• Super Bowl: 3:25 p.m. Ch.5
TAMPA, Fla. – The Arizona Cardinals have a high-octane offense that churns out points.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a stingy defense.
Super Bowl XLIII should come down to which team’s strength – Arizona’s offense or Pittsburgh’s defense – executes the best today in the fourth Super Bowl held in this city.
If any defense is prepared to contain the Cardinals’ offense – the latest version of fastbreak basketball on turf – it’s Pittsburgh’s, led by spry, 71-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
In his 50th NFL season as a player and a coach, LeBeau is one of the innovators of the zone-blitzing scheme that has become a staple in defensive packages around the league. The complex scheme uses deception and pressure to confuse the offense and ultimately make the quarterback uncomfortable.
There isn’t a situation the even-keeled LeBeau hasn’t seen, and his team’s preparedness today should allow the Steelers to play at their traditional, breakneck speed.
“We’ve been doing the same thing around here since I’ve been here,” said beefy nose tackle Casey Hampton, in his eighth seasonwith Pittsburgh. “We may have put one or two new defenses in a year, but it’s basically the same thing. I think that’s what allows us to play fast and play well. When you have been in this system for three or four years doing the same thing every year, it’s like anything else when you do it all the time. It’s like second nature.”
Arizona has had few problems putting points on the board this season.
The Cardinals have scored 30 or more points in each of the past four games, and they averaged 26.7 points a contest during the regular season, third overall in the NFL.
The Cardinals had three receivers with more than 1,000 receiving yards in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Quarterback Kurt Warner gets rid of the ball quickly and is playing his best football in years. And the return to the starting lineup of veteran running back Edgerrin James has created balance for the Cardinals, who have actually run the ball more than they’ve passed this postseason, with 100 rushing plays and 95 pass plays.
“They’re going to make plays,” Pittsburgh free safety Ryan Clark said. “Larry Fitzgerald is going to make a play that you’re all going to get to talk about on TV for the next week, but as long as we score one more point, we’ll be OK.”
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said his team’s increased production offensively can be attributed to a better understanding in dealing with defenses that bring pressure.
“I understand that Pittsburgh will come after us, and we know that,” Whisenhunt said. “But I think that our receivers and our group have done a very good job of handling that, and hopefully we’ll continue with that on Sunday.”
This game will be a battle of wits between Whisenhunt and LeBeau, two coaches whose units competed against each other daily in practice when Whisenhunt was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator. The two thrived on the daily competition, but Whisenhunt said the lessons learned during that time won’t help much today.
“It is very tough to have success against them, which is why they are the No. 1 rated defense in the NFL,” Whisenhunt said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to execution. I have gone against LeBeau’s defenses in training camp in the past and have had mixed results at the best. It will be an exciting game from that standpoint, just to see if we can do anything.”
Pittsburgh’s talented quartet of linebackers and playmaking safety Troy Polamalu give LeBeau some versatility in how he’ll attack the Cardinals’ offense.
The Steelers can try two things to try and stop Arizona’s explosive offense. They can keep seven or eight guys in coverage, forcing Warner to throw into small windows and creating fewer quick-strike opportunities for Arizona’s offense. Or they can bring pressure and make Warner get rid of the ball before he wants to.
LeBeau is well-versed in Whisenhunt’s offensive philosophy. However, he doesn’t know every play in Whisenhunt’s phone book-thick playbook. So whatever strategy he chooses, LeBeau understands he can’t stop everything, referencing a famous Prussian ruler to make his point.
“Well, a wise man once said, ‘He who defends everything, defends nothing,’ ” LeBeau said. “That was Frederick the Great, the unifier of the Prussian states. I think he knew what he was talking about. He had a pretty good competitive record.” Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437