This year has been one of many firsts. The people of the United States voted the first African American into the Oval Office and – of equal importance – the Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. When the Cardinals and the Steelers meet on Sunday, the ultimate determinants of the game will be how well Kurt Warner stands up to Ben Roethlisberger and how each team works to overpower the other in the crucial 60 minutes of play.

According to tradition, 26-year-old Ben Roethlisberger has been a more consistent game winner in the postseason. As for the regular season, he holds a .709 winning percentage against Warner’s .565. Even so, Ben hasn’t had quite as much experience as Kurt, his senior by 11 years, so the winning percentage is a dubious measure of skill set.

Speaking of experience, Kurt Warner holds the second overall passer rating in the postseason. Just behind Warner is Joe Montana. To dismiss the experience and strength of the Arizona quarterback would be pure folly. However, the nature of Warner’s game must be taken into account. He has consistently thrown quick, accurate passes and sidestepped sacks with the combined grace of Fred Astaire and a jungle cat. Kurt Warner also has proven he can produce in “The Big Game,” having thrown for over 300 yards in each Super Bowl game he has competed in.

As a result, the stonewall Pittsburgh defense will stop wasting their time with Kurt Warner and get on receiver Larry Fitzgerald like white on rice. While Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor is preoccupied with Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin will be Warner’s man. If the Pittsburgh Steelers want to win this game, they should concentrate on running down the Cardinals’ wide receivers and laugh as the Cardinals’ running game is crushed by the Pittsburgh front four. This is the only way Pittsburgh can win.

The Cardinals spread their wings and flew right over the heads of the Philadelphia Eagles on account of screens, quick throws and trick plays which both confused the Eagles and exploited their overaggressive blitz packages.

What might close the casket for the Steelers is their offensive line. With four new starters filling in, Willie Colon is the only returning starting offensive lineman for Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ offensive line held up against the Ravens, but the Cardinals sport a formidable defense that the Eagles rarely penetrated. The Cardinals’ defense filled gaps, held their ground and shut down any running game the Eagles attempted. Such a defense will surely rob the Steelers of any grand illusions this Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, which has allowed an average of only 156.9 passing yards per game, has made a living on shutting down a team’s top receiver while putting heavy pressure on their quarterback. This seems like quite a straightforward plan, but because the Steelers are defending against Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and one of the quickest, most accurate arms in the NFL, they are going to have to concentrate their power on either the receivers or the quarterback. Dividing and conquering would be a bad decision, even for the mighty Pittsburgh defense.

The hallmark of the Steelers’ defense is its ability to blitz and disguise its blitzes. At the same time, the Steelers have a formidable front four that will put enough pressure in the center so that Warner will shy away from the pocket. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison will cause havoc on Warner’s right and left to frighten him and mar his accuracy and ability to improvise. As if all this talk about the Pittsburgh defense isn’t intimidating enough, there hasn’t yet been any mention of Troy Polamalu. The strong safety will play a crucial role in stopping the receiving game of Fitzgerald and Boldin. There is no telling which aspect of the Cardinals’ offense will suffer more, but Pittsburgh’s defense will test the speed, accuracy and improvisational style that have defined Kurt Warner.

In a season during which Barack Obama was voted into the White House and the Arizona Cardinals will compete in their first Super Bowl, the sweetness of new beginnings lures us to devaluate the past and its lessons.

The past, especially with respect to the mobility prominent in professional sports, is especially relevant. Arizona Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator that helped the 2005 Steelers snatch a Super Bowl title. Perhaps Whisenhunt has knowledge privy to the Steelers’ offense, and perhaps Russ Grimm, former offensive line coach for the Steelers and current employee of the Cardinals, also shares some insights into the Steelers’ offense. While Grimm and Whisenhunt scheme off the field, the pressure of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be necessary in standing up to the Pittsburgh offense.

Tradition says that defense wins Super Bowls. Warner for his part has made a “tradition” of being versatile, speedy and accurate, especially in the clutch. There is no doubt that the Steelers will lay the defense on like jam on toast – but Warner thrives under those conditions.

Tradition will take a back seat this Super Bowl as the Cardinals fly past the Steelers, 24-17.

Will Tamplin is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at tamplinthehoya.com. Ramblin’ Tamplin appears every other Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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