Audibles at the Line: Super Bowl XLIII
compiled by Doug Farrar and Vince Verhei
Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2009.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27 vs. Arizona Cardinals 23
Aaron Schatz: Former Scramble writer Ian Dembsky is wearing a Chad Pennington New York Titans throwback jersey tonight that he bought on clearance. FIVE BUCKS. That has to be the greatest jersey purchase ever.
Ian also points out that unlike Braylon Edwards, LeBron James can juggle the ball and still catch it at the end.
Pat Laverty: Is chef Guy Fieri (from the "TGI Friday's" commercials) kicking for the Steelers now?
Mike Tanier: Who the hell is this Alex Flanagan woman? Who is she sleeping with at NBC? What is her native speaking language?
Doug Farrar: She works for the NFL Network, and I'm at least more sure of her native tongue than I am Fran Charles'. 90 percent of the time, I don't even know what the hell that guy is saying.
(Ben Roethlisberger runs for a touchdown. The play is challenged and reversed.)
Vince Verhei: Steelers use a lot of one-receiver, power running sets and move down the field. And if Ben Roethlisberger gets close to the goal-line, we know the refs will give him the score.
Bill Barnwell: Ken Whisenhunt has had some awful challenges this year. I think it was the Vikings game where the Cardinals lost both their challenges within the first ten minutes of the game.
Aaron Schatz: I don't think challenging the Roethlisberger touchdown is that bad. On one of the views, it does look like his left knee may be down before he crosses the plane.
More fun was the first play of the goal-line drive. You knew everybody who listened to the Bill Simmons podcast was thinking, "Oh no, Gary Russell's going to score, there goes my money." I think Matt Spaeth may have also put money on Gary Russell not scoring a touchdown because he was a turnstile on that play.
Doug Farrar: I thought the opposite, actually, If he was close and there was a challenge, the last thing the NFL wants is years more of what came out of Super Bowl XL. And I hoped he would have made it or missed it by a good five yards just so that whole thing could be avoided.
Bill Barnwell: Seattle gets their revenge!! For the NFC West!
Mike Tanier: Someday, Big Ben will actually cross the plane of the end zone in a Super Bowl.
Aaron Schatz: Did Pepsi just have a commercial equating Bob Dylan and will.i.am? My God, I'm drinking Coke for the rest of my life.
Also, somebody PLEASE tell John Madden that the field goal from the 1 is NOT THE HIGH-PERCENTAGE PLAY. What, did Mike Tomlin also put money on Gary Russell not scoring a touchdown?
(Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is beaten deep by Nate Washington, but recovers to tip the ball away.)
Doug Farrar: This Rodgers-Cromartie kid is going to be unreal. To have that kind of recovery speed downhill... yikes.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I don't think DRC caught up to that deep pass. I think the pass hung there and Washington had to come back to it. If that pass doesn't hang, DRC is beat. And if he wants to give a seven-yard cushion to Santonio Holmes, the Steelers will take that all day.
Bill Barnwell: The Steelers are going right after Rodgers-Cromartie with quick hitches and screens. That double-move should have worked but Roethlisberger underthrew the ball by 5 yards.
Vince Verhei: Arizona's drive ends on a botched wide receiver screen on third-and-long, then Pittsburgh's first play on the next drive is a wide receiver screen for a big play. They stopped Arizona's weapon, then took it and used it against them. Beautiful.
Aaron Schatz: However, can we strike the bull**** direct snap fake-Wildcat from the playbook after that 4-yard loss? How many of these do we need to see before people realize that a direct snap doesn't mean magical pixies in Ronnie Brown jerseys will come down from the sky and carry your running back for a 20-yard gain?
Doug Farrar: And the Cardinals are learning that if you go after Roethlisberger, you had better damn well take him down, or he will make a play. First down out of nowhere.
Vince Verhei: Pittsburgh just scored to go up 10-0, but they have run six goal-to-go plays, and five of hem have failed. Whatever Arizona is doing down there, they need to do it all over the field.
I just saw Troy Polamalu miss tackles on Edgerrin James on back-to-back plays. The second was called back on a hold, but still: What the hell?
Bill Connelly: I was just about to say that Edge has actually been fantastic so far today, and then he went and chop blocked...
Vince Verhei: I love it when anonymous guys shine in the Super Bowl. Ben Patrick just made a great catch in the end zone for Arizona. He's a backup tight end with six starts and 18 catches in his two-year career.
Aaron Schatz: Ben Patrick -- PFP 2008 Top 25 Prospects list. All right!
Anyone seen Larry Fitzgerald today?
Vince Verhei: Arizona has a third-and-22 and calls timeout to avoid a delay-of-game foul. Because a third-and-27 would have been so much worse.
Both offenses, but especially Pittsburgh's, have run slow, long, ball-control drives, and the end result is that it's a very short game. With less than three minutes to go in the half, each team has had the ball only three times.
(On the last play of the first half, James Harrison intercepts the ball and returns it 100 yards for a touchdown.)
Bill Connelly: Wow, that's one of the best returns you'll ever see...
Vince Verhei: Even if Harrison's touchdown is called back, he may have just made the biggest play in Super Bowl history. Seriously, Arizona is thinking lead or tie at the half, now they are down TEN. He may win the MVP award if he does nothing else the rest of the game.
Aaron Schatz: I do believe that I have just experienced the agony and ecstasy of Super Bowl squares. My friend Kevin Foster hardly watches any football, but he's over here watching the Super Bowl with us, and he ended up with "7 and 7" in a random Super Bowl squares competition. We've been sitting here for most of the second quarter, rooting for a Pittsburgh touchdown for the sake of Kevin's wallet.
However, Vince, if there's no touchdown on this, it isn't the biggest play in the Super Bowl history, unless you are talking about length. If he doesn't score, the half ends, and all we know is that the score is 10-7 instead of probably 10-10. There are bigger plays -- Mike Jones' tackle on the one-yard line, for example.
Vince Verhei: Yeah, you're right, I was thinking they would have one untimed down to try a field goal due to the penalty.
Mike Tanier: Pretty even half. It could easily be 14-14 except for some red zone shenanigans.
Both offensive coordinators are doing a great job, I think. Most blitzes are ending with a hot read or a screen pass for productive yardage. The Cardinals really adjusted well after that first drive: lots of passing to the outside against the Cover-3.
Madden beat me to pointing out that Troy Polamalu is covering Fitzgerald off the line, and that it is usually a Cover-2 with the corner deep. Smart move, because it gives Polamalu a chance to jam or to buzz the route underneath.
Bill Barnwell: I don't know. We've seen lots of Ike Taylor underneath with Polamalu/Ryan Clark shading deep, or Taylor shading outside with the linebackers dropping back into coverage on the inside.
Doug was right about Lamarr Woodley. He's teeing off on Kurt Warner.
Aaron Schatz: Good job by the Super Bowl halftime show committee filling the fan pit with actual middle-aged Bruce Springsteen fans instead of teenagers pretending they love some band from 30 years ago, the way they did the last couple years. This is way more real. Now, the way they could make this the best Super Bowl halftime show ever is if they have planted Courtney Cox in the audience among all those middle-aged fans and he drags her up from the crowd for "Dancing in the Dark." That would be AWESOME.
Bill Barnwell: Was that Heart? Am I too young to know who Heart was?
Mike Tanier: I think it was cool that Bruce gave Brenda Warner an acoustic guitar and brought her on stage.
Sean McCormick: Arizona is in an interesting fix. They need to flood the field with receivers in order to get Fitzgerald some room to breathe, but their protection hasn't shown that it can hold up without the extra blocking help from Edgerrin James or Tim Hightower. I would think they'll try to keep on working James to the same side as Fitzgerald on some safety releases and try to force the defender to cover the flat. It started working for them late in the half, and I see no reason why it won't keep working, as the Steelers figure to continue doubling up on Fitz.
Vince Verhei: We knew they'd show Cuba Gooding at some point, but in the lower right corner of the screen, you saw the Jeff Reed lookalike chef!
Aaron Schatz: Cuba looked old and unhappy, didn't he?
Man, what was up with the roughing the passer call on Karlos Dansby? He's basically already in the motion of hitting Roethlisberger as Big Ben throws the ball away, he couldn't stop his inertia, he didn't hit him extra hard. Honestly, we thought at first it was a flag for intentional grounding because you could argue that Big Ben was still in the pocket when he threw the ball away.
Doug Farrar: I think the point could be made (as it was made by Madden) then when you have a quarterback who will run all over the place, extending the play, you can't be so precious with defensive contact. It's like they say the strike zone is the same for everybody, but guys who swing at everything would probably tell you differently.
Aaron Schatz: Great play by Carey Davis there to save the interception on the tipped pass at the goal-line. If Antrel Rolle comes down with the ball, that sucker could have gone the other way for six.
Mike Tanier: Davis should have been batting that ball down in the first place, not trying to catch it for a 6-yard loss.
Hines Ward is still an excellent blocking wide receiver, and they have been using him to block safeties and corners all game. On Parker's run to get it to the red zone in the third quarter, he blocks Ralph Brown to open the seam down the field. He has also been head-up on Adrian Wilson a few times. The Steelers often split him wide, then motion him into the slot presnap where he can either block or run a short option-type route. I don't know if the injury is limiting his routes, but it hasn't hurt his blocks much.
(Pittsburgh kicks a field goal to go up 20-7.)
Vince Verhei: Pittsburgh has now run 12 goal-to-go plays, and scored a touchdown on one of them.
Aaron Schatz: Let's all say it together: "Gee, why didn't the Cardinals try spreading the field in the first three quarters?" Way for Larry Fitzgerald to catch that fade for a touchdown while being monumentally interfered with by Ike Taylor.
Actually, on the replay from the reverse angle, it looks less like Taylor's interfering, and more like he's playing good defense with his hand on the ball only, and of course Fitzgerald is amazing enough to make the catch anyway.
Bill Barnwell: Steelers stopped getting pressure on Warner and that led to guys open underneath. Playing a deep Cover-2 there is such a dumb move.
Doug Farrar: Wow. Darnell Dockett went all Ngata with that sack on Big Ben.
Aaron Schatz: And with the personal foul against Ike Taylor, I think we can toss the "officiating" angle from this game. That equalized things pretty darn good.
Vince Verhei: Ike Taylor, for handing the Cards 15 free yards on a potential go-ahead drive with 5 minutes to go in the Super Bowl, you have earned the KCW Cup. Congratulations!
Bill Barnwell: Seriously, can we get a running back to help out on James Harrison?
Al Michaels trying to cover for Taylor, calling the James Harrison penalty "huge" when it was really a difference of a half-yard, was a wonderful moment in live journalism.
Vince Verhei: Harrison yanks the KCW Cup out of Taylor's hands. It's a 6-inch penalty, but my God...
Roethlisberger forces an incomplete pass on first down, stopping the clock. Some great dumbness from the Steelers late in this game.
Bill Barnwell: I actually think punt is the right move there on fourth-and-20 for the Cardinals. I'd also consider taking an intentional safety on fourth down there for the field position if I was the Steelers.
Aaron Schatz: We were just talking about an intentional safety here too. And it turns out, instead, Pittsburgh blew a third-down conversion with an UNintentional safety. Whoops.
Bill Barnwell: Blitzing on third-and-long was impossibly dumb. The fact that they got away from it with a safety on a holding penalty (and yes, there's your NEW KCW winner) was awful process, good outcome. Rush four since they're obviously max protecting and let Ben check down, ya know?
Doug Farrar: Holding on Justin Hartwig; safety. Vince, at this rate, you're going to have to outsource the production of the KCW Cups to a larger distributor.
Vince Verhei: I was jumping up and down screaming at the Cardinals for blitzing seven on third-and-10 at the 1, leaving DRC exposed one-on-one and giving up the first down, but they get bailed out by the safety call. Seriously, though, drop back, make the Steelers check down, and make the tackle. It's worked most of the game.
Bill Barnwell: Seeing shots of Art Rooney and Mike Tomlin back-to-back, it seems impossible that one could have hired the other.
(Larry Fitzgerald scores on a 64-yard catch-and-run to put Arizona ahead, 23-20.)
Bill Barnwell: Oh my lord.
Vince Verhei: LOWERCASE GOD!!!!
Doug Farrar: We're moving him to uppercase.
Bill Barnwell: Total defensive breakdown there. They're in Cover-2 and Polamalu jumped the out route.
Bill Connelly: BOTH safeties jumped out routes ... which is amazing considering where Fitzgerald was lined up. Don't really know why you'd jump ANY route other than Fitzgerald's at this time of the game.
Aaron Schatz: Dockett is just killing Stapleton, and now they've got Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton doubling him ... so someone else holds instead.
Vince Verhei: Only problem with the Fitzgerald touchdown: It gave the Steelers plenty of time to come back.
Most impressive thing about that play: Fitzgerald was PULLING AWAY from the defenders. How can a guy that big, that agile, with those hands, that leaping ability, also be that fast? Is there some Super League we can promote that guy to?
And now Pittsburgh's goal-to-go offense, which has been horrible all night, has to come through to win the game right here.
Bill Connelly: This is starting to remind me of the Pats-Carolina Super Bowl, a relatively sloppy game (sans Harrison's amazing touchdown) that suddenly explodes with excitement in the last few minutes.
(Santonio Holmes scores on a 6-yard catch to put Pittsburgh ahead, 27-23.)
Aaron Schatz: Holy f***ing ****.
Bill Connelly: That's a touchdown. WOW has this been fun. My opinion of Santonio Holmes has improved by an incalculable amount in these playoffs.
Bill Barnwell: Well, Santonio Holmes just became a man.
I can't wait to anoint Ben Roethlisberger as the clutch hero for checking down and having Aaron Francisco slip on a tackle.
Bill Connelly: Barring a miracle touchdown (well, *another* miracle touchdown), Kurt Warner will officially have led TWO double-digit, fourth-quarter, Super Bowl comebacks (vs. Pats and Steelers) ... and lost both games.
Ned Macey: And in both, he threw a pick-six that put them in a hole in the first place.
Mike Tanier: So when did Super Bowls become f***ing awesome again?
The play that set up Holmes' touchdown -- the long run up the sidelines -- was set up by a great pump-fake to Mewelde Moore in the flat. It moved DRC out of the lane so Big Ben could throw to Holmes in space. Ben can drive you crazy when he spends a month in the pocket, but sometimes he does something brilliant in there.
Oh crap. Game aint over. Fitz just made a big catch.
Aaron Schatz: My God. Remember when Super Bowls were all blowouts? Think how many close games we've had in the last decade ... Rams-Titans, then all four Patriots games, and even Steelers-Seahawks and Colts-Bears were good games, even if they were not down to the final play.
By the way, I'm guessing that the Cardinals are going to end up with a better DVOA in this game, and even a higher VOA. Warner has been far better than Roethlisberger, even with that last drive. No matter what, the numbers are going to end this season unhappy.
And with 24 seconds left, they quadruple-cover Larry Fitzgerald and he still makes a great catch. Unreal.
Not a big fan of the J.J. Arrington dump with 20 seconds left. You just took your last timeout and you're stuck with just two Hail Mary tries. Now, I can't think of better receiver to have down there for a Hail Mary...
Bill Barnwell: How did they not review the last play?!?!
Aaron Schatz: Wait, did the replay official really not look at that final fumble? Really? That was a tuck rule play. The hand was going forward. The chances that Arizona makes the final Hail Mary are remote, but still, you have to at least review it.
Bill Connelly: I think it actually started coming loose when his arm was going backwards, right?
Aaron Schatz: I'm not happy to end this thing on an officiating question. How hard is it to review the final play? Isn't that why you make the reviews in the final two minutes the responsibility of the booth? So you can review as many plays as you want without a limit on challenges?
And yet, at the same time, an optimistic thought: Is this the best Super Bowl of all time, from the "not a fan of either team" perspective? The ending was as exciting as last year's, and the first three quarters were definitely better.
Bill Barnwell: Looked to me like:
A) Warner brought the ball down to launch a throw;
B) He started to bring the ball back up to make said throw;
C) The ball was knocked out of his hands;
D) The arm continued forward.
Mike Tanier: I have no problem letting the tuck rule disappear forever.
Vince Verhei: "So when did Super Bowls become f***ing awesome again?"
It may have coincided with teams like the Giants and the Colts and the Cardinals making playoff runs. If any team can beat any other team, then each individual game should be more exciting.
Aaron beat me to the punch -- Arizona won the DVOA battle today. Each team had one interception -- the Cards got -1 return yards, Pittsburgh got 100 and seven points. If Harrison drops his interception, and everything else goes the same (obviously, a huge if), the final margin is 26-20 or 30-20, Arizona. He's my MVP, and I don't think he made any other plays.
Bill Barnwell: "Ben can drive you crazy when he spends a month in the pocket, but sometimes he does something brilliant in there."
That's true. I'm underselling Roethlisberger's ability to run around in the pocket, but man, it was weird to hear him hype up his offensive line after the game considering he was probably hurried 20 times.
Polamalu also had a nightmare of a game, overrunning plays left and right and getting caught on the long Fitzgerald touchdown. I know that Warner did a great job of looking him off, but hey, you're supposed to be an elite safety and the possibilities on that flat throw aren't that bad.
On the other side of the ball, Rodgers-Cromartie was everything we saw on film; a great athlete who has major work to do before he becomes a really good NFL corner. He actually had a worse game than Hood, which was pretty shocking.
Sean McCormick: Two questions. First, for people who think Warner is on the fence as far as the Hall of Fame (I think he's in, myself), does that game improve or hurt his chances? He put up terrific numbers, but he also threw the pick that cost the team the game and his Achilles heel -- er, thumb --hurt Arizona badly on several occasions.
Secondly, can Matt Leinart officially be excused for not beating Warner out? I mean, really, are you an out-and-out bust because you can't beat out Kurt Warner?
Mike Tanier: I think Warner got himself in this year. I think this game helped.
Ned Macey: I'd like to disagree with people on the blitz that caused the safety. Not only did they get the holding call because of the pressure, but they forced Roethlisberger to fit a ball into a very tight window. (The holding call, by the way, while obvious, is not something that every crew would call in that situation.)
I think it is absurd that they didn't review the last play, and while I think it was a fumble, it was certainly close enough to warrant review. I think the officials didn't want to delay it since it appeared the game was over. Do you really want the shot of Woodley on the bench cheering after the official comes back out to say the play is upheld to be the final real image?
Warner is still woefully short of the Hall of Fame if I were a selector. I think it is odd that the standard is that he led three teams to the Super Bowl, and then he plays well but loses, but that is suddenly other aspects of the team's fault. I do think, however, that the game helps with people who actually are selectors.
I thought last year's Super Bowl was much more engaging because it seemed close throughout. This looked like a Steelers blowout early and again after the Harrison runback. Then the fourth quarter was impressive, but it fell short of last year. Closer to the Titans game after the 1999 season.
For Santonio Holmes owners in fantasy: Where the hell was this all year? It really was an outstanding performance, especially since Ward was definitely limited. The game-winner is up there in the Super Bowl pantheon. What I like about it is that the play was as called and just required a perfect throw and a perfect catch.
Vince Verhei: I think this game helped Warner with the selectors tremendously.
Most passing yards in Super Bowls, career:
1. Kurt Warner, 1,156.
2. Joe Montana, 1,142.
Most passing yards in Super Bowls, single game:
1. Kurt Warner, XXXIV, 414.
2. Kurt Warner, XLIII, 377.
3. Kurt Warner, XXXVI, 365.
The Hall of Fame voters will value those numbers more than they should.
Aaron Schatz: After driving home, I feel a weird calm. I feel like the universe has been put back into an order that makes some kind of sense. I wonder if this is what Superman feels like after one of those DC Comics "crisis" events. (Actually, Superman has some control over that situation. Maybe this is what Jimmy Olsen feels like after one of those DC Comics "crisis" events.)
Bill Barnwell: I really can't agree. The Cardinals probably outplayed the Steelers, like you said. Just because the bounces (and the refereeing) bounced their way doesn't mean that we were right (or wrong, for that matter.)
I don't get what the big deal is, to be honest. It's the playoffs. Variance happens.
Aaron Schatz: Well, it isn't a question of what "we" thought. It's more about the idea that the champion should be a team that played well in both the regular season and the playoffs, not just the latter.
Although perhaps, given that the Cardinals played four straight good games in the postseason, the proper question is not "what happened in the playoffs," but rather "what the heck happened in Weeks 13 to 16?" Other than snow in one game, of course.
Bill Barnwell: Fine, but the idea that the champion is the champion is pretty murky when the reason they're the champion and not the Cardinals is a bunch of good breaks and penalty calls. If the Cardinals end up with a VOA that's 50% below the Steelers and they win the game, we're howling about how the world isn't fair; instead, that's exactly what happened with the Steelers.
Ned Macey: I'm hesitant to keep mentioning "penalty calls" when as far as I'm concerned there was one bad call the whole day (roughing the passer), and the Steelers were heavily penalized in the fourth quarter (safety, Ike Taylor, holding to push them back to start their final drive).
I think we can all agree that the Steelers were not "better" than the Cardinals today. Their guy happened to return a touchdown 100 yards. That's the difference in the game, and while I know that return touchdowns are not repeatable, the interception itself was a fine bit of scheming and a terrible read by the opposing quarterback. The return, while not repeatable in a statistical sense, was still a great effort both by Harrison and his blockers. That wasn't a gift interception return like Law's in 2001 where jumping the route gives you the touchdown. For that reason, I'm not really upset that the team that maybe didn't play as well won. (And if they hadn't gotten the touchdown and the big lead, it likely would have played out very differently.)
What I agree with Aaron on is the fact that when you have an effective draw, as this game was in my mind (and maybe the DVOA will show a big Arizona advantage, but the two Arizona fumbles will hurt them), I'm happy that the better team wins the game. If you look at all these close Super Bowls, it doesn't always happen. Since 2001, we've had five extremely close Super Bowls, and the better team is now 3-2.
Aaron Schatz: Right, good point, Ned. We shouldn't confuse the concept that "turnover returns are a non-repeatable play that we don't include in DVOA because they may not be a good judge of the defense's inherent quality" with the idea that "a long turnover return is random chance." There was a lot of athletic talent shown on that return, and excellent blocking.
Vince Verhei: And -- I'm sorry to say -- an uncalled block in the back, which is blatant given the benefit of replay after the game. LaMarr Woodley and Tim Hightower are running down the field ahead of Harrison. At the Steeler 40, Woodley throws a perfectly legal block, and both guys slow up, thinking the play is over. Of course, it isn't over, and both guys start running down the field again. Around the Arizona 35, Hightower looks like he's about to cut Harrison down, when Woodley plants both hands in Hightower's back and shoves him to the ground. Harrison cuts inside, and you know the rest.
This isn't the first time a great game was decided by a play that included an uncalled penalty. Green Bay should have been called for a false start on Bart Starr's winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl, and 40 years later, nobody talks about blown calls. They just talk about Lombardi's Packers as a great team the Cowboys as a great rival during those years.
Mike Tanier: I hope the talk of this game doesn't devolve into a discussion about penalties and reviews. Ultimately, most of the calls were correct. Blocks to the back on jailbreak interception returns often go unnoticed. The roughing penalties, which went both ways, are going to get a little tacky when teams are starting to push and shove. The refs have to throw an extra flag or two to keep the game from getting out of hand. The fumble at the end technically should have been reviewed, but damn, don't you get review fatigue after a while? Every damn significant play of this game needed to be reviewed. I didn't need to see the Cardinals get another Hail Mary attempt on a technicality.
Aaron Schatz: According to the ESPN ticker, Mike Pereira says that booth replay did confirm that Kurt Warner fumbled the ball on the final play, but the officials just didn't announce it. I'm comfortable with that.
Vince Verhei: Quote of the day, from Santonio Holmes' 4-year-old son Nicori after the game, on the Cardinals: "They put my daddy down. They ugly and I hate 'em."
SUPER BOWL XLIII DVOA
Here are the one-game DVOA ratings for the Super Bowl. With opponent adjustments:
Here is the same table, often requested in years past, with VOAf instead of DVOA. This still has adjustments for fumble luck and special teams weather, but does not include opponent adjustments.