Note to self – A Cardinal mistake

Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy

Dear ESPN,

Stop it. Just stop it. I fully realize you get a discounted rate on Ed Werder because he’s embedded in Dallas, but can you give the world a break on the 24/7 Cowboys news cycle? For Christ’s sake, the only two teams we should be hearing about these days are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. Why should the general public give a shit if Dallas players lost respect for Jason Garrett because of how he mishandled drama with Tony Romo and Terrell Owens? Or that Troy Aikman isn’t sure Romo “understands what it takes to be the quarterback of the Cowboys”? Or that Romo now vows to be a better leader next season?

This is the point of the program where I point out that some teams are still playing meaningful games, and none of them involve the state of Texas. The only part of the story that possibly ties to Dallas is that if the Steelers beat the Cardinals, they’ll pass the Cowboys with six Super Bowl victories. Other than that, there’s zero reason to bring up Dallas. They’re not America’s favorite team. They’re ESPN’s. Cut the shit and give respect to teams who’ve actually won playoff games this decade.

Hugs,

– murf

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can actually move on to this week’s column. Last week, while the mainstream media chose to focus on the Cowboys or the Philadelphia Eagles or any other team in the league other than the Cardinals, I boldly prepared folks for very real possibility of the words “Arizona” and “Super Bowl” being in the same sentence.

Now, those same blabbering fools will spend the next two weeks telling you that there’s zero chance the Cardinals can actually win. Since I despise those talking heads, I’ll once again take the opposite point of view and attempt to present the case as to how the Arizona Cardinals are going to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

For starters, didn’t we learn a year ago to never automatically assume that one team is a lock? I mean, all the morons at the Worldwide Leader said New England could have played Gisele Bundchen at quarterback and still beat the New York Giants. How’d that work out for you?

So if you want to take their advice again this year be my guest, but I actually learn from other people’s mistakes (it’s something you learn to do when you never actually make mistakes yourself). For that reason alone, I refuse to dismiss Arizona’s chances.

Now let’s look at the team Ken Whisenhunt built. Led by quarterback Kurt Warner, these feisty Cardinals racked up more than 365 yards per game (fourth best) and 26.7 points per game (tied for third). He might be 37-years-old and completely immobile, but Warner can still make plays with his cannon for an arm. And for my money, no team has a better one-two punch at receiver than the Cards, who feature Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

Fitzgerald in particular has been the league’s most outstanding player during the postseason, hauling in 23 catches for 419 yards and five touchdowns in just three games. Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia each went into the game knowing that they had to shut down Fitzgerald to have any chance at victory, and all three failed miserably.

Edgerrin James might have said he’d like to play for another team next season, but the ageless one seems to have gotten his groove back. In the wins over the Falcons and Eagles, James posted identical stats – 16 carries for 73 yards. It’s nothing to make Adrian Peterson lose sleep at night, but it’s enough to keep defenses from completely zoning in on Arizona’s stout passing attack.

And the Cardinals defense, which will never be confused with the Steel Curtain, has even managed to raise its level of play when the games matter most. They bend, but rarely break. They give up points, but also have managed to tighten the belt when the game is on the line. An Arizona team that gave up more than 26 points per game during the regular season is giving up 20 a game now. When you have a high-powered offensive attack like the Cards, giving up less than three touchdowns a game is good enough to win most weeks. It’s not pretty, but it’s what got them here.

But here’s what everyone seems to forget – Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm and the Arizona coaching staff has intimate knowledge of how the Pittsburgh Steelers work. For years they were the ones who gameplanned blocking schemes or ways to buy time for Ben Roethlisberger to find an open receiver.

Didn’t the Tampa Bay-Oakland Super Bowl show us that this kind of advantage makes a huge difference? Jon Gruden knew what the Raiders were going to do before the ball was even snapped, meaning Oakland never had a chance. Sure, the Steelers are the better team, but the fact that Whisenhunt has insider’s information levels the playing field.

Look at the last time these two teams faced each other – Sept. 30, 2007, when the Cardinals defeated Pittsburgh 21-14. Roethlisberger turned the ball over four times and running back Willie Parker was held to 37 yards on 19 carries with one fumble. Was it a bad day for Pittsburgh or do the Cardinals coaches know what they’re doing? You can feel free to write it off as a fluke or dumb luck. I’m smart enough to use history to know that’s not the case.

Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at murf@homermcfanboy.com.

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