PITTSBURGH – There’s a lot of buzz this week among the Pittsburgh Steelers about the ability of 6-foot-3 Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals to “high point” the ball – catch a pass at the highest point of his ample vertical leap.
Troy Polamalu, the Steelers’ big-play, Pro Bowl safety, was asked Wednesday if he had an answer for stopping that.
“You can’t, because he’s getting higher than everybody, really,” said Polamalu, a levitator at 5-10.
That doesn’t mean the Steelers’ defense, ranked No. 1 overall and No. 1 against the pass in the regular season, will be conceding deep balls to Fitzgerald in Super Bowl XLIII.
“The main thing is there’s so much that goes into a play like that down the field,” Polamalu said. “You get pressure on the quarterback to try to throw the timing off. You can get better angles to maybe hit him (Fitzgerald).”
Fitzgerald is hardly the Cardinals’ only receiving threat. Joining him as 1,000-yard receivers this season were Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Distributing the ball to them is veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, the Super Bowl MVP in 2000. Running back Edgerrin James has found his edge in the playoffs.
Fitzgerald, however, has caught the attention of Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton.
“When all else fails, you can just throw it up to No. 11,” Hampton said. “It’s going to be tough stopping him, man, because when that ball goes in the air, two-three guys on him doesn’t matter. It just pops out at you on film when you see it.”
Add Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to the fan club.
“If you get down the field 1-on-1 with him, he’s going to come back with the football. He is the best in the world at that. Bar none,” Tomlin said. “So you’ve got a 6-3 wideout with strong hands that plays the ball above eye level. You have an issue and a problem. It’s something that we’re going to have to deal with, no doubt.”
The challenge for the Steelers will be to blunt the Arizona running game and put the Cardinals in long-yardage situations in which the Steelers can try to get after Warner.
Tomlin said pressuring Warner is no simple task, that sending linebackers and defensive backs on blitzes is risky because of his ability to see blitzes and get the ball away quickly.
“The reality is you can’t do a steady diet of anything vs. a quarterback as sharp as he is and as experienced as he is,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to have to do a little of everything and roll the dice and spin the dial if you will if we’re going to be effective.”
Hampton isn’t counting on having an edge because Warner is 37.
“He plays the game above the neck,” Hampton said. “It ain’t like he’s out there scrambling, running around. As long as he keeps that shoulder lubed up and he can think, he can get it done.”
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel seconded that.
“He’s a smart guy,” Keisel said. “He’s been there, done that. The guy can read blitzes coming. He knows where his hot receivers are. So this isn’t a rookie quarterback we’re taking about. This is Kurt Warner.”
“Keeping him off the field would be a great thing, which a lot of teams try to do,” Polamalu said. “But they’re going to make plays. You’ve just got to limit the big plays the best we can on defense.”
After playing two postseason games in frigid weather, Polamalu said he is looking forward to playing the Super Bowl in Tampa. However, he added that it can get rainy and muddy in Florida.
“That would help us against Larry Fitzgerald as well, maybe,” he said.
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