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Cards had bounced back from a deceptively tight loss to the Rams to blacktop an 0 & 5 (but underrated) Lion team 42 - 17 last week. The Cards spent 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 had one less day to game-plan, lick wounds etc.
Cards Lose to 3rd String QB.
The Bottom Line:
Cards outplayed the Steelers in the first half of your typical "pitchers dual" road contest (leading 10 - 3 at halftime) but were (1) unable to hold Mike Vick's backup (Landry Jones) in check in the second half, (2) made more mistakes than the Steelers and (3) lost going away 25 - 13.
Cards won almost every statistical battle, but the most telling statistic was a league-leading 111 penalty yards for the afternoon. (That plus an 86-yard net difference in rushing yards - Steelers gained 141; Cards 55). What didn't show up in the numbers were (1) Line Play - Cards got outplayed on both sides of the ball and (2) Wide Receiver Tightrope Work - Our guys failed to consistently get both feet down in bounds after the catch. Their's did. And (3) Call it luck or call it "bad officiating", PIttsburgh got nearly every close-call. (Let me put it delicately - As a team, if the Cardinals are to reach the playoffs this season, they will have to consider lopsided officiating a "fact of life" and play well enough to overcome that disadvantage. Didn't happen yesterday.
Cards received. D Johnson returned the KO to the Card 23. On the first play from scrimmage, Palmer hit Smoke Brown deep for +45 yards. An aborted snap two plays later and a roughness penalty on Massey the play after that helped derail the drive. Butler's punt was returned to the Steeler 18. Cards held Pitt to 3 & out. Punt went out of bounds at the Pit 47. A 32-yard completion to Ellington set up a one-yard TD completion over the middle to Floyd. Cards 7 - Steelers 0.
KO net holding penalty gave Pitt the ball on their own 7-yard line. A questionable roughing the passer penalty on Golden moved Steelers out to their 17, but, 4 plays later, they were forced to punt from their own 21. Peterson was forced out of bounds at the Card 40. On the first play from scrimmage, Palmer's throw for Gresham was intercepted by Timmons. Pitt ball on their own 48. Cards held 'em to 3 & out. Punt was downed at the Cardinal 2. They managed to move to their own 47-yard line in 7 plays to end the quarter. Cards 7 - Steelers 0.
1st Quarter Score: Cards 7 - Steelers 0.
After C Johnson lost 3-yards on a 2nd down running play, the Cards' drive fizzled and they punted from the Pitt 48. Touchback. Steelers ran Bell three times in a row but were unable to sustain anything, Peterson returned the punt 17 yards to the AZ 33. After C. Johnson was penalized (????) for a chop-block, Palmer responded by hitting Fitz on short-pass and run for +44 yards. Four plays later, Catanzaro was forced to kick from the Pit 29. His 47-yard attempt was no good. Steelers took over on their own 37. On the first play from scrimmage, Minter was penalized 15-yards for unecessary roughness (He was the "second man in" after being clobbered in the back after the whistle). A Peterson interception was nullified by an offside penalty on K. Martin (who, to my, eye, jumped back in time before the snap). Steelers managed to get as close as the Cardinal 29. Boswell's FG was "good" Cards 7 - Steelers 3.
D Johnson returned the KO to the Card 19. Palmer led his team on 13-play, (5:19) scoring drive during which a TD pass to Floyd was negated by an offensive pass interference call. Catanzaro's 31 yard FG attempt was "good," . Cards 10 - Steelers 3.
0:47 left. Steelers returned the punt to their own 14 and ran out the clock in 4 plays.
First Half Score: Cards 10 - Steelers 3.
Steelers returned the KO to their own 37 (not a good omen). They managed - with a lot of short stuff- to get as close as the Card 30, where Boswell kicked his second FG (a 48-yarder).. Cards 10 - Steelers 6.
D Johnson returned the KO to the Card 23. Two plays later, Smoke Brown caught a pass, ran for 5 yards, attempting to pick up another yard and a first down. He was was tackled, got stood up before he could reach the ground and fumbled. Steeler ball on the Cardinal 32. (Momentum shifter). Four plays later, Jones hit Bryant for an 8-yard score. 2-point attempt failed. Steelers 12 - Cards 10.
D Johnson returned the KO to the Card 30. On the third play from scrimmage, Cooper was penaltized for holding and Palmer got sacked for minus-7 yards. There was a redo on the punt (Leach was flagged for illegal use of the hands). Pitt got the ball back in good field position at their own 41. A +23-yard completion - Jones to Bryant - helped set up a 51-yard Boswell FG. Steelers 15 - Cards 10.
D Johnson returned the KO to his own 18. A 42-yard completion to Smoke Brown helped bring the Cards to the Steeler 19 to end the quarter.
Third Quarter Score: Steelers 15 - Cards 10.
Catanzaro's 39-yard FG attempt was good. Steelers 15 - Cards 13.
KO was returned to the Steeler 22. Jones led his team on a 13-play (7:37) drive ending with a successful 28-yard Boswell FG attempt (his 4th FG of the day). (Other than a 23-yard completion o Brown, most of the Steeler yardage came from a steady progression of 3, 4 or 5-yard gains). Steelers 18 - Cards 13.
7:19 left. Cards returned the KO to their own 21, 4:59 and 60-yards worth of Cardinal possession was squandered when Palmer's pass for Smoke Brown was intercepted by Mitchell for a touchback. 2:20 left. Two plays later, Jones hit Bryant on a short passing route, Mathieu (& others) got juked out of their jocks and Bryant took it 88-yards for the killer score. Campbell was flagged for roughing the passer on the play. Steelers 25 - Cards 13.
TB on the KO. Cards managed to move to the Steeler 9 before surrendering the ball on downs with 0:21 left to play. Knee time. Game over.
Final Score: Steelers 25 - Cards 13.
Passing: Palmer was 29 for 45 (421 yards, 1 TD and 2 picks). Cards held Steeler QB/s to 11 of 20 (172 yards, 2 TD's and 0 picks.
Takeaways: Steelers +3. Palmer was picked off 2 times; Cards surrendered one fumble. Steelers had zero take-aways.
Rushing: Cards were held to 55 net yards. Steeler runners racked up 141. (Bell gained 88 yards on 20 attempts. Vick gained 47 yards on 5 attempts.
Receiving: Smoke Brown had 10 catches for 196 yards and 2 TD's. Fitz had 8 catches for 93 yards. Floyd had 5 grabs for 50 yards and a TD.
Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 20/Pass: 45). Steeler Run/Pass Ratio: 32/20).
Card ball carriers averaged 2.8 yards on the ground. (Run defense gave up 4.4 ypc.)
Bucannon and Mathieu led the Cards with 7 tackles apiece. Lots of guys had 5 or 6 tackles.
Sacks - Campbell was credited with the only Cardinal sack. (Palmer was sacked once).
Situational Efficiency: Cards converted 5 of 12 third downs (41%). Steelers were 3 of 12 (25%). Cards were 1 of 4 in the Red Zone (25%). Steelers were 1 of 2 for 50%)
Penalties: Cards were penalized 9 times for 111 yards (Steelers were penalized 6 times for 48 yds).
Time of Possession: Cards 31:09 - Lions 28:51
Palmer came out relatively healthy.
Smoke Brown had a huge day (10 catches) although his performance was marred somewhat by his 3rd quarter fumble.
Fitz continues to pile up consistent numbers.
Peterson had a solid game.
Other than Fells (shoulder - expected to be out 2 - 3 weeks), no other major injuries (we're aware of).
The Dark Side
We haven't yet learned how to win close, low scoring games.
I thought our offensive tempo throughout the game was a bit sluggish. Defense came out pretty much "on fire" but they may have had things too easy in the first half and seemed to take the Steelers offense (both Vick-led and his Jones-led) a bit lightly (& it showed in the 2H).
We lost in the trenches - on both sides of the ball. Compare the number of times their tacklers held our RB's to minus-yardage with the number of times we missed tackles or allowed Vick or Bell to outrun our outside contain.
111 penalty yards was, by far, the worst in the NFL yesterday. Whether deserved or undeserved, there are two things we can do if we're serious about making the playoffs (& whining isn't one of them): (1) cut down on the penalties or (2) play well enough so that the penalties won't matter. We did neither yesterday.
Floyd's Footwork - Yes, he's big, he's sure-handed, he's strong. But there were at least a few times when he failed to get both feet down in bounds. (Conversely, Steeler receivers always seemed to get both their feet down on a consistent basis).
The Run Game - 2.8 ypc won't cut it. I don't think the problem is our RB's. The holes just weren't there, and our O-linemen don't seem to have figured out how to adjust to opponents' run blitzes. One gory result - our RB's - on play action delays - getting frequently nailed in the backfield.
Containing the Slot Game - That 88-yard catch and run by Bryant exposed our frequent inability to cover and contain short slants over the middle. It looked like a poorly executed jailbreak. Our coverage, angles to the ball and tackling techniques were atrocious. (True, the mental letdown only happened once yesterday, but it was enough to keep us out of needing just a FG to win it in the final 2-minutes or so).
Well, I hope the Cardinals enjoyed their "vacation" (which, to some eyes, included both their week between games at the Greenbriar and all four quarters of yesterday's game). (I couldn't resist the dig). This is the second time we let a close-to-the-vest opponent (lacking a Pro Bowl QB) win the war of attrition against us (not a very good route to the playoffs). If we tighten up on penalties, ball security and other unsexy "little things", we should be OK. But this loss should teach us all that (1) talk is cheap, (2) we're not as good as we might think we are and (3) every game - regardless of opponent - is a war. Next up: Baltimore (at our house). Onward!