As we will do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. The key area to watch in Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
X Factor: Open Field Tackling
Want to hold the Cardinals’ offense in check? Shut down their run game. How do you do that? You better tackle well.
On Thursday, the Dallas Cowboys proved what happens if you don’t tackle well. David Montgomery ran through them and Mitch Trubisky looked like Gale Sayers, nearly untouched on his TD that put a nail in the Cowboys’ coffin.
Pittsburgh will have to tighten the screws even more this weekend to contain Kyler Murray and company. If Arizona runs the ball well, they have a chance to win. If they don’t? There’s basically no chance. Run fits have to be strong. All the misdirection and conflict Kliff Kingsbury creates makes life stressful on a defense, banking on someone straying from their gap, guessing, or just being fooled as to where the ball is going.
Even if you’re sound in your gaps, because the Cardinals love to read defenders, make them wrong, odds are good defenders are left one-on-one. For example. It’s a read option play. TJ Watt crashes down on the back so Murray pulls it, running right side. Terrell Edmunds, aligned in the box (expect him to spent most of the day there) is now one-on-one with Murray to make the play. If he does, it’s a minimal gain. If not? I’d rather not think about it.
Numbers wise, Pittsburgh isn’t coming off a very good tackling game and you want to see those figures turn things around. But they made key plays in space. Two examples from last week. Edmunds in the flat on Kareem Hunt, turning it into no gain, and Mike Hilton on Jarvis Landry, which went for 16 but would’ve been a whole lot more if Hilton doesn’t get him on the ground.
Making those types of plays, especially in the run game, will be critical to the defense’s success. Overall, they’re more talented than the Cardinals’ offense. But when you’re one-on-one, all bets are off.