Vegas is giving the Cards six points, and since the home teams gives three off the bat, the Steelers are basically two-score favorites. You know, because there is sure to be just as much black and gold as red and white in the stands, thus neutralizing any home-field advantage. Bill Simmons, in his weekly Friday picks column, had this to say about the game:
CARDS (+6) over Steelers
My favorite pick of the week: I love when coaches go against their old teams, only the line never seems to reflect all the inside information they have on player weaknesses, signals and audibles and everything else. Imagine you worked in a close-knit company for 6-7 years like Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm did. Would you know the strengths and weaknesses of everyone around you? You would, right? Now, imagine you left the company to work somewhere else, then you had to use your extensive knowledge of your old company to beat them on a particular task. Wouldn't you have an enormous advantage for that task? Look at the way Parcells' Jets teams used to play the Pats in the late '90s -- they had half the talent, but those games were always close because the Tuna knew exactly how to beat them. Same for this game: Cards 27, Steelers 20.
A few thoughts. First, why do people assume that the assistant coach that left to take a head-coaching gig has the advantage when it comes to playing his former employer? Should things like, oh, I don't know, talent go into making such proclamations? Like that Arizona has two of the league's best wideouts in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Except Boldin probably won't play because of a bad hip. That's kind of a big deal since Bryant "No, really, I'm not a first-round bust" Johnson will now start. And worse still, guess who graduates to the team's slot receiver? Yep, that's right … Sean Freakin' Morey.
Nothing against Morey -- I loved him in Pittsburgh -- but the guy's not a No. 3 wideout in the NFL. I watched part of the Ravens-Cards game last week, and as Morey lined up in a four-wide set, I remember thinking: you know, he could be a Wes Welker-type player. Backhanded compliment? Maybe, but still … it's a compliment: Morey proved last year during the Browns game that he's a potentially dangerous return guy (okay, it was the Browns, but let's just suspend reality for the sake of discussion -- thanks), and he's got wheels -- Willie Parker once described him as one of the fastest guys on the team. But Morey's never taken that next step. In fact, he's still stuck in first gear. Which is dandy if you're looking for a maniac to stick on special teams, but it doesn't do much for your offense.
Troy Polamalu pressures Kurt Warner.
Continuing with the talent theme, the Cards could also be without their rookie first-round pick, right tackle Levi Brown, Leinart's blind-side protector. In his place, Russ Grimm -- the same guy who brought us Trai Essex, by the way -- will have to whip Elton Brown into game shape in less than a week. For those of you who don't follow Arizona personnel comings and goings, Brown was a potential first-round pick coming out of Virginia three years ago, but his questionable work ethic saw him slide to the fourth round. Oh, and he played right tackle last week … for the first time since high school. Yeah, I can't see how this would be a problem.
Center Al Johnson could be back from injury, but if he's not, undrafted rookie free agent Lyle Sendlein would get his third career start. This must make Chukky Okobi very, very angry. On what planet would a lowly undrafted free agent start over the Great Okobi. It's just, well, ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous, by the way, as the notion that Clancy Pendergast, the Cards' defensive coordinator, would be able to glean anything useful on the Steelers from a sit-down with Okobi.
That's not to say Okobi was a no-nothing -- he seemed like a smart guy and I'm sure he picked up a lot during his five-year stint in Pittsburgh. But here's the thing that I think sometimes gets overlooked: NFL teams know what other NFL teams like to do. You know all those quality control coaches on staff? They're responsible for pouring over hours and hours of game tape, identifying tendencies based on down and distance and any other scenarios you can dream up, and writing up nifty little reports for the assistant coaches. When I was at training camp, I asked Mike Tomlin about last year's Pats-Vikings Sunday night game. New England put a hurtin' on Minny from the opening whistle, and I wanted to know what happened. Specifically, did Brainiac Belichick do anything exotic or unexpected.
The response? "Nothing. We weren't surprised by anything they did. We just didn't have the players to match up." And that's the point: nobody's reinventing the wheel here -- everything's been done -- ultimately, it comes down to stopping it. And as Tomlin candidly admitted, the Vikes' 11 couldn't stop the Pats' 11 on that Sunday night. It happens. Even when you know it's coming.
Something else that's been bugging me as the week has dragged on: when were we all transported back to 2001? That was the last good year Kurt Warner had. Three teams and six years later, he's a 36-year-old backup, forced into duty because the franchise quarterback can't run the hurry-up offense. To his credit, Warner looked dazzling, but to paraphrase Bill Cowher: one game is what it is.
Warner ain't afraid to take a sack -- he went down 39 times in 10 games with the Giants in '04, 23 times in 10 games with the Cards in '05, and 14 times last year in six games. The media bobbleheads are foreshadowing some from-the-ashes-like resurgence for Warner based on his Ravens re-debut. I think that's a little premature, and to me, the real story is that Whisenhunt -- no matter what he says to the contrary -- doesn't have a helluva lot of confidence in Leinart if he's benching him at various points in the game. Plus, if this two-headed quarterback thingy is such a swell idea, how come nobody else is doing it? (Crickets chirping.)
Finally, and I think I've only heard Rod Woodson point this out on Total Access: Sure, Whisenhunt spent six years on Pittsburgh's staff, but Dick LeBeau was there for the last three. He faced Whisenhunt's schemes every day and familiarity is a two-way street. I thought Whisenhunt did a splendid job as the Steelers' o-coordinator -- he had a lot to do with that Super Bowl run, by the way -- but if you're making me choose, I got LeBeau. Easiest decision I'll make all season.