The Steelers are looking to continue their winning ways today, this time on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. Having won 6 of their last 7, they have positioned themselves to make a push for the postseason, but must keep their foot on the gas.
And this week they will have to continue to do so without JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, both among the inactives. Joining them are Paxton Lynch, Zach Gentry, Chukwuma Okorafor, Tuzar Skipper, and Artie Burns, who is seemingly healthy but has lost his spot to Justin Layne for special teams.
Oh yeah, it’s Duck season today, folks. Quack quack.
The Steelers won the coin toss and deferred. There was a holding penalty on the opening return, the Cardinals thus starting on their own 23. Kenyan Drake was good for about four on first down up the middle. A swing pass to Drake got him out to the 35 for a first down.
A quick snap led to Mark Barron picking up a sack, his third of the season. On second and 15, Murray kept it, but Bud Dupree made a fantastic individual play, being blocked but still making the tackle for a two-yard loss. Now third and 17, Murray’s pass came up short to Larry Fitzgerald, short of the first-down marker anyway. Not quite a three and out, but close. The Cardinals only gained five net yards on the drive before punting. Diontae Johnson fielded the catch at the 21 but could only add one yard.
The Steelers opened the game throwing, Hodges a swing pass to an open Jaylen Samuels, who took advantage of a missed read for 19 yards up the sideline. At the 40, he lost three on the ground, however, Byron Murphy on the tackle. This time it’s Kerrith Whyte on the draw, who picked up the first down. Good use of pre-snap motion on the play.
Now at midfield, they kept it on the ground, back to Samuels for one. Benny Snell hasn’t played yet after leading the team in carries the past two weeks. Still early, of course. Hodges took a foolish sack on second down when he clearly had James Washington over the middle. Another rookie mistake. Now third and 13, he threw behind Trey Edmunds for a short gain on the play; however, the Steelers caught a break with an unnecessary roughness penalty on the hit, Edmunds taking a shot on the ground to the head.
So instead of punting, the Steelers are now at the Cardinals’ 31. Snell now in and he picks up five off left end on first down, now in field goal territory. This time he got four working off the right side, setting up a key third and one. On the short-yardage snap, Snell got the carry and most the most of it, getting about three with a good burst.
At the 19, once again they kept it on the ground for four straight plays, Samuels now on the carry and limited to one yard. Hodges very nearly checked the ball down to…Zach Banner before deciding to pull the ball down and scramble for six. Samuels was beaned in the head, the officials missing a clear helmet to helmet hit on a third-down pass short of the first down marker as the Steelers had to settle for a field goal. Samuels appeared to be heading to the medical tent to undergo concussion evaluation.
Tyler Matakevich came up with the special teams tackle on the ensuing kickoff at the 20. Off play action, Devin Bush pressure forced Murray to throw the ball away on first down. Drake was forced out of bounds for no gain on second down by Terrell Edmunds. Now third and 10, Murray scrambled and was brought down short of the first. But an offside gave them another chance. Murray’s pass was too high for Fitzgerald, incomplete for a three and out.
Johnson took the ensuing punt all the way home for the 85-yard touchdown. It was the Steelers’ first punt return score since 2015, and first special teams return score since 2017. They now lead 10-0 after failing to get into the end zone on their opening drive. The punt return score is the Steelers’ fourth non-offensive touchdown in 2019.
Johnny Holton made the stop on the next kick return at the 18. After forcing a loss of one on first down, the Cardinals picked up five to set up a third and six. On the play, Murray was sacked by Dupree, turning into the linebacker, who is now half a sack away from double digits on the season. That’s the Steelers’ second sack of the game as the defense is completely dominating Arizona. This time Johnson called for a fair catch at the 33.
After weeks of showing great ball security, Snell coughed the ball up on the Steelers’ first play of the drive, the ball popping out of his hands after a good hit, recovered by Terrell Suggs. Suddenly the Cardinals are at the Steelers’ 34.
Drake was able to cut away from Steven Nelson for a four-yard gain to the 30. Murray quickly hit Fitzgerald at the sticks to end the first quarter. Christian Kirk found 11 yards on a leftside screen to the 14. A quick pass to Fitzgerald on another screen got nine. At the five, Drake got two up the middle to set up first and goal.
From the three, Kirk on a sweep pitch couldn’t gain much, strung out to the edge. On second and goal, a Murray keeper was read perfectly by Minkah Fitzpatrick, who may have been shadowing him, tackling him for a loss. Now at the four, Murray was thrown down for a huge loss by Vince Williams after initial pressure by Dupree. The Cardinals still got the field goal to make it 10-3 off the turnover.
The first play following the turnover was a checkdown to James Washington for three yards from Hodges. Samuels was limited to two on second down to set up third and five. On third down, it was Deon Cain coming up with the big catch down the right sideline, highpointing the ball for a downfield catch. Across midfield, they went back to Snell for a three-yard gain. Hodges ended up scrambling on second down just to get back to the line of scrimmage. On third and seven, a quick pass Vance McDonald went nowhere, buried after a short gain. Jordan Berry comes out for the first time, a fair catch at just the 15 after a 27-yard punt. Not Berry’s best work of the season by any means.
David Johnson snuck through the middle on first down for six yards. Bush played cleanup to stop the next run after two yards. Now third and two, with three running backs on the field, the Cardinals…took a timeout. Murray was able to find a man for 10 yards on the play after the timeout.
The Cardinals are calling plays too fast for the tv crew, who have missed the start of each of the past two, this for five. Johnson got about eight yards on the right side on the next play as the Cardinals offense begins to pick things up since the turnover.
A screen to Drake gave him plenty of open space to get down to the 35. He got about 10 on the ground off the right side a play later, now in field goal range. Another swing pass, this to Kirk for four. Murray had time to throw and found Johnson to the 11. With the backup line in, the Steelers got no pressure, a short pass for about five at the two-minute warning. From the five, Murray’s pass finally fell incomplete, setting up third down. An easy touchdown pass to Charles Clay tied the game at 10 on a blown coverage.
The Steelers still have 1:51 with three timeouts in the half to try to take back the lead. Hodges quickly found Washington for about 13 to begin the drive. He scrambled for 22 yards and out of bounds to the Cardinals’ 41. He smartly worked his way to the sideline to get out of bounds.
He slipped out of a sack to throw the ball away after that scramble, his first incomplete pass on the day. He fired to the right sideline for Johnson for 18 yards, a nice pass and catch between the two rookies, now in field goal range with 1:08 left.
At the 23, Hodges couldn’t sense the pressure behind him, Chandler Jones getting to him and taking the strip sack, Matt Feiler able to recover for a significant loss, out of field goal range. Another sack at least partially on the rookie, who needs to have an accelerated clock in the two-minute drill. Back to the 36, they ran a draw with Whyte, who picked up 10 yards. On third and 13, from the 26, Hodges threw short to Johnson, who got about six or seven to make the field goal easier. Boswell gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead heading into halftime, and they get the ball back to start the third.