Sports

Arizona's arsenal giving opposing defenses fits

TAMPA — The question came from a reporter standing a few rows deep in front of Edgerrin James’ podium.

“Edgerrin!” the reporter said. “What makes the Arizona Cardinals offense so good?”

The Cardinals running back raised his head to make eye contact with the reporter.

“Options,” he said. “We have so many options. I think that is what it really boils down to. We are capable of running the ball. We are capable of passing the ball. It’s the tough catch that separates us from a lot teams. (Larry) Fitzgerald is going to make some tough catches. Anquan Boldin is going to make some nice runs after the catch.

“It’s the little things that make you good. Sometimes, defenses play the right coverage, and they have the people in position, but when you have somebody like Fitzgerald just go up and make those plays, that’s the difference.”

A difference that propelled the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII, where the NFC champions will face the Pittsburgh Steelers, kings of the AFC, on Sunday at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

Those dynamic options allowed Arizona to rip through opposing defenses during the regular season.

The Cardinals averaged 365 yards of total offense and 26.7 points per game, good for fourth overall in the NFL in both categories.

Arizona, which spent decades as the NFL’s doormat prior to the 2008 campaign, accomplished those prolific offensive statistics with an anemic running game that was last in the league, averaging 73.6 rushing yards a game.

“We’ve got great players,” said Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, a former two-time league MVP with the St. Louis Rams. “You don’t have great teams, great offenses, great defenses without great players. We have a scheme that fit us, but we have a lot of great players fitting into a scheme, and we are playing at a high level.”

Arizona has three 1,000-yard receivers in Fitzgerald, Boldin and Steve Breaston.

Warner, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV, revived his career this season, passing for more than 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. He completed 67 percent of his passes in the regular season.

The barrage of offense spilled over into the playoffs.

In three postseason victories, Fitzgerald has an NFL-record 419 receiving yards, and he has five touchdown receptions.

Warner has thrown eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions.

More importantly, James, a four-time Pro Bowler who was benched earlier this season, has rushed for a team-leading 203 yards and is averaging nearly four yards a carry.

A balanced Cardinals’ offense has created a few restless nights for the Steelers.

“(Warner’s) got some good players around him,” Pittsburgh linebacker Lamarr Woodley said. “When he throws the ball out there they’re definitely going to catch it, get a lot of yards after the catch. He also has a nice running back and a great line. When you have guys like that around you, you’re able to produce big numbers. As a defense, we have to go out there and put pressure on him. If we put pressure on him, he can’t get the ball to those guys.”

The Cardinals limped into the playoffs, having lost four of their last five games, but Warner credits the players’ individual accountability for their run to the Super Bowl.

“We realized it’s not about one side of the ball,” Warner said. “If we want to win it’s going to take everybody. The last four weeks we’ve really come together as a team, and guys have held each other accountable, and guys have looked to be accountable to their teammates and say, ‘Hey, when I’m in an opportunity to make a play, I’m going to make that play for you,’ and they expect the same from their teammates. With that, we’ve grown together and have played our best football.”

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