Last MInute News, Rumors etc.:
10/16 - Roethlisberger, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier returned to practice on a limited basis. Will Allen did not participate in practice...Legursky had a "full" practice...Big Ben's arm looked sharp, but his legs/mobility remain iffy. CW is that isn't expected to play until Week #7 (but one never know...)...On the Cardinals front - Iupati and Woodley did not practice, Nelson returned to full practice and Mathieu, Bethel, Fells and (Smoke) Brown were "limited."...There;s some pressure by fans and local media "to let Vick be Vick." Should that look likely, the Cards might want to adapt by employing the "spy/contain" strategy they've used with mixed success vs. the Niners (Kaepernick) and Seahawks (Wilson)...there's also some counter-sentiment favoring a strong ground game on the shoulders of La'Veon Bell and "trust me to make plays" public comments by WR Antonio Brown.
10/13 - It's official - the Cards have signed Dwight Freeney to provide pass rush energy and production; especially in light of injuries to leading pass rusher, Alex Okafor (calf) and ILB Kenny Demens (ACL). Okafor is expected to be out at least a month. Demens was placed on IR.
According to Freeney - despite his time on the sideline, he shouldn’t take long to contribute.“I’ve been ready. When I say I’m on the golf course, that’s only two hours before I throw my clubs and I go back to doing what I do. I’ve been training and working hard, because I knew there was going to be a call at some point. I had to be ready for when a team called. I feel young. I’m a young 35.." Still - how much if any time we see him on the field in Pittsburgh remains subject to speculation.
Setting the Stage:
Cards bounced back from a deceptively tight loss to the Rams to blacktop an 0 & 5 (but underrated) Lion team 42 - 17. The Cards will spend the week between the Lion and Steelers game at the prestigious Greenbriar resort in White Sulphur Springs in southern West Virginia, cutting down on AZ-to-Eastern Zone air travel and its negative impact on aching limbs and time-zone adjustiments. Steelers beat SD 24 - 20 on Monday night - and will have one less day to game-plan, lick wounds etc.
Opponent's Last Game
Steelers outlasted the Chargers 24 - 20 Monday night.
Steelers received - TB on the KO...Although Vick hit Miller for 26-yards on the second play of the game, the Steelers stalled out and punted from the Charger 47. Punt was fair caught at the SD 16. On the 5th play of the Charger possession, Rivers hit Gates for a 12-yard TD. Key play: 31-yard completion to Woodhouse with face-mask penalty tacked on.SD 7 - Steelers 0.
TB on the KO. Steelers picked up one first down but were forced to punt from their own 34. Fair catch at the Charger 24. A holding call forced SD into a 3 & out. Punt net holding call on Pitt gave Steelers the ball on their own 13. Despite a 39-yard gain on a short pass to A. Brown, the Steelers fizzled out at the Charger 51. Fair catch interference call on Steelers gave Chargers the ball on their own 26. Chargers ran one play (for minus-1) to end the quarter.
First Quarter Score: SD 7 - Steelers 0.
Holding call forced SD into a 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Pitt 21. Steelers went 3 & out. Punt net another penalty gave SD the ball at their own 10-yard line. A false start flag contributed to a Charger 3 & out. Punt net (still another) penalty put the ball on the Steeler 24. You get the feeling Tomlin was a bit upset about the Steeler running game as he handed L Bell the ball on 6 of the first 7 Steeler offensive plays. 9 play drive ended at the Charger 29 with a 47-yard Boswell FG .SD 7 - Steelers 3.
TB on the KO. A J Jones sack of Rivers (for minus-7) contributed to another CHarger 3 & out. Punt from the Charger 15 (net still still another PIttt penalty) put the ball on the Steeler 26 with 2:36 till halftime. A few plays after Bell gained 32 yards on a run around RE, a minus-3 yard sack of Vick forced Berry to punt from the SD 41. Punt was fair caught at the Charger 7. Rivers threw 6 straight times before Lambo attempted a 60-yard FG from the Pitt 42. Attempt was No Good. With 0:02 left on the clock, Vick's Hail Mary was intercepted at the goal line as time ran out.
First Half Score: SD 7 - Steelers 3.
Chargers received. KO returned to the SD 22. On the figth play from scrimmage, J Jones forced a fumble. It was recovered by Pittsburgh at the SD 48...Steelers went 3 & out. Punt was downed at the Charger 4. Four plays after an initial 1st down, the Chargers punted from their own 12. Punt was returned to the Pittsburgh 42. Vick took a sack on the first play, and Pittsburgh went 3 & out. Berry's punt from the Steeler 42 was downed at the SD 5-yard line. Rivers managed to engineer a drive which made it to the Steeler 46 in 8 plays, but on the 9th, his pass intended for M Floyd was intercepted by Blake and returned 70-yards for a TD. Pittsurgh 10 - Chargers 7.
TB on the KO. Rivers ran 5 plays and reached the Pittsburgh 26 as the quarter ended.
Third Quarter Score: Pittsurgh 10 - Chargers 7.
The SD drive fizzled and Lambo kicked a 40-yard FG to tie the game. Pittsurgh 10 - Chargers 10.
KO was returned to the Pittsburgh 23. Steelers went 3 & out. SD returned the punt to their own 40.) An 8-play four-penalty (2 on each team) Charger possession ended with an 11-yard Rivers to Gates TD throw. Key play of the drive was a 32-yard deep middle pass from Rivers to Floyd. Chargers 17 - Steelers 10. .
KO was returned to the Steeler 28. On the first play from scrimmage, Vick hit Wheaton (deep-left) for a 72-yard score. Chargers 17 - Steelers 17.
TB on the KO. 7:42 on the clock. Rivers engineered a 12-play 4:46 drive (mostly short stuff) but the Chargers stalled at the Pitt 36, and settled for a 54 yard Lambo FG. Chargers 20 - Steelers 17.
TB on the KO. 2:56 left. Vick moved the Steelers in 11 plays to the SD one-yard line where (with 0:05 on the clock) Bell ran it in off a direct snap for the game-winner. Longest plays of the drive were a 15-yard completion to Heyward-Bey and a 24-yard Vick scramble. Steelers 24 - Chargers 20.
Final Score: Steelers 24 - Chargers 20.
Steeler Significant Game Stats
Bell gained 111 yards on 21 carries. Steelrs averaged 5.7 YPC on the ground.
Vick was just 13 for 26 with 203 yards, a TD and a pick.
Leading receiver was a RB (Bell).
Timmons (9), Spence (8), Cockrell (7) and Mitchell (7) were leading Steeler tacklers.
J Jones and Dupree each had one sack. Vick was sacked 3 times. Run-to-Pass: 27/26.
Steelrs were penalized 8 times (SD 7).
Time of Possession: 26:17 (Pit) to 33:43 (SD)
Steeler Cumulative Season Stats
(Note - May be a game or so "old")
First Downs: Steelers 92- Opponents 110.
3rd Down Conversions: Steelers 26 of 64 - Opponents 26 of 69
4th Down Conversions: Steelers 2 for 4 - Opponents 4 for 11
Total Yards Offense: Steelers 1,788 - Opponents 1,790
Rushing Yards: Steelers 602 (4.6 YPC)- Opponents 505 (3.9 YPC). Bell carried 62 times (302 yards). DeAngelo Williams was next with 49 carries for 231 yards.
Rush/Pass Ratio: Steelers 132/147
Passing - Vick is completing 63.8% of his passes (2 TD's /1 Int) compared to Roethlisberger's 75.3% (4 TD's/2 Ints).
Receiving - A Brown caught 37 throws for 523 yards. Their RB (Bell) is nect with 107 yards on 18 catches. Heyward Bey is next with 17 catches followed by the TE (Miller) with 16.
Turnovers Ratio: +3.
Tackles - Timmonsh leads the Steelers with 39 tackles followed by W Allen (31), Mitchell (26), Tuitt (26) and Blake (26). Shazier and Spence each have 22.
Sacks - Steelers are credited with 16 sacks compared to their opponents' 15. Vick's been sacked 9 times (Big Ben 5). Leading sacker is Tuitt with 3.5 folowed by Dupree (3.0) and Heyward (2.0).
Interceptions: Allen, Blake and Cockrell have one apiece.
Time of Possession: Lions 27:06 - Opponents 32:34
Field Goals: - Prater only attempted 2 field goals (good on both)
Punting: Average yards: 42.9 (5 yards less than opponents' average). Total Punts: 23. TB's: 0. Inside the 20: 12; Outside the 20: 11.
Punt Returns: A Brown's numbers aren't all that different from Steeler opponents.
Kick Returns: Archer (28.8 YPR) averages 7.8 YPR more than opposing KO returners.
WR1.84 A Brown........10 M Bryant..........14 Coates
LT.....68 Beachum.......78 Villanueva
LG....73 Foster............74 Hubbard
RG 66 DeCastro
TE.....83 Miller............89 Spaeth..............81 James
RB 26 Bell...............34 D Williams........30 Todman
FB....46 W Johnson...45 Nix
QB....02 Vick..............03 Landry-Jones...07 Roethlisberger (inj)
WR2.11 Wheaton.......88 Heyward-Bey...13
DE 93 Campbell..........90 Redding
NT 95 Gunter...............69 X Williams
DT 92 Rucker..............73 Mauro........72 Stinson
SLB 52 Woodley.......... 44 Golden
ILB 55 Weatherspoon.
ILB 51 Minter...............59 Fua
WLB 54 Freeney.............96 Martin.......56 Riddick........57 Okafor (inj)
LCB 21 Peterson
RCB 25 Powers.............28 Bethel...35 C Brooks
SS 36 Bucannon.........22 Jefferson
FS 32 Mathieu............26 R. Johnson.....
Matchup: Steeler Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Vick has stepped in for the injured Roethlisberger. While he doesn't have Big Ben's gaudy completion percentage, it's still north of 60%.
Vicks's main targets are A. Brown and Heyward-Bey, but (as happened vs. San Diego, Vick is capable of hitting Wheaton on a 70-yard bomb. Their TE (Miller) is also a dependible option. Steeler QB's get sacked an average of 3-times a game, but their LT (Beachamp) has been given perfect grades for pass pro and Vick's legendary mobility serves as a formidable counterweight to any team who over-rushes him on passing downs.
Cardinals continue to employ "pass rush by committee", but their leading committeeman (Okafor) is expected to be out at least 6 weeks with a calf injury, it's questionable whether Dwight Freeney will be 100% ready-to-go Sunday (but we might be happy settling for 60%).... Cards are able to mix things up with unorthodox fronts/assignments due to the the man-coverage skills, depth and versatility of their defensive backs.
Key Matchups: Peterson vs. A Brown. Powers or Bethel vs. Wheaton or Heyward-Bey. R Johnson & Jefferson or Bucannon vs. Miller and Bell. Mathieu vs. everyone.
Matchup: Steeler Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
On one series vs. San Diego, the Steelers handed the ball to Bell 6 out of the first 7 plays they called. Bell gained 111 yards on 21 carries vs. San Diego. (He forced 9 missed tackles in his first 22 rushing atempts). When healthy, backup DeAngelo Williams is still capable of having big days. The only game the Cardinals lost was against the Rams (who went the smashmouth route and wore down the Cardinal defense in the 4Q. One option for Tomlin is to make this game a war of attrition. (Note - this isn't to say he won't try to take an occasional shot and burn you with a 70-yard pass to Wheaton like he dialed up Monday).
Along the offensive line, they're hurting at center with Pouncey's replacement (Wallace) prone to getting pushed around in the pile. .
Cards front line of defenders is capable of shutting down the run, but when we make Xavier Williams "inactive" and leave it up to Gunter and various hybrid linemen to clog up the middle, we run the risk of wearing down late in games.
Key Matchups: The two lines. Minter and Bucannon vs. Bell &/or D Williams
WR1 11 Fitzgerald..13 Jar Brown......10 Golden
LT 68 Veldheer....79 Sowell
LG 76 Iupati.........62 Larsen
C 63 Sendlein....53 Shipley
RG 61 Cooper
RT 70 Massie.......78 Watford.........74 Humphreys
TE 85 Fells...........87 Niklas
WR2 15 M. Floyd.....12 John Brown...14 Nelson
QB 03 Palmer........05 Stanton.........09 Barkley
RB 38 Ellington.....27 C Johnson.....31 D Johnson.....30 Taylor,
TE 84 Gresham
LDE......97 C Heyward.....93 C Thomas
NT........,90 McClendon....62 McCullers
RDE......91 Tuitt................96 Walton
LOLB...55 Moats.............48 Dupree.......56 Chickillo
LILB.....50 Shazier...........51 Spence.......57 Garvin
RILB.....94Timmons........98 V Williams
ROLB...95 J Jones..........92 J Harrison
LCB......22 Gay................25 Boykin
FS .......23 MItchell..........21 R Golden
SS .....20 W Allen..........29 S Thomas...35 Ventrone
RCB.....28 C Allen..........41 Blake...........31 Cockrell
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Steeler Pass Defense
Palmer was very sharp vs. the Lions, completing something like 11 of 15 passes for 3 TD's. He did get batted around a bit in the trenches early in the game, but then Cardinal pass blockers closed ranks, the running attack established itself and Carson was on fire (especially when you consider his limited number of throwing opportunities). Fitz and John Brown had solid if not spectacular) games. Each week brings Floyd closer to proving he's a game-breaker. . TE's (Fells and Gresham) may not be lighting the world on fire, but they'll make a key play when you need them.
Pittsburgh's pass rush doesn't seem to be especially out-of-the-ordinary compared to other teams we've faced. Their secondary has just 3 interceptions to their credit. In the secondary, Blake graded negatively, in coverage according to PFF in 4 straight games; but Mitchell has graded positively in coverage in 3 of the 4 games covered. Will Allen is a seasoned veteran now at SS.
Key Matchups: Cardinal OL vs. Tuitt, J Jones and Heyward
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Steeler Run Defense
Cards running attack is starting to get in gear. It took something like 3 plays for Ellington to shake the rust off last week and break off a 60+ yard TD run. C Johnson gained over 100 yards (again) last week and is looking more and more like our bell cow RB. David Johnson has been able to poke holes in the pile in short yardage and goal line situations.
Heyward has been solid vs. the run, but oher Steeler run defenders graded negatively in that dept. Both Spence and Timmons graded negatively in run defense vs. the Colts.
Key Matchups: Iupati and Cooper vs. Heyward and Tuitt. The Johnsons vs. Timmons and Spence.
P 04 Berry
K 09 Boswell
H 04 Berry
LS 60 Warren
KR 13 Archer
PR 84 A Brown
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 82 Leach
KR 31 D Johnson.....10 Golden
PR 14 Nelson...........10 Golden
Matchup: Steeler Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Steelers enjoy a 7.8 ypc edge over their opponents in kickoff returns and can use it to their advantage when they play a conservative, ball control. "let the other team beat itself" type game. Although Pittsburgh and their opponents are fairly even in the punting game, A. Brown has breakaway ability; Cards had best protect their lanes.
Key matchups: Bethel and Campbell vs. Boswell. Cardinal coverage team vs. Archer and A Brown. Catanzaro vs. the back of the end zone. Butler vs. the sideline.
Pitt: Tomlin continues to be a highly-respected HC. Butler replaces the legendary Dick Le Beau. Todd Haley is a former Cardinal OC. Danny Smith handles ST's. THere figures to be a period of adjustment during the transition from LeBeau to Butler and from BA-Ball to Haley's offensive style.
AZ: The Cards rebounded from a tough loss to division rival StL and you have to credit Bruce Arians, at least in part, for setting the right tone for setting the Cardinals back on course. Perfect example of his: "No risk-it/no biscuit" play-calling philosophy was that game-flipping long bomb from Carson Palmer on the Cardinal one to John Brown last Sundayt. A fun guy to follow - and backs it up with solid coaching fundamentals (he has a huge staff of teaching-coaches from diverse backgrounds) and a record of proven success.
The 3 & 2 Steelers have beaten the Niners, Rams and Chargers. bit lost to the Pats and Ravens. The Cards are now 4 & 1. We now know that, given the right circumstances, the Cardinals will post a 40-burger on an unprepared opponent. We also know that they are capable of laying an egg. The new thing we learned is that they know how to handle adversity. Cards are spending the week between games at the Greenbriar resort in White Sulpher Springs WV (instead of jetting back and forth between Detroit, Sky Harbor and Pittsburgh.
The Steelers will be coming off a shortened workweek (having beaten the Chargers on Monday_. Card coaches and staff have plenty of Steeler roots, so expect this to be a game worth bragging rights. Steelers (with Bell at RB and Vick in for Big Ben) figure to play things close to the vest (most of the time) and wait for other teams to make mistakes. Cards have become a turnover machine and gather breakways in buckets; but you can't really rely on your team to load up on fumble recoveries and picks - all you can do is go after them and hope you get more than your share. Should be a tough but good game on Sunday.