Janesville76°

Cardinals’ game plan didn’t include Larry Fitzgerald enough

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Dan Pompei
February 2, 2009
— The play-by-play sheet says the Cardinals lost to the Steelers with 35 seconds left in the game Sunday night. But really, they lost to the Steelers before the fourth quarter ever began.

Long before Santonio Holmes’ toenails had touched the tips of grass blades in the end zone on his game-winning touchdown catch, the Cardinals should have had the game put away. And they would have if they had not ignored Larry Fitzgerald as if he were an old girlfriend calling for Super Bowl tickets.


Let it go to voice mail.


Here is everything you need to know about the Cardinals’ offensive game plan in Super Bowl XLIII: Fitzgerald’s biggest play until less than 11 minutes remained was a block.


A block!


Actually, that also was a reflection of the Steelers’ defensive game plan. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wanted to do everything within his power to make sure Fitzgerald did not beat him.


Usually, that meant deploying 6-foot-1-inch cornerback Ike Taylor against the 6-3 Fitzgerald. Taylor was the Steelers’ best physical matchup for Fitzgerald.


But that wasn’t all LeBeau did. He rolled safety coverage to Fitzgerald’s side on most downs. He also mixed in an inverted Cover-2 in which safety Troy Polamalu lined up over Fitzgerald on the line and then released him to Taylor playing over him.


Paying all that attention to Fitzgerald made sense for the Steelers. Paying so little attention to Fitzgerald made hardly any sense for the Cardinals.


Fitzgerald, we should remember, came into the game having just set a record for receiving yards in a postseason with 419. He was coming off five straight 100-yard receiving games.


But the sum of Fitzgerald’s involvement until the final 11 minutes:


On a 45-yard reception by Anquan Boldin in the second quarter, Fitzgerald ran a long way to make the aforementioned block on Bryant McFadden at the 10-yard line. On the next play, the Cardinals scored their first touchdown.


His first catch of the game came in the final minute of the first half. It went for 12 yards.


Warner attempted a second pass to Fitzgerald with 18 seconds left in the half and the ball on the Steelers 1. Why it wasn’t a floater in the corner of the end zone, we’ll never know. Instead, it was a pass through traffic.


Steelers linebacker James Harrison stepped in the passing lane, intercepted the throw and returned it 100 yards for the touchdown that turned the game.


Fitzgerald’s biggest contribution of the first three quarters would have been tackling Harrison on the 1, which he almost did. But when he dragged down the linebacker from behind, he pulled Harrison’s knee onto his own body instead of pulling it onto the ground. Replay officials subsequently upheld the on-field ruling that Harrison had scored.


Of course it was Steelers President Dan Rooney thanking President Obama on the trophy stand. The Cardinals forgot what got them there.


If they would have lost the game by throwing to Fitzgerald in double coverage, at least they would have lost the way they had been winning. You couldn’t have found fault with that. But involving Fitzgerald in the game plan as if he were a blocking fullback? That just didn’t make sense.


The Cardinals did go to Fitzgerald in crunch time, for which they should be given credit. Fitzgerald had all but 12 of his 127 receiving yards in the game’s waning minutes. He breathed life into two drives that resulted in touchdowns and nearly gave the Cardinals the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.


On the first drive, Warner went to the back corner of the end zone with a high pass for Fitzgerald, which he caught over the head of Taylor. Where was that at the end of the second quarter?


On the second, Fitzgerald broke away from Taylor on a slant, caught a pass at the Arizona 45, broke a tackle and ran 55 yards after the catch for a 64-yard touchdown. It was Fitzgerald’s eighth touchdown of the postseason, which gave him a playoff record. It also was his fourth straight playoff game with 100 receiving yards. That was a record too.


The Cardinals’ game plan also should have been a record. A broken one.


Throw it to Fitzgerald.


Throw it to Fitzgerald.


Throw it to Fitzgerald.



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