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PRO FOOTBALL

Three Arizona Cardinals to watch

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Mike Gandy and Neil Rackers are good bets to make an impact in the Super Bowl on Sunday, and in the NFL for years to come.

February 01, 2009|Sam Farmer

FACTS

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. This is the fourth Super Bowl played in Tampa and the second at this stadium.

When: Today, 3 p.m. PST.

TV: By NBC-TV (Ch. 4) to more than 200 stations throughout the United States.

Players share: Winners: $78,000 per man. Losers: $40,000 per man.

Uniforms: Arizona will be the home team and use the West bench. The Cardinals have chosen to wear their red uniforms. Pittsburgh will wear white.

HOW THEY MATCH UP

Steelers pass offense vs. Cardinals pass defense

Roethlisberger is at his most dangerous when he can get outside the pocket and create. Arizona will try to contain him with a three-man rush as much as possible, dropping eight into coverage. The Cardinals are playing with a lot of confidence now and have big-play potential. Edge: Arizona.

Steelers run offense vs. Cardinals run defense

After sagging in the middle of the season, Pittsburgh has gotten back to Steelers football, meaning the running game is working again. If they can get Willie Parker to linebacker level, there's potential for some long gains. Edge: Pittsburgh.

Cardinals pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense

Warner is extremely dangerous and loves hitting Fitzgerald with those short drag routes over the middle. But the combination of linebackers Lamar Woodley and James Harrison, coupled with a solid secondary, are a nightmare for any offense. Edge: Pittsburgh.

Cardinals run offense vs. Steelers run defense

Although Arizona made a few key plays with the run in the NFC championship game, this is the biggest mismatch of the Super Bowl. Establishing the run against Pittsburgh's defense will be quite a chore for Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower and the Cardinals' offensive line. Edge: Pittsburgh.

Special teams

Covering kickoffs was once a problem for the Steelers, but they're vastly improved in that department. They'd better be, considering the threat posed by Arizona speedsters Steve Breaston and J.J. Arrington. Rackers should be in his element too. Edge: Arizona.

Coaching

Mike Tomlin and Ken Whisenhunt are both outstanding coaches who clearly have inspired their teams to do great things. Whisenhunt gets the edge, however, because -- as a former Steelers assistant -- he knows both teams and both sets of players best. Edge: Arizona.

THREE STEELERS WHO

MUST COME THROUGH

>>>QB Ben Roethlisberger: Three years ago, Big Ben became the youngest starting quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. But he didn't play very well in the process. He's looking to make up for that in a big way against the Cardinals.

>>>WR Hines Ward: Ward, the most valuable player of Super Bowl XL, is Pittsburgh's bread-and-butter star. Santonio Holmes is Roethlisberger's deep threat, but Ward is the guy he goes to when he absolutely has to have the catch. He's also the best blocking receiver in football.

>>>S Troy Polamalu: Pittsburgh has one of the best defenses in NFL history, and it all starts with Polamalu, who makes plays all over the field. Not only is he great against the run and in blitz situations, he has astounding range to get back and cover the deep ball. He's a major concern for any offense.

THREE STEELERS

YOU SHOULD KNOW

>>>WR Nate Washington: With the Cardinals looking to neutralize Holmes, they can't take their eyes off the speedy Washington. He can really stretch the field, and at one point this season had four consecutive games with receptions of at least 50 yards.

>>>CB William Gay: He replaced an injured Bryant McFadden at right corner this season and did such a good job that the Steelers now rotate the two. Gay is an outstanding cover corner, which will be key against the Cardinals, although he's not as strong against the run.

>>>ILB Lawrence Timmons: Fast, physical and extremely athletic, Timmons comes in for Larry Foote in nickel situations, and the Steelers figure to be in those formations quite a bit. Next to safety Troy Polamalu, he's the fastest closer on the defense.

THREE CARDINALS WHO

MUST COME THROUGH

QB Kurt Warner: This guy has Hall of Fame credentials and a Super Bowl ring to boot. His feel for finding open receivers and his ultra-quick release make him difficult for defenses to touch, let alone sack.

WR Larry Fitzgerald: Is there a better receiver in football? Not this season. Fitzgerald has the rare combination of size and speed that allows him to split double teams -- and he'll see them all day -- and make leaping catches.

S Adrian Wilson: He might not be as active as Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu, but Wilson is plenty effective. He's extremely strong -- stronger than many linebackers -- and quick enough to contain running backs trying to turn the corner. He sets the tone for the defense.

THREE CARDINALS

YOU SHOULD KNOW

>>>CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: Don't be surprised if this rookie develops into a Pro Bowl regular, and perhaps the best cornerback in the game. Wiry as he is at 6 feet 2, 182 pounds, he is also spectacular.

>>>LT Mike Gandy: Left tackle is the toughest position on the offensive line, especially for a team that's facing Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense. If you don't hear Gandy's name all day, that means he's doing his job.

>>>K Neil Rackers: One of the more capable kickers in football, Rackers might get his share of opportunities against the Steelers in what could be a low-scoring game. A bonus: He's a good tackler on kickoffs, although the Cardinals hope he doesn't have to be.

-- Sam Farmer

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