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fordfixer
01-23-2009, 03:53 AM
Facing a tall order with Fitzgerald & Co.
Friday, January 23, 2009
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09023/943943-66.stm

Nose tackles don't notice much in the middle of the line. The snap of the ball, the center's face mask, the way the center may attempt to block, perhaps. For sure, nose tackles know what the quarterback is doing and where the running back is going.

Nose tackles don't often get involved in what is going on outside the circle in which they operate. They don't see much other than the grabbing, holding, clawing and in-fighting that occurs along the line of scrimmage.

But even the Steelers' Casey Hampton said he can't help but be aware of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

"How can you not notice him?" Hampton said. "You can't help but notice him."

Such is the impact Fitzgerald already has made on the Steelers, an indelible impression that goes well beyond their meeting with him in the 2007 regular season, when Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 123 yards in the Cardinals' 21-14 victory.

"When all else fails, you can throw it up to No. 11," Hampton said. "It's going to be tough stopping him. When that ball goes in the air, even if there are two or three guys on him, it doesn't matter. He jumps so high, it's hard to get as high as him and get him down.
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"I've never seen anybody jump like that, maybe a young Randy Moss. That's what he reminds me of."

And Hampton doesn't have to cover Fitzgerald.

That responsibility will fall to cornerback Ike Taylor, usually the Steelers' hired gun for such OK Corral showdowns. And cornerbacks Bryant McFadden, Deshea Townsend and William Gay. And safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.

And just about anyone else Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau might try to recruit to stop the former Pitt wide receiver, who already has left his historical imprint on the NFL postseason.

"He's probably the best I've ever seen with ball skills and extension at the ball," said LeBeau. "You know how they say basketball players play taller than they are? This guy is like 7-feet tall at the ball."

After a regular season in which he caught 96 passes for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns, Fitzgerald has taken his game to grander heights in the postseason.

In three games playoff games, he has 23 catches for an NFL postseason-record 419 yards and five touchdowns, a performance made more spectacular by the style and manner of some of his catches. He has the size of a tight end and the body control of a gymnast.

"You look at the playoff games, not even including the regular season, he's been making outstanding catches downfield and, most of the time, the defensive backs are in good position," McFadden said. "Sometimes, there are two of them, and he's still making outstanding catches. That tells you what kind of guy he is."

"The guy has amazing hands," Taylor said. "He can high-point the ball. And he has great body control. Right now, that guy, he's in a zone. He has the [yardage] record for the postseason already, and we haven't even finished the postseason. What else you want the guy to do?"

That's a question for which the Steelers hope to provide a suitable answer.

Since Baltimore's Derrick Mason caught eight passes for 137 yards in the fourth game of the regular season, the Steelers have allowed two 100-yard receivers -- Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne, who had six catches for 114 yards in Week 9, and Tennessee's Justin Gage, who had five for 104 yards in Week 15.

Wayne, though, caught a 65-yard touchdown on a pass that deflected off Taylor's hands and also had a 16-yard reception on another pass that ricocheted off Taylor's hand.

Whenever the Steelers have gone into a game where their No. 1 priority is to stop some of the league's big-play receivers -- Chad Johnson, Plaxico Burress, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens -- they have done it. The longest reception by any of those players this season was 27 yards by Moss.

But, with the Cardinals, part of the problem is that Anquan Boldin was nearly as productive as Fitzgerald in the regular season, catching 89 passes for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns. They also have a third receiver, former Woodland Hills High School standout Steve Breaston, who had 77 catches for 1,008 yards.

"It seems like they both have vacuums on the end of their wrists," said McFadden, referring to Fitzpatrick and Boldin, who played with McFadden at Florida State. "Whenever the ball comes in that area, no matter how difficult the catch might look, they make it."

First published on January 23, 2009 at 12:00 am