Cardinals-Steelers scouting report

Les Bowen: How the Cardinals will win

1. Score a whole lotta points: Nobody disputes that the Cards have superior weapons. What nearly everyone assumes is that the Steelers' superior defense will be the difference. The same assumption preceded the NFC Championship Game, with the Eagles' defense playing the role of the Steelers. If the Cards can keep Kurt Warner from being blasted into the old folks' home, they really can win.

2. Larry Fitzgerald, Larry Fitzgerald and more Larry Fitzgerald: There is a lot of talk about how the Steelers will be aiming to shut down the guy who has already set a postseason record for receiving yardage. The conventional wisdom holds that Arizona should try to emphasize its considerable other offensive resources. I'm not so sure. Fitzgerald does not need to be very open to catch the ball. He works great in tight spaces. Nobody has shut him down the entire postseason; it isn't as if Atlanta, Carolina and the Eagles just left him out of the defensive game plan. Dance with what got you here. Make the Steelers show how they can take away Fitzgerald, don't do it for them.

3. Gamble and win defensively: This Cards defense is not great. If Ben Roethlisberger isn't pressured, he ought to be able to pick it apart. But the Cards have gotten pretty good pressure in the postseason, and they've been excellent at forcing turnovers. As underdogs, they'll need to do both those things, and to continue their surprisingly strong play against the run.

4. Gain an 'Edge': Edgerrin James' running has helped keep defenses from being able to tee off on Kurt Warner in the postseason. Warner mentioned James yesterday as an underrated part of the Cards' arsenal. Running effectively also eats up clock and keeps Arizona's pass coverage-challenged defense off the field.

5. Stay close: This underdog business can work in Arizona's favor, with pundits eager to proclaim the Cards the worst Super Bowl team ever, and the whole city of Pittsburgh apparently figuring a sixth Super Bowl parade is its birthright. The longer Arizona hangs around, the more the pressure builds on the Steelers. We saw last year what can happen when the "superior" team can't put the scrappy underdog away. Steve Breaston would make an excellent David Tyree.

CARDINALS KEYS:

* Player: Kurt Warner has been here and won, he's been here and lost, he's been released, consigned to the margins, then brought back onto the stage because Matt Leinart got hurt. Now, at 37, Warner has the chance to cement his place among the great quarterbacks. Warner is a smarter, savvier and more accurate passer than Ben Roethlisberger, and he can be Arizona's biggest advantage if his line allows him to be.

* Matchup: Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald vs. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and the secondary. At 6-2, 195, Taylor is one of the few corners with the size to match up with Fitzgerald (6-3, 220). Fitzgerald has 23 catches for an NFL-record 419 yards in the postseason.

Paul Domowitch: How the Steelers will win

1. Keep Ben standing: The Cardinals aren't a great pass-rushing team. They got to opposing quarterbacks just 31 times this season. But the Steelers' offensive line has had its problems protecting Ben Roethlisberger. He was sacked 46 times this season. The only quarterback who got sacked more was the Patriots' Matt Cassel (47). Twenty of those 46 sacks came in the Steelers' four lossess. If his line keeps the rush off Big Ben, he should be able to do some damage to the Cardinals' defense.

2. Many happy returns: One of the Cardinals' weaknesses that the Eagles weren't able to capitalize on in the NFC Championship Game was their poor coverage units. They were near the bottom of the league in both punt coverage (13.1) and kickoff coverage (25.0). Steelers punt returner Santonio Holmes averaged just 6.6 yards per return in the regular season, but has been hot in the playoffs. He's averaging 19.6 yards per return, including a 65-yard return for a touchdown against the Ravens.

3. Here's looking at you, Kurt: Most of the blitzes the Eagles used against Kurt Warner in the NFC Championship Game came from the outside. He did a good job of picking them up, stepping up in the pocket and getting the ball out before the pressure got to him. But Warner isn't very mobile and has difficulty getting to the outside. So look for the Steelers to focus more of their blitzes in the "A" and "B" gaps, where they can get in his face and not allow him to step up and avoid that outside blitzer.

4. Early run success: Willie Parker missed five games this season with knee and shoulder injuries and averaged a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. But he's healthy now and has had 100-yard rushing performances in two of the last three games. If he can get going early against the Cardinals, it will open things up for Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game and keep Arizona's defense guessing.

5. No YACking it up: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston combined for 262 catches and 3,475 yards this season. They're going to catch some more passes Sunday. What the Steelers need to do - what the Eagles failed to do - is minimize the damage. Limit their yards after the catch. That's where Fitzgerald and Boldin can really kill you.

STEELERS KEYS:

* Player: Right outside linebacker James Harrison. Harrison, the league's defensive player of the year, registered a career-high 16 sacks and had an NFL-high seven forced fumbles. He's a high-motor disrupter who has the speed to go around offensive tackles and the strength and power to go through them.

Matchup: Steelers cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden vs. Cardinals wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals aren't going to be able to run the ball against the Steelers, so this is going to come down to Kurt Warner getting the ball to his two elite wideouts. The Steelers have given up just 15 passing touchdowns in 18 games