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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Steelers knew about Fitzgerald's skills long ago

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

By ALAN ROBINSON

AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Larry Fitzgerald might be the most scouted player in Pittsburgh Steelers history. For two years, they needed only to look out their office windows to watch him.

Fitzgerald's exceptional hands, his knack for making difficult catches while heavily covered and his high jumper-like leaping ability might pose the biggest obstacle to the Steelers beating the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.

As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suggested Tuesday, scouting and a good game plan alone aren't enough to slow Fitzgerald, whose 419 yards receiving are the most in a single NFL postseason, with one game remaining.

"If you get down the field one-on-one with him, he's going to come back with the football," Tomlin said. "He is the best in the world at that, bar none."

Not that any one needs to remind the Steelers.

Displayed in their Heinz Field press box, alongside pictures of former and current Steelers players, is a large photo of Fitzgerald leaping above three Texas A&M defenders to make a touchdown catch while at Pitt in 2003. He couldn't have been more covered, yet it made no difference. The football was there, and, in Fitzgerald's mind, nobody else was going to get it.

Ask the Philadelphia Eagles about plays like that.

Fitzgerald's series of three, can-you-top-this touchdown catches in the NFC championship game Sunday prevented an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl. It also set up an improbable matchup between the Cardinals, an old franchise that could hardly be less successful, and the Steelers, an old franchise that could hardly be more successful.

"Larry Fitzgerald, is quite simply, the best receiver in the world down the field in one-on-one situations," Tomlin said. "If we're to be successful in Tampa, we need to limit the number of times we're downfield with him one-on-one. Invariably, he's going to come up with the football. The (video) tape tells us that."

So did their own eyes.

Although the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh never practice together on the four-field complex they share on the city's South Side, more than few Steelers employees were tempted to sneak a few peeks at Fitzgerald when he played for Pitt in 2003 and 2004.

Why wouldn't they? In his two college seasons about being recruited by former Pitt coach Walt Harris, a passing game whiz, Fitzgerald caught 161 passes for 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns, with at least one TD catch in a record 18 consecutive games.

The Steelers also influenced Fitzgerald, too.

Not long after the Cardinals drafted Fitzgerald No. 3 overall in 2004, when the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger eight spots later, Fitzgerald said his goal wasn't just to be the receiver who made the occasional highlight-film catch. Instead, he wanted to be as steady and reliable as the Steelers' Hines Ward.

Now, Fitzgerald probably needs to be better than Ward if the Cardinals are to win their first NFL championship since 1947 -- three cities and 61-plus years ago. Curiously, the then-Chicago Cardinals beat the Eagles to win that '47 title, a week after Philadelphia beat the Steelers in a rare playoff game for the Eastern Conference playoff.

Former NFL receiver Cris Collinsworth, the NBC analyst, agrees with Tomlin that Fitzgerald's ability to make plays when the ball is in the air is unmatched.

"I don't know what Larry Fitzgerald's vertical leap is, but he looks like Michael Jordan playing out there to me," Collinsworth said Tuesday. "If it's a tie, you just throw the ball up in the air and Larry Fitzgerald comes down with it."

Tomlin isn't about to tip his hand about the Steelers' coverage plans for Fitzgerald, but no doubt cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Ryan Clark are keys to it.

Taylor isn't as well known as the showpiece players on Pittsburgh's defense -- Troy Polamalu, Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and linebacker James Harrison -- yet he allowed only two touchdowns in coverage all season and is a Pro Bowl alternate.

If Fitzgerald runs into All-Pro safety Polamalu, it might be when he goes over the middle rather than deep, as Polamalu often plays as much like a linebacker as he does a defensive back.

The Steelers like to negate a receiver's production by putting pressure on the quarterback, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau practically invented the zone blitz. But blitzing could be difficult against Arizona's Kurt Warner, who, according to STATS, led the NFL with 14 touchdown passes against the blitz.

Fitzgerald is one of three Arizona 1,000-yard receivers, along with Anquan Boldin and former Pittsburgh high school star Steve Breaston. But Fitzgerald might be toughest matchup problem all season for the Steelers, who easily led the league in pass coverage. Pittsburgh allowed an average of 156.9 yards passing, or more than 130 yards game below the Cardinals' offensive average of 292.1 yards.

Still, Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington said, "It's not about what they do. It's about what we do. As long as we block hard, run hard, tackle hard, catch passes, make the right reads, our potential is unlimited. We can do anything we want to do."

Or kind of like the way Larry Fitzgerald plays on many Sundays.


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Here we go Steelers! Here we go!

-- Posted by Indymove on Wed, Jan 21, 2009, at 7:47 AM


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