When the Pittsburgh Steelers face off against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, they will see some familiar faces that were once part of a winning combination that brought the fifth Super Bowl title home in 2006.
Ken Whisenhunt was hired as the head coach of the Cardinals following the 2006-2007 NFL season after being the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh from 2004-2006. Three years later, Whisenhunt has added former Steelers linebacker coach, Ken Horton, Steelers linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, Steelers defensive end Nick Eason, and former Pitt players Larod Stephens-Howling and Larry Fitzgerald. With that kind of Pittsburgh influence, it is easy to see why the Arizona Cardinals are dubbed "Pittsburgh West".
But that is where the comparisons stop.
The Arizona Cardinals have been one of the least successful franchises in NFL history. Since their inaugural season in 1920 -then Chicago Cardinals- the franchise has amassed a 489-695-39 record with a 6-7 playoff record and one super bowl appearance (a loss to the Steelers). Meanwhile, the Steelers boast the most Super Bowl titles (6), 33-20 in the playoffs and a total record of 545-501-20. While the Steelers have had one losing season since 2000, the Cardinals are heading towards their ninth in that same amount of time. With trends like those, it is easy to see why the Steelers have had two coaches in the past decade while the Cardinals have had four. However, bad coaching is not the blame for Arizona's woes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers possess one of the best front offices in football. GM Kevin Colbert has helped build the Steelers into one of the best teams of the new millennia. In the draft, the Steelers were able to take successful first rounders Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons, Maurkice Pouncey and Heath Miller. The Cardinals have had similar success in the first round of the draft, particularly with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who, at the age of 28, already holds the franchise record for receiving yards. Their biggest flaw, however, has been the management of talent and their ability to prioritize the needs and talents of particular positions.
On Sunday, the Steelers will not only face one of the most dynamic players in the game, they will face one of the highest paid players in the league. After signing an 8 year $120 million two months ago, Larry Fitzgerald became the fifth highest paid player in the NFL, tied with Richard Seymour. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the salary paid to Fitzgerald will cut into other players' salaries in the future. Although he is one of the elite wide receivers in the game, is there really a need to pay someone so much money when his job relies heavily on his teammates, mainly the quarterback?
On the other hand, the Steelers will dress five wide receivers on Sunday, none of which were selected before the third round. The only $100+ million man on the roster is Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback. The Steelers have maintained their consistency through identifying talent and realizing the important of retaining that talent based on the player's position. Troy Polamalu, for example, has been the starting strong safety since 2004. Since that time, the Steelers have started, and eventually released, Plaxico Burress, Antwan Randle El, Cedrick Wilson, Nate Washington, Santonio Holmes, Quincy Morgan and Limas Sweed at wide receiver. The idea that the wide out position is expendable has allowed the Steelers to re-sign players like James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Ben Roethlisberger, etc. Fitzgerald's contract prevents any hope of the Cardinals building a consistent team around him.
For the Arizona Cardinals to take so much personnel from one of the league's most successful franchises, you would think the team would be more successful. Instead, the Cardinals continue to make bad decisions and further themselves as one of the worst franchises in the NFL. The Cardinals can bring in as many former Steelers as they want, it will not change the winning culture as long as the franchise continue to make bad decisions. As far as Sunday's game goes, the Cardinals could pull out another dramatic win over the Steelers, similar to their win in 2007. But Pittsburgh West, not a chance. The more appropriate name would be "Old Pittsburgh".