Five keys to the gameGOTTA GRIND IT OUT Pittsburgh's characteristically bruising running game was awful in the regular season, as the Steelers ranked just 23rd at 105.6 yards an outing. Injuries and poor play on the offensive line were part of the problem, but Pittsburgh is about as healthy as it's been all season going into the game. Running back Willie Parker has breakaway speed and is capable of blistering an Arizona defense that allowed 110.2 yards a game, 16th in the league. An effective rushing attack serves another purpose — keeping quarterback Kurt Warner and receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin off the field.
Declare war on Warner One of the reasons Warner has been so good in the playoffs is that he's rarely been harassed. That has to change today. No team is more equipped to pressure the Cardinals quarterback
than the Steelers, who had 51 sacks during the regular season. Warner
has a quick release and is one of the smartest signal-callers in the game,
but he'll have his hands full against
a defense that utilizes multiple blitzes with players such as linebackers
James Harrison, James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley. Those three players combined for 32 sacks in the regular season.
A BIG GAME FROM BIG BEN If any player wants to make amends for a poor performance, it's Ben Roethlisberger after his outing in Super Bowl XL against Seattle. The Steelers won despite an effort in which Big Ben connected on just 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards, with a couple of interceptions. If Roethlisberger has a similar performance tonight, Pittsburgh may be in big trouble because it's had trouble generating much of a running game. At times this season, Roethlisberger has been the only offense. Despite being sacked an eye-popping 51 times in the regular season and playoffs, he threw for more than 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns.
DON'T LET BOLDIN GET GOING The last time we saw Boldin, he was screaming at his offensive coordinator after being pulled out of the game during the fourth quarter of the NFC championship. Don't let that ordeal fool you — Boldin's quite capable of being a difference-maker tonight. Before he suffered several broken bones in his face on a crushing hit midway through the season, many thought Boldin deserved consideration for offensive player of the year. Despite missing two games, Boldin had more than 1,000 yards, hauled in 86 passes and scored 11 times. Before the injury, he was the go-to guy, not Fitzgerald.
IT'S YOUR TURN, HOLMES Pittsburgh's passing game has been the main source of offense most of the season, but that took a hit last week when veteran Hines Ward (81 catches, 1,043 yards, seven touchdowns) suffered a sprained MCL. Ward's a gamer and will play today, but we don't see him being as effective as he usually is. That's where Santonio Holmes comes in. The speedy receiver didn't have great numbers this year with 821 yards and five scores, but he is a deep threat. Arizona's passing defense was mediocre in the regular season, so big plays can be had tonight. TE Heath Miller also needs to step up.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun