There was certainly plenty of excitement to go around yesterday afternoon in the wake of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ exciting 25-13 victory over the visiting Cardinals, to go along with a wellspring of threads and narratives to take away from the crucial performance of a team trying to stay afloat without its leader.
One of those narratives that must not be overlooked is the ability of the defensive unit to take the ball away from a high-powered offense yesterday, while the offense kept the ball away from an opportunistic defense.
The Steelers turned the Cardinals over three times yesterday, which is a veritable explosion of takeaways in comparison to their recent history of that category, which included a pair of interceptions to go along with a forced fumble.
Equally important as the potential field position that the defense spotted the offense from the turnovers was the sheer fact that, on three occasions during the game, they completely removed the opportunity for the Cardinals’ offense to put points on the board. In the end, they managed to do that just three times.
Of course, the Steelers have gotten some turnovers during the course of the season, but, especially with Mike Vick at quarterback, they have struggled to turn those turnovers into points, unless the defense did it themselves.
The Steelers started off down that same path after they failed to score after turning the ball over near midfield. After a net punt of just 39 yards put the Cardinals at the 40-yard line, a simple pass over the middle was deflected by Vince Williams, and Lawrence Timmons did a phenomenal job of corralling it for the turnover.
The interception and return gave Pittsburgh the ball on its own 48 late in the first quarter, but Vick quickly led a three-and-out after scrambling for eight yards on first down. For a team in as dire straits on offense as they had been, it seemed at the time a fatal blow to fail to capitalize on this opportunity.
But fortunately there proved to be more opportunities ahead, as early in the second half, James Harrison put a hit on wide receiver John Brown after a reception that popped the ball loose, which was recovered by Mike Mitchell.
That fumble recovery gave the offense the ball at Arizona’s 32-yard line this time, now with Landry Jones under center, but it was Le’Veon Bell who did the legwork on this drive, racing off to a 22-yard gain on the first play. On third and goal from the eight, though, Jones found Martavis Bryant in the back of the end zone for the Steelers’ first touchdown, giving the Steelers a lead they would not relinquish.
A key moment came late in the game when Mitchell intercepted Carson Palmer in the end zone from the 20-yard line with a little over two minutes remaining in the game. At the time, it was a one-possession game, a game very much in dispute. There is no question that opportunism on defense played a crucial role in this victory, paired with relative ball security on offense.