We've covered key matchups for the Arizona Cardinals in several different posts and looked at some key players who will impact Sunday's Super Bowl. Kickoff is just over 48 hours away and the time for talk is almost over (notice I said almost). Before it gets too late though let's take a look at what the Cardinals have to do to beat the Steelers.
Win the Battle of the Big Play: In the regular season the Steelers weren't much of a big play threat, but things have changed drastically in the post season. In 469 pass attempts during the regular season Ben Roethlisberger had seven completions of 40 yards or more, but in the post season he's managed three such plays on just 59 pass attempts. The Steelers offense has scored 44 points in the post season and 17 of those points were the direct result of a completion of 40 yards or more. The Steelers are executing their play action passes to perfection and Ben is finally healthy enough to throw the ball deep. Antrel Rolle and cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers Cromartie and Roderick Hood will have to commit themselves to keeping the Steelers wide outs in front of them.
Win the Battle on Third Down: The Cardinals offense has been good all season at extending drives thanks to the poise and accuracy of Kurt Warner, but they've gotten even better in the post season. They've converted 47% of their third down attempts in the post season (best percentage in the playoffs), but the Steelers defense is one of the best at getting off the field as well. Extending drives and keeping the Steelers defense on the field as long as possible will pay dividends for the entire Cardinals team. Their defense will have to be fresh in the fourth quarter so that the Steelers can't just line up and pound them with the ground game.
Force Big Ben to Beat You: It may sound odd think that Ben is the weak link in the Steelers chain, but he hasn't shown that he can consistently carry the Steelers offense this season. He's a much better quarterback when they run the ball and he's able to effectively run play action passes. When he starts to get flustered a bit though he tends to press himself into making a play. Sometimes it works beautifully for the Steelers, but often times it ends in him taking a brutal hit for a big sack. It's a risky proposition but I think that if you put the game in his hands and force him to make plays, he'll eventually make a critical mistake.
Expect the Unexpected and Be the Unexpected: No one holds anything back in this game and the Cardinals shouldn't act any different just because they've never been here. Ken Whisenhunt and Todd Haley have proved to be a master of the gadget play and there's no reason that they shouldn't empty their bag of tricks. At the same time, they also shouldn't be surprised if the Steelers pull out some trickeration. They haven't shown many 'gadget plays' under Mike Tomlin but if there was ever a time to pull a rabbit out of the hat, Sunday will be the day.
There are countless other obvious keys (protect the football and don't give up cheap points) that we could hash over, but only one other keeps sticking out in my mind: Enjoy the Moment but Don't be Satisfied. I fully expect to see some tears from the Cardinals players during the national anthem (and I can't promise that I won't shed a man-tear myself), but when anthem is over and helmets get strapped on, it's time to go to work. If the Arizona Cardinals want a championship, they have to give a championship effort for a full 60 minutes. What else do they have to do in order to fly home from Tampa with a Lombardi Trophy?