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David Todd: Quick Thoughts On Steelers Versus Cardinals

On Sunday the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 25-13 in one of the more remarkable games the team has played in years. The Legend of Landry Jones was born with 10:21 left in the third quarter and the Steelers trailing 10-6. Jones came in for an injured Mike Vick and immediately engineered a 4-play touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard TD pass to Martavis Bryant. Jones finished the day 8-for-12 for 168 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 149.3 passer rating. No doubt 600,000 Steelers fans will some day claim to have been at The Landry Jones Game when it is reminisced about years from now.

And it wasn’t just Jones, there were plenty of game balls to hand out. Martavis Bryant played his first game of the year and caught both of Jones’ TD passes, Chris Boswell kicked four field goals and the Steelers defense held the high-flying Cardinals offense to just 13 points, creating three turnovers in the process. A very impressive, and unexpected, win to raise their record to 4-2.

Injuries:

*Kelvin Beachum left the game in the first half and was taken by cart to the locker room. In his post-game press conference Mike Tomlin said he had “an ACL” which suggests his season and potentially Steelers career is over.

Mick Vick left the game with a hamstring injury. There is a real possibility this could also mark the end of Vick’s Steelers and NFL career. If the Steelers need to sign a QB to back up Jones next week in Kansas City, they likely release, waive-injured or place Vick on the IR.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, Will Allen and Cortez Allen were all inactive due to injury.

Offense:

The Good:

I think it’s fair to say Landry Jones’ performance stunned anyone who has paid even a little bit of attention to the Steelers during his three years with the team. While Jones did show improvement this preseason, he was still considered one of the worst draft picks of the Kevin Colbert Era—an inaccurate passer who was unlikely to ever take a meaningful snap in a Steelers uniform.

But when Jones entered the game we saw what an expanded playbook means to this Steelers offense. At halftime I had tweeted:

All week I talked about how easy it was going to be for the Cardinals to game plan for Mike Vick. He won’t/can’t use the middle of the field, he doesn’t have a comfort level with the playbook and he won’t audible at the line of scrimmage. It played out exactly as I predicted in the first half as the Steelers finished with just 6 passing yards and 3 points. With Jones, Todd Haley could open up the offense. And to Jones’ credit, he executed. He wasn’t perfect, but on a day when a Legend is Born, perfection isn’t necessary. And how can you not love a guy who says at his post-game presser, his first ever, obviously, “I just still can’t believe I got in the game and to play. I’m still kind of reeling from it. Next week will be next week. Today, I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to go back home hangout.” I’m not sure the opinion of any player in Steelers history has been changed more by 25 minutes of action.

*Welcome back Martavis Bryant. 6 catches for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first game of the 2015 season. With 2:15 left in the game and the Steelers needing a first down to seal the deal, Bryant took a shallow cross and turned it into an 88-yard TD, showing why he already is one of the most electrifying players in the game. His first TD came on a catch that he went up and got in the back of the end zone and then was agile enough to stay in bounds as he came down. He now has 10 career TDs in 11 games. Bryant has all the physical traits you dream about in a wideout. Size, speed, strength, good hands. If he is able to stay out of trouble his ceiling feels limitless. Think Randy Moss.

*Le’Veon Bell had 88 yards on 24 carries. When you get hit behind the line of scrimmage on half your touches and when the other team is constantly loading the box against you, those numbers take on a different hue. Bell was excellent again today. It isn’t surprising that Bell was not targeted in the passing game as Arizona followed the blueprint SD showed on Monday night to basically take him away.

*Alejandro Villanueva got his first extensive playing time after Beachum’s injury. I’d be lying if I said I noticed him without going back through the tape. And that’s a good thing. He is now the Steelers starting left tackle.

The Bad:

*I didn’t think it was possible to play the quarterback position worse than Mike Vick did the first 52 minutes in San Diego. He proved me wrong in the first half. After the first drive of the game I tweeted:

(Yea, sorry for patting myself on the back about this one, but I’m trying to let you know I had this one nailed all week.)

Vick was terrible. There really isn’t a need to add more. There is no way the Steelers win this game if he stays healthy. None.

*The offensive line struggled mightily in the first half, but I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate their performance because of how the Cards were able to scheme, basically disregarding the passing game.

Defense:

The defensive stats don’t look great, but the one that matters the most looks fantastic. The Steelers held the NFL’s highest scoring offense to 13 points. They have now held the opposition to 20 or fewer points in four of the first six games. Outstanding.

The Good:

*Cameron Heyward. Man. Heyward probably won’t make the Pro Bowl this year, but he should. He has been the Steelers best defensive player and he made his presence felt repeatedly in this one. He had two tackles-for-loss and was a disruptive force again this week.

*James Harrison had a big day forcing a fumble, getting a sack, registering two tackles-for-loss and generating pressure on Carson Palmer all game long.

*Mike Mitchell made a couple big plays. He got his first interception as a Steeler with 2:25 left in the game picking off Carson Palmer in the end zone to help ensure the victory. He also recovered the fumble forced by Harrison that led to Jones first TD pass.

*Vince Williams made an excellent play breaking up a pass near midfield and Lawrence Timmons showed great reactions in catching it for and interception.

*Arthur Moats might have had the hit of the season and stopped the Cards on a big third down. On the last play of the third quarter the Cards had 3rd-and-2 on the Steelers 19 and Moats absolutely destroyed David Johnson trying to go over right tackle. He stuffed him for a 2-yard loss and the Cards had to settle for a 39-yard FG to cut the Steelers lead to 15-13. My Hit of the Year to date.

*The defense held the Cards to 55 rushing yards on 20 carries, a 2.8 average with a long run of 11 yards. The second week in a row they have shut done the opposing run game.

The Bad:

*The Steelers secondary as a whole struggled at times. After only giving up 5 pass plays of 20+ yards through the first 5 games, they gave up 5 in this one, three of which went for more than 40. Antwon Blake led the team with 12 tackles, but that was because Palmer was regularly completing passes to his man. Palmer put up big numbers but missed a bunch of easy throws. If he plays well the Cards win.

*On the game’s opening play Carson Palmer went empty-set, five wide and threw deep down the right side. Steelers corner Ross Cockrell was in perfect position to make the interception, but Cards receiver John Brown attacked the ball and made the catch for a 45-yard gain. Cockrell has been solid this season as the nickel. That will certainly be a teaching moment. The guy who wanted it more made the play. It wasn’t Cockrell. He also got flagged for a couple pass interference penalties

Special Teams:

The Good:

*Chris Boswell. It’s hard to find room in my heart for another kicker. “Sushi. Money.” will always have a special place. But “Boswell. Bingo.” is fighting for space. Boswell nailed kicks of 47,48, 51 and 28. He is perfect in his career to this point, 5-5 with 4 coming from 47 or longer.

*The Steelers kick coverage continues to excel. David Johnson only averaged 22.7 yards on 6 returns with a long of 32.

*Jordan Berry was more good than bad and he boomed a 79-yarder at the end of the first half to ensure his head coach did get embarrassed by his poor decision-making on the team’s last drive of the half.

The Bad:

*A terrible punt by Jordan Berry, 31 yards, after the Steelers first possession, gave the Cards a short field. They immediately took advantage, going 47 yards to take a 7-0 lead.

Coaching:

The Good:

*Keith Butler had a good day. Bend-but-don’t-break was certainly the case. This defense has benefitted from some poor quarterback play, but that is directly a result of the pressure Butler has been able to dial up. And that pressure leads to turnovers, two things we haven’t seen from this defense in a long time.

*I’m sure this wasn’t a fun week to be Todd Haley, knowing what he had in Mike Vick. To his credit when Landry Jones came in he opened things up and was rewarded. Gold stars for both coordinators.

The Bad:

*In the post-game press conference Mike Tomlin said there was no discussion about changing the quarterback until Mike Vick’s injury necessitated the move to Landry Jones. On one hand I understand that Jones would confront many of the same issues Vick faced in St. Louis and San Diego, not having gotten reps with the first team. But having seen how inept Vick was, I can’t believe that it wasn’t even considered.

*The Steelers scored their first TD with 8:51 left in the third quarter to go up 12-10. Then Tomlin decided to go for 2. In what was clearly going to be a low-scoring game, with an inexperienced quarterback in for his first career drive, the decision was….perplexing? I have no idea what Tomlin was thinking. I’m sure he wasn’t living in his fears, but it was a bad choice.

*The Steelers got the ball back with on their own 14 with 43 seconds left in the first half trailing 10-3. With Vick being as bad as he was this absolutely called for taking a knee to run out the clock, particularly with the Steelers getting the ball to start the second half. Instead the Steelers ran three pass plays, one to the sideline (the only throw anyone trusts Vick to make) that gained 7 yards but stopped the clock, followed by two incompletions. The three plays used a total of 22 seconds. The Steelers were forced to punt from deep in their own territory. Michigan-Michigan St anyone? This was a really poor decision for a team that had generated a total of -1 yard passing to that point.

Big Officiating Calls:

*The refs appeared to miss some calls against both teams and they also appeared to call a few ticky-tack penalties, but overall they didn’t impact the outcome.

Up Next: The Steelers take on the Kansas City Chiefs (1-5) at Arrowhead Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 pm EST.

Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE & ESPN before every Steelers game and on weekdays on ESPN Pittsburgh 970 and 106.3 FM from 4-7 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.

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