The quarterback who can make the most plays in Super Bowl XLIII probably will lead his team to the championship.
Arizona's Kurt Warner and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger both have Super Bowl rings and are in hot pursuit of their second prize. Each of these quarterbacks have strengths and weaknesses, and both opposing defensive coordinators believe in pressure to disrupt the passer. It should be an interesting chess match during the game.
Before breaking down each quarterback, it's important to get a sense of what the defensive coaches are looking at in the way of a scouting report. Here's a look at a number of critical areas, based on the 16 regular-season games that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will digest before structuring a game plan.
In charting where these two quarterbacks threw the ball during the conference championship games, it might explain a few things about what to expect in the Super Bowl.
Warner threw 21 of his 28 passes under 10 yards in the air, and he was working with six- and seven-man protection schemes. Arizona knows its three wide receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston) are good enough to beat most coverages as long as it blocks the defense and keep the passing game relatively short. In the AFC Championship Game win over the Baltimore Ravens, Roethlisberger had a different distribution in his pass attack. In 31 of his passes, he had 13 under 10 yards, but he also had 13 between 10 and 19 yards as well as five throws for more than 20 yards.
It's not a new concept for these quarterbacks, and in looking at the 2007 game when the Cardinals beat the Steelers (game highlights), it was much the same.
During the third quarter and facing a first-and-10 situation, Warner saw a five-man pressure scheme with four rushers from his right side. He was under center, and his running back was blocking the wrong way. Warner ignored his hot-read receiver on his right side and stuck a 9-yard out route into Fitzgerald against Bryant McFadden. Warner beat the blitz with a quick release and a short passing game. He came back moments later on another first-and-10 situation with an empty set (no backs in the backfield) and hit Fitzgerald on a slant route against another five-man pressure scheme. These two plays demonstrate how hard it is to get to Warner and just how accurate he can be, especially on early downs.
There are two things about Roethlisberger's passing game that you can never lose sight of when preparing to defend him. One, he has a very strong arm, and this 43-yard bomb to Santonio Holmes in the first quarter of the 2007 Cardinals-Steelers game demonstrates what Roethlisberger always wants to do when given the time.
The second element of Roethlisberger's passing game is his classic escape left and then find a target downfield. He isn't looking to run but rather buy time to throw. During the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens, Roethlisberger worked his left escape to the max on two crucial plays.
In the first quarter and facing a third-and-5 situation, Roethlisberger motioned Heath Miller from the right to the left, dropped back and was flushed to his left, where he found the tight end for a nice gain and a first down.
In the second quarter, facing a third-and-9 situation, Roethlisberger escaped to his left, even though the Ravens brought a blitz on that side in anticipating a left escape. He still managed to find Holmes on the opposite side for a 65-yard touchdown pass against seven-man pressure.
Warner and Roethlisberger are pocket passers with two different mentalities. Roethlisberger is looking for the big play, and Warner is trying to dissect the underneath coverages. It should be one heck of a quarterback battle in the Super Bowl.