the crux of the issue. He effectively did nothing to protect himself. If you give me the line about Adrian Wilson being able to stop himself, Mitch Berger could have moved out of the way just the same as well.

262
by DGL :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 10:43am

It is not the holder's (or the kicker's) responsibility to get out of the way of the defender. To quote the rule (12-2-6 supplemental note 1), avoiding the kicker or holder "is a primary responsibility of defensive players if they do not touch the kick."

169
by BucNasty :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:31pm

Big Ben's motivational speech: "I told them all that film study they put in, it doesn't matter."

170
by TracingError (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:34pm

So did anyone notice an obvious block in the back around the 30 yard line on Harrison's return? With time expiring, that's a 7 point penalty and changes the game entirely.

Then of course at the end. First of all, how could you not review the last Cardinals play? The ball was propelled forward. So the assumption unless proven otherwise is the arm is moving forward. Second, the initial look at the replay showed the arm moving forward, demanding a closer look. And it is obvious that the arm reached the back of its motion and started forward.

Had the call been overturned, the penalty still stands. And the clock would have gone back to 7 or 8 seconds. So it would have been 2 shots from the 30. Not great odds, but not insignificant either, not with Fitzgerald on the field.

171
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:36pm

Why does it always have to be about parsing the officiating? That didn't cost Arizona the game. They had the lead with 2:30 left and Pittsburgh needing to drive 75 yards and didn't get it done. Had Pittsburgh at 1st and 20 and didn't even force a 4th down. Gave up a huge 40 yard play to Holmes on a basic curl route. Arizona had multiple chances and didn't finish. Pittsburgh made just enough plays to win the game. Give them some credit.

173
by Keith (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:42pm

In this case, after this year, I think a critique of the officiating is justified. There has been some blatant issues all year. Sure, the Cardinals did not stop the Steelers when they had to, but the game would have been played under different circumstances had some calls been made or not made. To say, "in x scenario, given y conditions," the Steelers won; they deserve their trophy in that regard. But "x scenario" should have really been "y scenario" with "z conditions."

Also: CAPTCHA is Eagle sympathy! You will get none from me, FO! ;D

175
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:52pm

Yes, a different crew probably makes different calls. In a game refereed by humans there is imperfection. That's life.

I thought the roughing the passer on Ben was poor. I thought the holding penalty against Hines Ward was ticky-tack (technically correct, but didn't have to be called). I thought they should have reviewed the last Arizona offensive play. That's it. I thought it was better refereed than Super Bowl XL which all seemed ticky tack against Seattle (although if Stephens catches the ball a few times that game is completely different).

178
by Keith (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:59pm

I understand. But when a crew of humans make a close call against one team, they better make the same sort of close calls against another team. You cannot call two teams in the same game two different ways. It seemed that all of the close calls went against the losing team. Being bias towards the Cardinals (not a fan, I just wanted them to win), perhaps it is a little unfair for me to say it, but this game's officiating was bad and one-directional.

188
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:16am

FWIW, I was also cheering for the Cardinals.

174
by DavidL :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:42pm

Because it was the call that cemented the game's result. You're right objectively, but when the result of the game's final contested play is determined by an unreviewed and very questionable call, that's what's going to get the attention.

176
by lurking (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:55pm

if anybody checks YT right now, the block in the back on the Harrison--a good, hard, two handed push at the Arizona 30--is, indeed, clear as day in the slow-mo replay.....

captcha: 180 Roosevelt--back to the New Deal?!

177
by PD (not verified) :: Sun, 02/01/2009 - 11:57pm

A shame that FO is now the place to constantly harp on the officiating. You'd think there be some comments on the success of Arizona's passing game, the last Steeler drive, Fitz, Big Ben, Warner, Holmes...hardly anything. Sad, really.

181
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:09am

Could not agree more.

Arizona ran for 33 yards and had at least 2 holds on running plays that I can remember. I thought they'd struggle to run, but I didn't think it would be non-existent.

Holmes was well-deserved as MVP. Not just the last drive, but those simple screens where he was able to use his strength to gain extra yards.

Arizona seemed to blitz a lot and I'm not sure they ever got there (other than the safety). Was either of Ben's sacks on an Arizona blitz?

A real credit to Arizona for coming back, particularly after the back-breaking return before the half.

187
by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:16am

Second that.
Seems like most of the readers rather look for mistakes and miscues than to enjoy the game.

189
by Upstate (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:25am

Agreed. Great game, but success breeds envious griping (nothing new there) and with six rings the Steelers are nothing if not successful.

221
by RickD :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:24am

I've never seen a Super Bowl officiated that poorly.

Consider this: when the replay official overturns a call made on the field, that's already a sign that the officials are not doing their job. And the Cardinals won two challenges.

I don't understand why James Harrison wasn't thrown out of the game for throwing punches.

And the end of the game was disgraceful. At least act like you're going to review the play.

Mind you, the caliber of play wasn't all that great. The Cardinals made a number of stupid penalties, Warner made several awful passes, and the Steelers' offense was underwhelming most of the game. The last drive would have impressed me, if I could figure out how Santonio Holmes was wide open on every single play! Did Whisenhunt not think of "cover Holmes"??? Holmes was the only guy on the Steelers who could beat the Cardinals, and yet he was wide open on five plays of an eight play drive. (I'm counting the first TD drop, which bounced off his hands.)

I'm saying neither of these teams would have matched up well against any of the Patriots or Colts teams of recent years, or the NY Giants for that matter.

I know that this kind of impression can be created when a team plays excellent defense, and I will give the Steelers credit for their D, with the exception of how they let Larry Fitzgerald score his second TD.

It was a wacky game. The most important play was a 100-yard interception return with no time left on the clock! Not good football there.

180
by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:08am

Whooo whoooooo! Six!
How about that great defensive play to let warner think that the slot was open huh. Guess not. Pick six.
Ben keeping things alive.
Holmes catching everything.
Fitz going from zero to almost hero. Looked like the Cards could do anything on offense, agains the steelers D. Sick.
What a game.

183
by Jeff M (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:13am

If you're the Cardinals defense, before Pittsburgh snaps for the kneeldown, don't you just grab the ball away and tell the refs you're not going to let them snap it until it's reviewed? Sure you get penalized, but if you do it a couple of times, I think you could successfully shame them into doing a review (though the official may not be inclined to give you a fair hearing after pulling that stunt). If they did review it and get the call right, it'd be pretty tricky to figure out where to spot the ball. Now it's an incomplete pass followed by Farrior's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but would Arizona get penalized for grabbing the snap or would that be wiped away if the call were overturned?

186
by Keith (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:16am

A penalty like that would probably run time off the clock instead of yards. Game over regardless.

184
by snik75 (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:15am

I admit I am biased, cheering for the Cardinals. It seemed for most of the game that all fouls were going against them, but there were some biggies on the Steelers towards the end. So my overall impression was of even officiating. But I am mystified about the decision to not review the "fumble". It was just e terrible decision, seemingly by multiple people. No, they probably were not going to win, but what a black eye for the league.

I saw the block in the back, too. Probably hard for the officials to know where to look, sprinting down the field. Still, strange that the game was decided by one freak play right at the half.

191
by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:27am

That Santonio Holmes catch in the corner of the end zone was at the end of the half?!
Man, my memory is bad.
Refs never catch a little holding or a block in the back on those plays. It should be realy obvious or near the ball carrier will they throw that.
Strange that they didn't review the last play, ok. But I did see the ball come out before his arm went forward.
Beer!

190
by Flounder :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:25am

Why are people yammering on about the Warner fumble? It was an obvious fumble. The defender had his hand on the ball, knocking it away well before the arm started coming forward. Warner hand was empty. It was the momentum of the defender that cause the ball to move forward.

Am I the only person that thought this was incredibly obvious, and am completely unconcerned about whether or not it was reviewed?

192
by Nathan (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:31am

Just watched it 10 times in a row. The ball never leaves his hand. He's certainly not in control of it, but his hand isn't empty.

195
by Flounder :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:41am

Yeah, i know that. I guess I wasn't very accurate in my word choice. I should have said he clearly didn't have control of it.

You can't throw a ball you don't have control of, so it clearly wasn't a forward pass, but a fumble.

I think "not having control of the ball" and "empty hand" are equivalent.

Contrary to others, I thought the officiating was quite good. And like others, I find the endless harping on and parsing of the officiating tiresome.

197
by Nathan (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:45am

And yet, he did have control of it.

It went, 1st part did, 2nd part didn't, 3rd part did.

depends on what control is. How much control do you need? I've seen passes completed with as much control as he had on it. Would a completion like that be stopped because it was a forward fumble?

I think it had to be called a pass. I think I've seen it called a pass before, my faded memory says I've seen that happen to Steve Young before.

The game is over. Steelers are champs. Personally, i think it was an incomplete pass, and the Cards get the ball at the 28 or where ever it was after the 15 yard penalty, but I'm not the ref.

204
by rk (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:24am

Why would a pass be incomplete if it didn't hit the ground?

210
by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:43am

Again, the 15 yard penalty came AFTER the play when the refs had already ruled that it was Steelers ball.

261
by zzyzx :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 10:32am

Why does that matter? It's still a 15 yard penalty and it would still have been enforced. Instant Replay doesn't assume that everything after the play was reviewed didn't happen. Sure if there were a block in the back on an interception return that was ruled incomplete, that flag would be picked up, but I don't see how an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would be ignored.

196
by BaconAndWaffles :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:41am

Am I the only person that thought this was incredibly obvious, and am completely unconcerned about whether or not it was reviewed?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: To call that play "incredibly obvious" is just silly. Also, even if the call was correct(and I thin it most likely was), the NFL could have saved itself from criticism by at least looking a it. In the face of all their recent officiating screw-ups, this should have been a no-brainer to review.

213
by RickD :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:51am

"Am I the only person that thought this was incredibly obvious, and am completely unconcerned about whether or not it was reviewed?"

Apparently so, because you were apparently watching a different game altogether.

I saw the defender hitting the QB's arm as it was starting to move forward, helping to push the ball forward out of his hand.

I'm still waiting from an explanation as to why this isn't considered a "forward pass".

Typically, the NFL front office is ducking the issue, saying only that the replay official in the booth "confirmed" the call on the field. Oh really? Why did they not even bother to stop the game for a normal review? It sounds like after-the-fact CYA.

Mike Pereira is long past losing his credibility.

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by Flounder :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 8:52am

Oh really? yes, really. Confirming the call on the field mean it's clear enough NOT to bother stopping the game for an official review.

I don't have a rooting interest at all. To me, it was just clearly correct on the field.

A call can be both close and sufficiently obvious that a review is not warranted. They aren't mutually exclusive categories.

Similarly, I don't know why they bothered with the official review of the Holmes TD, because, while close, I also thought it was readily apparent the call on the field was correct without an official review.

I hate hate hate that fans have been conditioned to think that every play in the last two minutes that's not painfully obvious simply must have an official review.

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by morganja :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:32am

I think the NFL really turned the corner here. This is the first time, watching a game with a lot of casual fans, that everyone thought the game was just terrible. The reffing was a total, complete disaster. I think the NFL is in real trouble here. I see a lot of hard-core fans becoming casual fans and a lot of casual fans not bothering anymore. You take the pulse of most of the people who watched the Super Bowl this year and you will hear nothing except how terrible the officiating was. They have had plenty of time to fix this and have sailed on as if nothing was the problem. This game was flat out terrible for 56 minutes.

I have no idea what the NFL will do in the future, but based on their historical track record, I think the NFL is going to lose popularity and profitability for years to come. It is simply arrogant to assume that people will watch any crap product you put out there year after year. They have used up too much of the good will they had built up.

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by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:45am

I don't agree with your argument, because me and some friends thought it was an awesome game. Going up and down. Exiting until the end. Great plays got called back for penalties, but the biggest (the hookup with Holmes, before the safety) was also called back and was on the Steelers.)
As for your conclusion: see microsoft. Crap product -> top seller.

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by RickD :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:31am

Great closing argument, Theo.

212
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:48am

Actually its a horrible argument. Microsoft puts out a great product for what it is designed to do. It has an insane amount of compatibility and universality problems/requirements that other OSes do not need to deal with, and must have anti-piracy features and must make a profit for microsoft etc.

People who don't think microsoft puts out good products don't understand anything about the real world. Yes hard core computer users hate their stuff, good thing for them that this is what, 2% of the market they are targeting. For you average computer user windows has been and continues to be your best option, period.

As for morgana and his bizarro view of officiating, he also has no idea how difficult it would be to come up with a better system. officiating a game like that is near impossible, and there will ALWAYS be missed calls. Could it be improved, sure probably, but so could any facet of any enterprise.

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by rk (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:27am

Maybe casual fans think officiating is horrible because they don't understand the rules. It's a complicated game. Professional officials have a better understanding of the rules than any fan let alone casual ones.

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by DGL :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 10:57am

Frankly, in this game, the casual fans didn't think the officiating was horrible. Aside from one comment on the NBC postgame show that the roughing the passer call on Dansby could have gone either way (and some griping by Whiz, who - much as I like him - can't be called either casual or unbiased), I haven't seen or heard anything in the media about how the officials gave the game to Pittsburgh.

The casual fans got a great game, with a strong Pittsburgh defense, an Arizona offense that started slow but showed their explosiveness late, a 100-yard TD return (by a linebacker, no less), some impressive defensive play from the team that was known for its offense, and a two-minute game-winning drive from the team that was known for its defense. The casual fans loved the game. It's the nitpickers who want to scapegoat the officials whenever the game doesn't go the way they want it to (including fans of both teams -- you don't think I was screaming about the officials on the holding in the end zone?) who think the officiating was horrible.

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by Jay Z (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:38am

Another body here hosting a party where everyone had a great time and thought it was a great game. How can you hate a 100 yard int return that barely scores at the end of the half? Or Holmes' last catch? What game are you watching, man?

Enough talking points about the refs, already.

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by Jonas (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:22am

Congratulations, Steelers, on a great season and an awesome super bowl!

I seriously disagree, morganja. I think that if you spent the whole super bowl complaining about officiating, you missed a lot of great football. I think the "corner" you speak of was turned when Al Michaels (and many other commentators) started talking more about officiating, challenges, clock management minutiae, and what-if's than about the football game he is supposed to be covering. Honestly, in the five minutes following Harrison's incredible pick 6, why spend more than 30 seconds on determining whether or not he crossed the goal line (which was obvious)? Why not marvel at the greatest defensive play in SB history? Celebrate the defensive MVP giving a huge edge to his team? Sympathize with the suddenly devastated Cardinals and consider what they must do to get back in the game? Or analyze how the play happened? At least Madden got caught up in the play and shared his excitement a bit! It was good to hear him hold his own against Al and turn the discussion to the football game occasionally!

This was a tightly called game, but it was well-officiated. I was surprised (but pleased) to see an early holding call against the Cards, though I figured the Steelers would earn several of their own if holding rules were enforced. (And they did, once turning a great 3rd down conversion into a safety!) I'm sure you counted several calls that hurt AZ; but I can tell you as one cheering for the Steelers that several flags caused me to groan as well. Like the various personal fouls-- Harrison's was way over the line, the others were marginal, but they were there: and the refs called them.

But before you start adding or subtracting points according to your personal tally of penalties, why not enjoy the game they actually played? The Steelers were sitting on a nice lead, and backed off a bit defensively to see if they could force a mistake and put the game away. But, the Cardinals' tenacity and Fitzgerald's brilliance forced the Steelers to score in the final two minutes to win or tie-- and after facing 1st and 20 (due to a tight holding call), they played smart football, protected the ball, and made 4 crucial passes to Holmes to win. This was probably the greatest super bowl I've seen (having regrettably missed XLII), and I enjoyed it immensely! What an intense game! Hats off to the Cardinals, they came to play. And once again, congratulations to the Super Bowl Champion Steelers!

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by t.d. :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:51am

agree with the sentiment, but the greatest defensive play in SB history was made by Mike Jones

252
by Flounder :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 8:57am

+++ I could not agree more, Jonas.

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by Karen R :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 8:00am

I also disagree.

Everyone I watched the game with thought it was great. The other problem is that too many casual fans think that "lots of penalties called, especially against my team" equals bad officiating. Bad officiating is lots of WRONG calls, or very uneven calls. I saw a game where everyone looked tired in the 4th quarter and committed penalties. A several were ticky tack, and a some things that could have been called were overlooked/missed, but that's going to happen no matter what you do. As far as consistency and calling things both ways, I thought the officials did a pretty good job.

People upset with the penalties should be upset with the players, on both teams, who lost their focus and discipline.

194
by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 12:40am

The Superbowl MVP didn't thank anyone.
That was funny.
And Roethlisberger "you know what that play was in the huddle? Scramble left, scramble right, get open."
Six!

202
by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:21am

Anyone doubt for a minute that there'd be much less griping here about the officiating in the game if New England had been in it instead of the Steelers?

207
by RickD :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:30am

You've got to be kidding me.

Are you new to this board? Have you not heard years and years of whining about the Tuck Rule, even by people who don't dispute that the call was made correctly?

People have been whining about the Pats getting all the calls _for years_.

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by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:39am

Maybe, but it seems like there was a lot of excuse-making that went on here after the meltdown in the desert last year. And how anybody can seriously believe the Steelers were handed this game by the refs is just laughable

203
by t.d. :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:22am

-the officiating was terrible, but far from decisive or even one-sided
-the failure to review the second last play, however, was inexcusable
-this game was a snore until the last 10 minutes, which were outstanding
-last year's game was better

overall, both teams can hold their heads high, and the golden age of Super Bowls continues. The Steelers were a great team and deserving champions

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by t.d. :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:25am

.....

211
by TracingError (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:45am

So, the reason I'm commenting on the officiating is that it was clear to me that the Cardinals were the superior team. Not by a lot--not by enough to overcome the officiating, but by a clear margin. I'm sure VOA will bear that out, even more so if you take out the 40 yards and score on the Harrison return and make the "fumble" into an incomplete.

A free touchdown--that's a game decider in many cases, and likely in this one. Though the foul wasn't horrible, it wasn't ticky tack, nor was it away from the play--it was two yards from the ball carrier. I saw it in real time and in the replay. As Harrison approached the end zone I thought it was all moot. NBC had to work to show the angle where it was not on-screen.

The calls consistently went against the Cards. Two challenges upheld. That, as Michaels pointed out, rarely happens. How ridiculous was the first challenge? How could anyone think that ball didn't hit the ground multiple times? That was an absurdly bad call on the field. And then all the unreviewable plays and penalties. And finally the play they didn't review.

On the "fumble," watch Warner's arm in the slow-mo. It clearly stops and reverses (i.e. stops moving forward) before he is hit. That's it. That's the rule. If the arm is moving forward while the qb has the ball, it can't be a fumble in any circumstance, including the now famous tuck rule. It really is plain to see on the camera angle from behind. The arm stops moving back and starts moving forward. No great divination required.

It's hard to be surprised after Steelers-Seahawks.

Or after the myriad replays of the Tyree catch from last year showing an absolute mugging by the Giants o-line that prevented the sack.

When a leagues loses credibility in its officiating, it can be trouble. Just ask the NBA after the Blazers and Kings got jobbed in their series against the Lakers. I for one became less of an NFL fan today. And the NFL is the only league I follow carefully.

214
by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:55am

If the missed bitb call on the Harrison return is so big to you get this: Fitz was out of bounds and was the first one to touch Harrison again when coming inbounds. That's illegal too.
So stop whining. Arizona was good, but not scramble left, scramble right tip toe in the corner of the end zone good.

219
by navin :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:20am

No, it's only a penalty if you go out of bounds and are the first person to touch the ball, not a person when you come in bounds.

231
by t.d. :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:52am

even if it was a penalty, wouldn't have offsetting penalties be a greatly more favorable outcome to the play than what the Cards actually got?

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by Jay Z (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:22am

"The calls consistently went against the Cards. Two challenges upheld."

So... the Cardinals were screwed because their challenges were upheld?!?

What is happening is here is the same as three years ago. The officials are right and the fans are wrong. I am happy the NFL has decided that penalties can actually be committed in the Super Bowl as in any other game. Perhaps you prefer the days of the 1970s with Jack Lambert mugging people and zero penalties against the Steelers. The replays I saw all looked legit; the holds they were calling were blatant. Fans are just looking for something to complain about.

215
by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 1:58am

"Or after the myriad replays of the Tyree catch from last year showing an absolute mugging by the Giants o-line that prevented the sack."

Like I said, lots of excuse-making here about the meltdown in the desert.

216
by t.d. :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:06am

I'm sure DVOA will favor the Cards in this game, largely because the 100 yard runback will be discounted. There were several 'could have been' plays, any of which would have swung the game to the Cards. They still gave up a 75 yard drrive in the final 2 minutes. The only truly regrettable call was the unreviewed 'fumble'. I almost wish they'd do like the 1975 nba finals and call everyone back to the field. Still a thrilling game.

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by morganja :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:13am

It was a terrible game. I can understand the Pittsburgh fans that refuse to see the obvious. But for most people, it was a complete meltdown by the refs and the game flat out sucked.

226
by Balaji (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:33am

By "for most people" are you referring to "other bitter Ravens fans", or are you speaking for football fans in general? Just curious.

227
by Theo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:36am

I'm sorry to be personal. But what's up with the negativism? Didn't you really see the Steelers get ahead, see the Cards rebound. Didn't you see the plays on the edge. The comeback - and the counter comeback?
Or did you really only wish the refs called more great plays back?
Learn to enjoy.

266
by Eddo :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 11:37am

morganja, why are you so negative? Do you even like watching football, or just pointing out things you hate?

I was rooting for the Cardinals. I came away from this Super Bowl very satisfied. Sure, the officials weren't 100% perfect, but that will never happen. If you're going to complain about that every week like you have been, just stop watching sports.

218
by Sid :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:14am

There is significant controversy surrounding the Harrison plays.

http://i40.tinypic.com/whbja8.jpg

He should have been ejected for that. Additionally, the penalty occurred both during and after the play. It should have been enforced before the possession went to Pittsburgh. Automatic first down for Arizona.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTmHWwijhRY

It appears that Harrison's elbow was down before the ball crossed the plane. That means it should have been 10-7 Pittsburgh at the half.

224
by RickD :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:31am

I have to think that the refs missed the cheap shot punch to the back. The flags flew after Harrison tossed the Cardinal onto his back when he was trying to get up.

And no, I didn't understand how a personal foul "during the kick" meant that Pittsburgh got the ball. Isn't roughing the kicker a PF during a kick?

As for the TD return, it is far from obvious that Harrison's elbow is down _on the turn_ before the ball crossed the plane. Harrison was, after all, falling over Fitzgerald.

225
by Jay Z (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:32am

Saw the play, don't agree. "There is significant controversy"? By whom? You? The announcers? Cardinals fans? The populace at large? We hosted a party of 20+; no one thought the call controversial. Certainly appeared like his elbow or helmet touched first in the end zone, which makes it a touchdown. At best it was inconclusive, which keeps it as called. This was an unbiased room in Wisconsin - no one really cheering either way.

I'm tiring of the "talking points" methodology being applied to sports now as well. Just because you say it ad nauseum doesn't make it so, any more than it did for the Super Bowl three years ago.

222
by navin :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:25am

Ok guys, I cheered for the Cardinals but had very little problem with the officiating. Gandy kept holding Harrison and we should blame the offense for not giving him help and not the officiating. Sure, Arizona had two overturned reviews, but that ended up having no impact on the game because they never ran out of challenges. I also thought Harrison got into the end zone but who knows about any illegal block on the return, the borderline stuff is all subjective.

The only issue I saw was the last offensive play for the Cardinals. HOW DO YOU NOT REVIEW THAT? When I saw the replay I changed my mind and thought it was an incompletion. Combined with the 15 yard penalty, that gives the Cardinals the ball at the ~30 yard line, probably giving them about a 10% chance of winning the game. (My guess is that Arizona could convert 1/10 plays for a TD from the opponents 30 yard line--remember that Fitzgerald is an amazing jump ball receiver.) That to me is horrible officiating, any incorrect call that reduces a team's chances of winning by 10% is a horrible one.

229
by RickD :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:38am

That is my biggest problem with the refereeing - they didn't even bother to review the "fumble" that handed the game to Pittsburgh.

If you look at the box score at ESPN.com, you can see at the end of the first half:

1st and 1 at PIT 1 (:18) (Shotgun) K.Warner pass short middle intended for A.Boldin INTERCEPTED by J.Harrison at PIT 0. J.Harrison for 100 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 10 7
Penalty on ARZ-E.Brown, Face Mask (15 Yards), declined.
The Replay Assistant challenged the runner broke the plane ruling, and the play was Upheld.

There is no similar entry after the "fumble" by Warner.

I predict the NFL won't even fine Harrison for the punch he made. The NFL front office is mostly interested in supporting whatever decision the officials on the field made, without regard to consistency and/or adherence to the letter of the rules. Roger Goodell is particularly terrible, as he cares far more about making the NFL into the "No Fun League", cutting down on the celebrations that offend his ultra-rich owners and luxury box ticket holders.

I've watched a lot of Super Bowls, including three that my favorite team lost, and I've never felt this disgusted with the officiating before. The last time I was this angry was when the Buffalo Sabres were jobbed out of the Stanley Cup. All season long people have been complaining about the deterioration in the officiating, and I guess it was all leading to this awful Super Bowl.

Well, at least the halftime show was good.

234
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:17am

"they didn't even bother to review the "fumble" that handed the game to Pittsburgh"

You have no idea if that's true. The fact that the replay official didn't challenge the ruling doesn't mean he didn't look at it. It could - and likely does - mean he didn't believe it was close enough to challenge. There were pretty clear views of Warner, so that makes sense.

The Harrison fumble recovery clearly was close enough, since you could barely make out anything on replay.

Harris, below, is right: you're completely misunderstanding the function of replay. It's not intended to fix every close call, which you can't do. It's meant to fix obviously broken ones.

241
by t.d. :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 4:12am

If the replay official looked at the play, then he did a lousy job of it, since he made an instantaneous decision on what clearly isn't a 'no-brainer' of a call. I thought that's why they gave the refs microphones, to explain things like that. It was unlikely that it would have made a difference anyway, but given all the bitching from the last time the Steelers were in the SB, it would have been a good idea to head off any potential controversy

238
by Jonas (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:38am

My understanding of NFL reviews in the final two minutes is this: if the replay official thinks the call was was incorrect, he tells the head official what he saw and sends him to the replay booth. If he thinks the call was correct, he does nothing. I heard in an interview with the head of Big Ten officiating that the college system allows for "PR reviews," where crucial or borderline (but correct) calls are reviewed just to assure the fans that they've looked at it; I don't think the NFL does that.

So, I would interpret the above as indicating that the replay official thought Harrison didn't score (not sure how, though), but agreed with the Warner fumble call. It seems silly to think he didn't look at it.

265
by Anony-Jero (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 11:33am

But, Hull's goal wasn't deemed to be "a change of possession"!! ;)

230
by Herbert Kornfeld (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 2:46am

I remember when this site's game commentary threads had more to offer than endless whining about the officiating. It's pretty much no better than any ESPN or FOX message board now.

232
by Harris :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:04am

Of course, it's possible the Cardinals got more flags because they committed more penalties. In any event, it was a hell of a game.

Also, there is a possible misconception about the function of replay review. It's not supposed to rule on close calls. Reply was intended to prevent obviously incorrect calls. Harrison's TD was close, but it didn't appear obviously wrong. Warner's fumble? Close, yes. Obvious, not quite so much. I used to play rugby for a British coach who'd grumble, "Americans spend too much damned time worrying about the officials and not enough time playing the damned game." True dat.

Hail Hydra!

233
by Richie :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:17am

I was rooting for the Cardinals and was disappointed with a couple of calls by the officials, but I thought it was a great game. I don't know how anybody could say it was a horrible game. Not many Super Bowls have multiple lead changes in the final few minutes. No Super Bowl had a team overcome a 13 point deficit. Big defensive plays. Big offensive plays. What more could you want?

I was disappointed that Kurt Warner's fumble wasn't reviewed at the end of the game. That is definitely disappointing.

- A Dolphins fan wrote this.

236
by MV (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:25am

I was a neutral observer going into this one, but by the end I felt like I'd seen the Cardinals get robbed by a pretty classless Steelers team - some of those unnecessary roughness penalties in the fourth were straight thuggin. No doubt Harrison should've been ejected for those cheap shots he took at the Cardinals guy: if that punch hadn't taken place in a football stadium he'd be looking at an arraignment for simple assault.

Anyway, I think there were five major officiating gaffes that are worth reviewing and would love to hear what more knowledgeable people think. I myself don't know the fine print of these rules, so I can't say whether the refs were right or wrong, but all these things looked fishy to me:

1:: A potential block in the back that LaMarr Woodley (I think?) put on Tim Hightower during the Harrison INT return. (Happens around 0:16 on this vid -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EIgygYEJu4)

2:: How Santonio Holmes' right foot didn't seem to touch in-bounds on the game-winning TD. According to Holmes, he just stood on his tiptoes and made sure his feet never left the ground. You be the judge: http://img166.imageshack.us/img166/615/suretheydidntwb8.png

3:: Santonio's use of the ball as a prop during the celebration for that TD, which should've given the Cards 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. (Around 2:08 in this video -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwG2c-7DbuA) I realize this is a lame penalty, but the league has been enforcing it pretty consistently.

4:: The Warner "fumble" (discussed ad nauseam already).

5:: The roughing the passer penalty called on the Cards earlier in the game. Can't find any YouTube clips of this, but I'm sure I've seen dozens of similar hits go uncalled this year; that one seemed ticky tack to me.

My overall impression was that penalties on the Cards were being called tight while similar infractions on the Steelers were being called loose, and I think that's something the NFL should be concerned about - SB 43 reminded me of an NBA home game with officials succumbing to fan atmosphere, not an NFL championship played at a neutral site. While there weren't a lot of calls that swung the game for the Steelers, it seemed like the Cards were dying a death of a thousand cuts -- every questionable little foul or break that the Steelers caught was another discouragement for Arizona, and these things have a cumulative effect. I think people are right to be upset about the officiating: the closer the game, the more likely a poor officiating crew will swing it to one team, and this game was damn close.

243
by Dunbar (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 4:38am

The troll is strong in this one.

The only two legitimate complaints in that list of 5 are the block in the back (did clearly happen) and the unreviewed fumble at the end. My take (full disclosure, I'm a Steelers fan, you may remember me ranting about refs myself during the AFC Championship when it was still in doubt):

1. It was a block in the back, but I missed it during the return and replays (clearly I was pretty giddy at the time). This should not have counted, and it probably swung the game. However, like I said, I didn't notice it during the return, and presumably the refs didn't either. Tough luck for the Cards, and may have really screwed them.

2. You're kidding, right? Yes, in that shot his right toe is about half an inch off the ground. It then FELL BACK TO EARTH, which your still photo does not capture but every damn replay angle did, and he had both feet down before he fell. If it looked like a catch live, and looked even more like a catch on the replay, I don't know what you expect.

3. Again ... you're kidding?

4. The other legitimate complaint. It looked like the ball was jarred loose before Warner's hand went forward, and apparently it did to the refs who called it live and to the guy up in the booth who saw the replay and decided it wasn't worth calling an official review for. But it should have been reviewed, considering how weighty a call it was. Still ... even if somehow the call was overturned, does anyone seriously think the Cardinals were going to score on the ensuing Hail Mary? Unless you genuinely think that was going to happen, or that the "discouragement" the call caused was going to make a difference in the last five seconds, quit acting like the game hinged on this.

5. I'm assuming you're talking about the roughing penalty on Dansby. Again ... sorry to sound like a broken record, but surely you're joking. Even when the showed the replay at regular speed, it was quite clear that the ball had left Roethlisberger's hands with plenty of time for Dansby to not EXTEND HIS ARMS and PUSH Roethlisberger to the ground. I could understand the consternation if Dansby had just had too much forward momentum and had run into him, but for God's sake, the ball was out of the QB's hands before he stupidly extended his arms and shoved him. If you do that, it's roughing. Sorry.

To sum this all up: The block in the back on the Harrison return, which I did not notice at the time or on any of the replays, was genuinely a game-changing no-call. That one is worth talking about. The others were pretty clearly not, with the staggeringly unlikely exception of the last play of the game that wasn't reviewed. If you want to question the Harrison return, you go right ahead, but please stop trying to ruin Steeler fans' (and football fans' in general) enjoyment of the game by bringing up these other calls and no-calls that had no overall effect on the game. I'm sick of coming here after my team wins a game in the hopes of talking about it and being happy about it, and instead seeing a bunch of Ravens fans, still-disgruntled Seahawks fans, and flat out trolls endlessly bitching about how the Steelers got "handed the game" or some bull#$%@. They made the plays and they won the damn game, now quit crying and at least pretend you actually like watching football for something other than moaning about the refs.

246
by SteveNC (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 7:09am

Here are the issues with the officials that I saw.

1st Quarter

The previous play ended at 13:04, and NBC showed the play clock at 1 at 12:22 but there was no delay of game call; the ball was snapped at 12:15. Did they reset the play clock for no apparent reason and NBC's clock was not adjusted, or was a delay of game on Pittsburgh missed?

2nd Quarter

The Arizona interception play ended at about 2:03. Nevertheless, the clock continued on to 2:01. Then later the clock wound down to 2:00. Was this NBC's clock being off, or what?

On the Harrison return, if we are talking about the same block by #56, then it looks like the player being blocked is twisting relative to the blocker and might've been caught on the side. A close call.

Third Quarter

Early in the third, there was a facemask called on the Arizona defender, but it looked like the Pittsburgh runner may have touched the facemask as well, although I realize they hardly ever call this on the ball carrier's stiff-arm.

At about 7:31, could they have called Ben R for intentional grounding? Instead this was a relatively cheap roughing the QB call.

Fourth Quarter

At 13:34, the defensive holding called on Arizona seemed a little bit tickytack.

At 10:30, could've called offensive holding on Arizona vs Harrison but not a major hold.

At about 6:30, Pittsburgh offensive holding was not called on the sack, but would've been declined anyway.

At 5:21, the personal foul on Taylor looked like they were both pushing and shoving but probably OK.

At 4:27, a possible offensive hold on Arizona #85 was out of frame so have to assume no penalty I suppose (thanks NBC).

At 3:26, Harrison's personal foul was during the play, from what I can make out of the players in the background. I agree with the no-call with respect to ejection.

At 2:20, was Pittsburgh guilty of offensive holding?

On the Holmes TD, I agree that the feet were in bounds, but wasn't the (silly) "celebrating with the ball as a prop" rule violated?

The lack of review on the Warner "fumble" at the end was puzzling. The next snap came less than a minute after the annoucement of the penalty so it doesn't seem like there was a thorough review.

Minor comments:

The two calls challenged by Arizona were not horribly bad calls on the field, but I agree with the reversals.

At 14:01 of the second quarter, it was very close but Pittsburgh was probably not offsides on the kickoff.

It looks like Harrison scored at :01 of the second quarter, not :00, but this would probably not have changed much.

At 11:34 of the third quarter, it looks like Arizona had two men moving at once and didn't reset, but this was not called.

At 10:11 and 8:23 of the third quarter, did Pittsburgh have 8 men on the line of scrimmage? Close.

237
by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:37am

Hi everyone,

No politics! It's rule #1. Don't be dumb. Thanks!

239
by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:48am

Seems to me like some of the folks here should find some other way to spend their Sundays.

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by Bob (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 4:33am

My take:

Eliminate instant reply. Problem solved. Bitching about the refs has become more popular because it's easier now. Eg, the Santonio Holmes TD picture, showing the slightly lifted foot. EXTREMELY minor, practically impossible for any human to notice at game speed. If you spent a week watching any football game over and over in slow motion I'm sure you can pick out numerous officiating imperfections. Was never a possibility before, anyone else ever tried rewatching a play on a VHS tape and pause it at just the right moment? The current ref bitching trend is absurd, and it's as annoying as that guy talking on his cell phone in a public restroom. Just say no to ref bitching.

PS.
Nobody cares if you're malcontent. "Everyone" is not sick of the NFL, last I checked it still soundly dominates all other American sporting venues. "The public" is not outraged, some of us enjoyed a remarkable victory, others swallowed a scathing defeat, and the rest just enjoyed a football game with a neato ending. Maybe there should be a separate "Zebra" thread so such complaints don't impede actual football conversation. At least the rest of us wouldn't have to read it that way.

That said, anyone think Pittsburgh doesn't miss Whisenhunt? Won the superbowl yes, but I think your average Madden player would make a more efficient play caller than Arians.

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by Whatev (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 6:48am

Hay guys maybe if we close our eyes the problem will go away!

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by Bob (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 7:24am

I think most would agree that the officiating isn't the problem that many make it out to be. The real problem seems to be a small, but vocal sect of football viewers. I'd refer to them as fans, but it seems the only thing they're fanatic about is complaining. So I guess a small sect of complaint fans. And besides, much of the NFL's ascent to power was done without any challenging system and no reviews. I just don't see what instant reply is adding to the game in all honesty. The original intent was of course to make calls more accurate, I myself would contend that it hasn't, just made them more complicated. When we're arguing because a players foot was a half an inch off the ground and you can only see it in a stop frame photograph, but it still looks like a catch no matter how you view it in real time, it's gone too far. Perhaps engineering would be a better hobby? I do that for a living, and getting excited over minuscule details on a consistent basis is celebrated.

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by Whatev (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:26pm

Horseshit. I don't want to see every call be challengable and reviewable, but only because I want to finish watching the game in less than 6 hours. You, on the other hand, are saying that we should just give up on trying to improve the officiating, which is clearly imperfect, for the sake of avoiding a little bit of unpleasantness.

Furthermore, you're unbelievably wrong about the cause; it's not instant replay that's causing complaining. Without it, people still bitch, they just have less information to back up their beliefs with. The reason people complain so much is because they have said internet forums to do it on, filled with other people who watched the game. If all you want is to not hear any complaining, it's simple enough to not go to the place where complaining is done. It's perfectly possible to read FO's articles and not ever glance at a comment.

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by Joe T. (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 9:12am

The ARZ offensive game plan was very well thought out and actually executed pretty well too. The only slip up was Warners pick-6, which had more to do with LaBeau making a gutsy defensive play call in the end zone by holding Harrison back in coverage. Warner anticipated the pass rush and the Cards ran a quick pass play, and dropped it into Harrison's lap. The 100 yard return was pretty fluky.

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by Paulo Sanchotene, RS, Brazil (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 6:42am

BEST GAME EVER; with the worst end possible. Man, I cheer for a AZ so badly that I've almost cried after the fumble. I was defenitely not neutral, besides being a NYG fan.

Congratulations, Steelers. Well done! The title is in good hands.

About the last call, I think it should be reviewed. About the return-TD, the umpire should have seen the block-in-the-back when reviewing the play. But mistakes are part of the game; just live with that.

When season starts again?

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by El Nino Meon (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 8:03am

It seems to me that a game in which so much input from the referees is necessary (because of Arizona's constant holding etc) means that when a bad call IS made, it's scrutinised and criticised more than it otherwise would be.

Sure, there were some questionable calls but lets not nitpick. Warner DID fumble and I know, I know, a review wouldn't have changed that, just confirmed it, but it's a minor point. The officials do get a chance to look over a play in between plays anyway. Aside from that, so there were a few questionable holding/personal foul calls. Just like in every game. And there weren't too many. The fact that most of them were debatable says all it needs to.

Unbelievably exciting game overall. Both offenses deserve huge credit for some incredible resilience. The Cards constant penalties were frustrating but they were probably necessary to keep them in the game.

Warner HAS to be in the Hall of Fame. The hall of fame needs to contain players whose careers helped define the legend of the league.

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by Joe T. (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 8:40am

Couple observations -

- Game, with a couple of highlights, was not very good until the 4th quarter. Not horrible, but not very good. Had it been regular season I would have flipped to the other game.

- The Cardinals couldn't seem to catch a break. March down the field, get in scoring position, and then implode. Offensively they outperformed the Steelers, although the scoreboard said otherwise.

- The Cardinals need to work on tackling, defensively and offensively.

- Polamalu had some big whiffs.

- Was it me, or did the commercial break-to-actual gameplay ratio seem wider than usual this year? I don't watch the SB for the commercials, I find the commercials usually very disappointing.

- Come on guys, I don't want to harp on it either, but the officiating was bad enough that I think it did affect the outcome of the game to some extent. I actually thought it was acceptable through the first half but then had a meltdown in the third quarter. Lots of bad calls and blatant missed calls (i.e., offsides, false starts, holding, a roughing the passer on Pittsburgh that not 5 game minutes before had been called on Arizona with less legitimacy). I really think the most egregious bad call was the facemask called on Rodgers-Cromartie, when it appeared to me that Holmes had stuck his fingers in RC's facemask before RC retaliated. The officiating constantly interfered with the momentum of the game, and I think its getting to the point that the NFL needs to address it, and quit denying that its an issue.

- Terry MacAuley officiating the game, and then a gubernatorial campaign commercial for Va Democrat Terry McAuliffe, led to mass confusion.

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by adfrick@gmail.com :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 9:27am

Here are my thoughts on the entire play-offs. With all of the video angles that are available for all of the play-off games, every call can be justified. I see the inconsistency in the fact that multiple penalties could be called on every play (and there would be video evidence to support it.)

All I want is for the refs to call the game consistently. We did not see that this year. You could see identical plays and the refs would throw a flag on one of them, but not the other four. Either call all 5, or don't call any of them.

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by Lance :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 9:34am

Something I haven't heard discussed much is how the real match-up in this game was not about the hyped AZ offense v PIT defense, but rather, the opposite. The problem for much of the game was how PIT kept the ball for long stretches and Warner and Fitzgerald simply couldn't get on the field.

Lots of penalties in this game. I didn't see too many huge errors, though. I'm surprised that PIT managed to avoid holding penalties when protection broke down and Roethlisberger would start to scramble. It seems that in a typical game (or at least, it's my impression) when that happens a few times, you start to see flags. I don't have Tivo or whatever, so it's hard for me to say if calls were missed, or the PIT OL really did do a great job of just not holding.

The Harrison PF was the biggest mistake, I think. I feel like he should have been ejected. What sort of impact on the game would that have had??

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by Geoffrey (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 9:56am

The Harrison PF was the biggest mistake, I think. I feel like he should have been ejected. What sort of impact on the game would that have had??

Almost none. It happened with 3:30 left, and the Cardinals scored on their next possession in 2 plays. Harrison did make a tackle on Arrington on the Cardinals' desperation drive, but over the middle 13 yards downfield with other Steelers in the area.

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by RBurgh (not verified) :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 10:05am

Penalties -

Roughing the passer by AZ - after Roethlisberger released the ball, the Cardinal player clearly took two steps, then hit him. That's a penalty.

Not roughing the passer by PIT - the later play where Warner was hit after releasing the ball differed in that the Steeler that hit him only took one step (or less) before making contact.

Offsetting face masks - there is no such rule. You can make contact with the guy's face mask with your hand, as long as you don't grasp it sufficiently to turn his head. DRC's head didn't twist, Holmes's did. Penalty.

I thought Adrian Wilson was disappointing - he seemed to be so eager to make a play that he crossed the line a couple of times, most notably on the roughing the holder penalty. Good grief, he's been in the league a long time. Doesn't he know that when you're trying to block a kick from the side you have to take an angle that avoids contact with opposing players?

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by James-London :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 10:19am

One man's $0.02:

I thought it was a terrific game, and the officiating didn't make a difference. Harrison should have been ejected, but it didn't make a difference to the game.

And The Cretin wasn't broadcasting.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

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by zzyzx :: Mon, 02/02/2009 - 10:48am

The officiating was not XL bad; there was nothing like Hasselbeck being flagged for trying to tackle a player after they intercepted him. Between the speed of the players, the fact that the rulebook and the play on the field aren't always the same thing (see: holding, offensive), and video technology, most games will have a bad call or two. The block in the back wasn't that clear with the angle; I thought he might have pushed the arm. I would have liked the fumble to be reviewed but I think it would have been upheld.