Yes, I'm still walking among the living, albeit in on a slightly different path. Responsibilities at home and work have both increased two-fold, so my free time has been whittled down to near nil. Check out Energy Crisis by J. Martinez & McEnroe to get an aural rendition of the aforementioned explanation. Not to say that I'm jumping ship; in fact, I fully intend to forge ahead, sleep be damned.
With that being said, I thought it would be appropriate to touch on a few key points regarding last Sunday's Super Bowl. I'm sure if the Cards were setting a soundtrack to the days that followed the Super Bowl, my guess is that it would include this little ditty.
Cardinal Rules Go Unheeded
Heading into Sunday's game, the Arizona Cardinals knew that perfect play was the only way they were bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. They had to adhere to the basic rules that governed their run to the Super Bowl. And as close as they got, they made enough mistakes to deny themselves a ticker-tape parade.
Mistake number one: Playing too conservative for too long. Arizona was down double digits before they opened up their vaunted passing game. Midway through the second quarter, QB Kurt Warner finally went vertical, finding WR Anquan Boldin for a nice catch and run down to the one yard line. A play later, the Cards were in the end zone and back in the game. While this put the game close at hand, it wasn't long before the Cards found themselves down by ten again.
Mistake number two: Killing their own momentum. With the second quarter coming to a close and the Cards poised to take a 14 - 10 lead into the half, Warner channeled his inner (insert your favorite Texans signal caller) and threw an errant pass into the waiting arms of LB James "Defensive Player of the Year" Harrison who took it a Super Bowl record 100 yards to pay dirt. This put the Steelers up 17 to 7, and all but murdered the Cardinals' momentum.
Mistake number three: Not dancing with who brung 'em. Letting nearly fifty (50) minutes elapse before completing their second pass to WR Larry Fitzgerald is mind-boggling. I know Fitz was the focus of the Steelers' D, but he needed to be utilized a lot earlier. You don't allow (arguably) the best receiver in football to wait until fourth quarter to become a factor. It's no surprise that once Warner started to force the ball to Fitzgerald, the Cards were able to turn a thirteen (13) point fourth quarter deficit into a three (3) point lead.
Disclaimer: Look, I love me some AJ, (I have two jerseys to prove it) but Larry Fitzgerald is everything you'd want in a receiver. Coming into the league, Larry had the size, speed, and leaping ability that teams covet. Now he's demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion. He's a playmaking receiver with an amazing set of skills who just so happened to lead his team on an improbable Super Bowl run... man. Larry Fitzgerald is a certified badass.
A Prevent D on Super Bowl Sunday - ? Well, That's Just Indefensible...
So yeah, we've all admired the relentless nature of the Steelers defense. And while James Harrison's stellar pick-six to end the first half was nothing short of amazing - the Steelers' defensive dominance dwindled in the second half. After keeping Warner in check for most of the first half, the Steelers let the 2 time league MVP carve up their (dare I say) prevent defense in the fourth quarter. It was a very un-Steelers-like performance that had Arizona flirting with an upset. Sure it made for entertaining football, but it showed what happens when a defense lets off the gas.
A Huge Pair
QB Big Ben Roethlisberger and WR Santonio Holmes showed a ton of moxie on the Steelers in crunch time. At one point early in their two minute and two second (2:02) game winning drive, the Steelers were faced with a 1st and 20 after a holding call pushed them back to their 12 yard line. Undaunted, Big Ben and Santonio Holmes took the entire city of Pittsburgh on their back and set up a two minute drive for the ages. Using most of the 2:30 left on the clock, they marched 78 yards down the field and scored with one of the most picturesque catches in Super Bowl history. So the Steelers offense, which had been pretty pedestrian for the first 57 minutes or so, came alive for one last drive and brought the title back to Pittsburgh.
Defense Loses Championships
We all know the adage defense wins championships. In the case of the Cardinals, it was their inability to defend the Steelers on their final drive that cost them the title. The Cardinals' defense excelled for most of the game, allowing only 13 points up until that point. They held RB Fast Willie Parker to 55 yards on 19 attempts and even scored two points by forcing a holding call in the end zone. But nothing was more impressive than their six play goal line stand. After a roughing the holder penalty (really?) gave the Steelers another set of downs at the four (4) yard line, the Cards' defense remained stout, surrendering only the field goal.
As good as they were for the first 96.4% of the game, they played terribly with the game on the line. Case in point...rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (remember him?) led his team with two passes defensed and was credited with five solo stops. But when it mattered most, his inexperience caused him to bite on two pump fakes, which all but denied Arizona its first Super Bowl.
With just over a minute left in the game, DRC was zoned up on the right side of the formation. As the play unfolded, he bit hard on a pump fake to RB Mewelde Moore breaking to the flat, which allowed Holmes a huge window to catch the ball and turn up it field. The play resulted in a 40 yard gain and set the Steelers up with a first (1st) and ten (10) from the five (5) yard line. If he stays in his zone, he easily keeps the play in front of him and Pittsburgh near midfield.
The second allowed the title clinching touchdown. With DRC lined up to defend the back corner, he bit on the pump fake to WR Hines Ward running an in-route at the goal line. That allowed Santonio to find himself alone in the back of the end zone and in position to make the game winning grab. If DRC keeps Holmes in front of him, then the outcome of that play would have been very different.
So, How Long?
You'd be lying if you looked at the Arizona Cardnials and their high flying offense, and didn't see a little of your Houston Texans. An All-Pro wide reciever, a standout rookie running back, a rock solid receiving corps...similiarities abound.
If the Texans defense can take a step forward in 2009 like the offense did in 2008, then the Texans will be poised to make their first playoff appereance in franchise history. That much is true. We know the playoffs are within reach, so it begs the question: How long will it be before the Houston Texans get their shot at a Super Bowl ring? The Cardinals' improbable run makes me believe that it may be sooner than expected.