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News » D's been the key in recent Super Bowls

D's been the key in recent Super Bowls

D's been the key in recent Super Bowls
TAMPA - To some, the expression has become cliché.

To San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, it reflects his core belief on how to build a Super Bowl-winning team.

"Defenses win championships," Smith said Thursday in a telephone interview.

Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner is well aware.

He was starting for St. Louis in 1999 the last time the NFL's top-ranked offense from the regular season parlayed such success into a Super Bowl victory. But if linebacker Mike Jones hadn't made a goal-line stop of Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the final snap, the Titans might have won Super Bowl XXXIV instead of the Rams.

The play also became a harbinger of things to come.

Almost every other Super Bowl champion this decade has fielded a suffocating defense or had its unit play like one in the Super Bowl. That includes the 2001 New England Patriots in their 20-17 upset victory over the Warner-led Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. New England's defense stole the spotlight from an offense nicknamed the Greatest Show on Turf.

"I think about the game we lost more than any game I've ever played in," Warner said earlier this week. "We were expected to win, so when you don't, you feel like you miss an opportunity to make history. I'm going to do my best to make sure I don't have to think about this one too much."

It will require a Herculean effort.

Of the title winners this decade, only the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers fielded defenses that can be considered at least as stout as the one Pittsburgh brings into Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. The opposing teams in those two contests (the New York Giants and Oakland) entered with offenses even hotter than Arizona's, having both scored 41 points in their respective conference championship games. Those same units were subsequently dismantled by the Ravens and Bucs.

With a victory over Arizona, this version of Pittsburgh's defense will earn a spot alongside the franchise's vaunted Steel Curtain of the 1970s. The Steelers finished the regular season ranked atop the NFL in most major statistical categories, most notably fewest points (13.9 per-game average) and yards (237.2) allowed. Pittsburgh maintained that momentum in two playoff victories, including a second-round rout of Smith's visiting Chargers.

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Smith said he will be particularly interested in the game plan Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau designs to try to slow a Cardinals offense that has generated 10 touchdowns in three postseason contests.

"You must put pressure on the quarterback," Smith said. "We all know you can't let (Warner) stand around like it's a flag-football game. But if you don't get there (with pressure), what do you do? It's one of those fascinating things about this business.

"When it comes to winning championships, players are always first in importance followed by head coaches and coordinators. But then there are other things in the formula — injuries, who's going to make the big mistake? Usually at the end of the day, the Super Bowl winner finds a way to work through those things."

Pittsburgh's defense has been so dominant that the opposing unit is getting short shrift. But Arizona's No. 19 regular-season ranking doesn't reflect how well the Cardinals have performed in the playoffs. Arizona has forced 12 turnovers — including one returned for a touchdown by safety Antrel Rolle in a game-changing play against Atlanta — and shored up a secondary that allowed an NFL-high 36 touchdown passes in 2008.

"Guys earlier in the season were trying to make plays and a lot of times got out of their responsibilities," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said Friday. "What we realized was that if I do my job the right way, we have good enough players that those plays will come to us."

Such a postseason turnaround invokes memories of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. That unit finished the regular season ranked No. 23 but began gelling during its playoff run.

Like the Cardinals, the Colts defense was treated like an afterthought compared to Chicago's entering Super Bowl XLI. But while Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning was named the game's Most Valuable Player, it was the stifling of Chicago's offense that led the Colts to a 29-17 victory. Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden sealed the win with a fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown, marking the fourth time in a seven-Super Bowl span that a defense put points on the scoreboard.

The 2007 New York Giants (Super Bowl XLII), 2005 Steelers (Super Bowl XL) and 2004 Patriots (Super Bowl XXXIX) also won their titles largely because of staunch defensive efforts.

"We just want to go out and match [Pittsburgh's] intensity," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Anytime we have an opportunity to go against one of the top-ranked defenses, it's a chance to show people our defense isn't too bad either."

Recent history shows it will need to play even better if Arizona has a shot at pulling off a Super Bowl upset.

FOXSports.com deputy managing editor Todd Behrendt contributed to this report.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 31, 2009

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