Kent Somers, azcentral sports
October 17, 2015
Following a road win at Detroit and a week of practice at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, the Cardinals visit Pittsburgh on Sunday to face the Steelers.
Kent Somers has been with the team all week and provides his weekly scouting report and prediction.
The game kicks off at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Cardinals first and foremost
Don’t let Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell or DeAngelo Williams have big games. The Steelers will play conservatively on offense, figuring their best chance to win in by running the football and keeping it away from the Cardinals’ offense. If the Cardinals can’t control those two backs, it will be a long afternoon.
Cardinals key stat: +9.
That’s the Cardinals' turnover ratio in their four victories. In their loss to the Rams, they committed three turnovers and the Rams had none. It's a simple game sometimes.
Cardinals key player: Kevin Minter
Inside linebacker Kevin Minter faces the most difficult test of the season to this point. Minter has played well except for the Rams game, in which he struggled to get off blocks and fill the right gaps. The Steelers will test the Cardinals' interior defense, and Minter has to hold up.
Cardinals injury report
OLB Alex Okafor (calf), out; OLB LaMarr Woodley (chest), S Rashad Johnson (hip), G Mike Iupati (back), questionable; WR John Brown (hamstring), S Tyrann Mathieu (heel), CB Justin Bethel (foot), TE Darren Fells (hip), S Tony Jefferson (neck), WR J.J. Nelson (shoulder), T Jared Veldheer (ribs), probable.
Steelers first and foremost
Score touchdowns in the red zone at least half the time. The Steelers rank first in the league in red zone percentage, scoring touchdowns 78.6 percent of the time. The Cardinals are second at 77 percent. It's unrealistic to think the Steelers will convert at that rate against the Cardinals, but scoring touchdowns on half their red zone opportunities will give them a chance at a win. Provided they get to the red zone more than twice.
Steelers key stat: 16.
That’s the number of sacks the Steelers have this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. It’s the most sacks the Steelers have had through five games since 2010.
Steelers key player: Running back Le’Veon Bell
He makes the Steelers' offense go. Le'Veon Bell has a knack for making something out of nothing, as we saw last Monday night in San Diego. The Cardinals can’t count on one man bringing Bell down. They have to swarm the ball.
Steelers injury report
S Will Allen (ankle), QB Ben Roethlisberger (knee), LB Ryan Shazier (shoulder), out; LB Jarvis Jones (hip), CB Cortez Allen (knee), questionable; C Doug Legursky (back), LB James Harrison (illness), probable.
Cardinals on offense
We can make a good guess at what they won’t be doing to start the game: operating out of the no-huddle. That didn’t work last week in Detroit, so it sure won’t work in Pittsburgh. With a multitude of offensive threats, the Cardinals shouldn’t overthink this.
Try to get running back Chris Johnson going early to set up play action. Don’t get away from the run game for too long. Even though the Steelers don’t give up much on the ground, the Cardinals need to stick with it. The Steelers don’t beat themselves with turnovers, committing only three this season. The Cardinals can’t afford many mistakes.
The offensive line, particularly guards Mike Iupati and Jonathan Cooper, need to do a better job of picking up stunts in pass protection. It’s not a hard problem to fix. The offense should benefit from practicing against the Cardinals defense, which like the Steelers’, brings a variety of blitzes.
Rookie outside linebacker Bud Dupree leads the Steelers with three sacks. The Cardinals liked him a lot in the draft, too. If the Cardinals can protect, their receivers should enjoy an advantage over the Steelers secondary.
Steelers on offense
They don’t have much faith in quarterback Mike Vick. They have been conservative lately, clearly trying to give Vick no more than he can handle. He joined the team in late August, so he doesn’t yet have a handle on the complete offense.
But the style has been a winning one for the Steelers, because they’ve been able to run the ball with Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. In the past two years, the Cardinals' style has been to sell out to stop the run. That won’t change Sunday, especially with Vick at quarterback. If the Cardinals can control Bell and Williams, and that’s a big "if," they will win this game. Vick is not going to beat them with his arm.
Look for the Steelers to test the Cardinals' interior defense, including nose tackleRodney Gunter and inside linebackers Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon. The will hit the edge occasionally, where tight end Heath Miller does damage as a blocker.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson will line up against receiver Antonio Brown the entire game. They are two of the leading players at their positions. If Steelers quarterbackBen Roethlisberger were healthy, this would be an even more challenging matchup for Peterson. Brown and Vick don’t have the same chemistry.
The Cardinals have intercepted 11 passes this season, but the Steelers have thrown only three interceptions. They haven’t lost a fumble this season.
Only two teams have a lower net punting average than the Cardinals (35.2). Drew Butler does a solid job of pinning teams inside the 20, but he tends to have one poor attempt a game.
That is dangerous against a returner such as the Steelers’ Brown. And Butler hasn’t been able to deliver the occasional boomer to flip field position. So far, the Cardinals have not appeared anxious to make a change. Receiver J.J. Nelson has returned from a shoulder injury and might resume punt return duties.
But Patrick Peterson has done a solid job. Because of injuries, the Steelers are on their fourth kicker, Chris Boswell. Chandler Catanzaro has been steady for the Cardinals.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians spent the week saying this was just another game, that it was no big deal to play against the team that “re-fired” him after the 2011 season. That’s coach-speak because Arians would like nothing better to beat the Steelers convincingly. This is personal.
The guess is that the Cardinals win a close one, mostly because their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, is healthy and the Steelers’ starter, Ben Roethlisberger, is not.
Cardinals 28, Steelers 21.
Ties that bind the Steelers and Cardinals franchises
- Patriarchs of both teams, Art Rooney of the Steelers and Charles Bidwill of the Cardinals, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- The rivalry dates to 1933 when the Cardinals lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 14-13 at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
- In 1944, the teams merged because so many players were in the service. “Card-Pitt” finished 0-10.
- The Steelers were the opponent in the first NFL game played at University of Phoenix. It was a preseason game in 2006.