The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their thirteenth regular season game of 2019 at home on Sunday afternoon against the Arizona Cardinals with a chance to get to three games over .500 for the first time this season. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their eighth win of 2019 against the Cardinals.
Quick A-Z start – Sure we all want to see an opening drive touchdown from the Steelers offense if possible as that’s something we haven’t witnessed all season. However, even a six or seven play drives in the first two series would be a pleasant change if the offense can’t score. These three-and-outs and five-and-outs need to stop. At the very least, string some plays together to control field position.
Keep Kyler Kontained – Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray is the team’s leading rusher. The cardinals used the read-option along with several other designed runs such as power to take advantage of Murray’s athleticism. Just like the Steelers defense did back in Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens and their quarterback Lamar Jackson, they must keep Murray contained inside the pocket on dropbacks and get him down on the ground quickly when he runs to the edges and out in space. Murray enters Week 14 having already registered six explosive runs of 20 yards or longer. He can really flip the field in a hurry if you let him.
Get Vance McDonald the damn ball, E-I-E-I-O – The Cardinals defense has been miserable against opposing tight ends this season. In fact, no team has been worse against the position through Week 13. The cardinals have allowed opposing tight ends to catch 79 passes for 978 yards and 13 touchdowns this season Steelers tight ends Vance McDonald and Nick Vannett need to be used early and often on Sunday. This season, McDonald and Vannett have combined to catch 39 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns.
No more streaking at 20 – The Steelers have turned the football over at least once in their last 19 games and obviously that’s currently the longest streak in the NFL. Sunday the Steelers play a Cardinals team that hasn’t turned the football over very much at all this season. In fact, just nine times in total. Giving the struggling Cardinals the football on short fields Sunday in Arizona will be a recipe for the Steelers heading back East with another loss. It’s time for that giveaway streak to end in Arizona and if it does, the Steelers should return to Pittsburgh with their eighth win of the season.
Attack the baby birds via the air – The Cardinals are out of the playoff picture and thus are now getting long looks at several young players on their roster. Cornerbacks Byron Murphy (calf), Kevin Peterson (shoulder) and Chris Jones all figure to see playing time on Sunday if active. The Cardinals other cornerback, Patrick Peterson, is a very wily veteran and not one that Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges will want to throw at often on Sunday. The cardinals defense has allowed a league-worst 60 explosive passing plays so far this season and thus that unit is ripe to give up more on Sunday at home. Hodges should test those young and banged up cornerbacks deep multiple times on Sunday when the correct looks present themselves.
Get edgy – Against the run the season, the Cardinals defense hasn’t been great and especially when comes to runs on the edges. Entering Week 14 the Cardinals defense ranks last in the league in yards allowed per rush on runs that have gone to either right or left end. Those 46 runs have averaged 7.1 yards per tote. The Steelers have a young running back in Kerrith Whyte Jr. that might be able to get free around the end for a big gain or two if they get him a few carries. Regardless of which back is used, the Steelers offense needs to get their offensive linemen on the move in the running game again on Sunday and particularly to their left side as that’s the weakest side of the Cardinals defense against the run.
No silly unforced penalties – Against the Cleveland Browns last Sunday the Steelers committed 10 total penalties and all were of the unforced variety Six of those 10 penalties were false starts on the Steelers offense and those kinds of numbers just can’t continue moving forward. The Steelers also gad an illegal formation penalty against the Browns.