Who Is This Defense?
If you are a regular reader of my articles, you know that I simply can’t put my finger on this defense. Sunday’s game did nothing to alleviate my concerns about this defensive unit.
Maybe it’s just me, but I would rather have a team play consistently well throughout the entire game than play great in the first half and merely average in the second half.
I just don’t like the sickening feeling I get when I watch a team move the ball against the Steelers as well as the Jaguars did in the second half last Sunday.
Maurice Jones-Drew was very effective against the Steelers, putting up 96 yards on 22 carries (4.4 yards per carry).
Blaine Gabbert, the rookie quarterback of the Jaguars, showed off his impressive arm-strength, but was held to only 109 yards and a passing touchdown.
That was almost all they needed.
Arizona features one of the best receivers in the NFL, Larry Fitzgerald. You remember him, don’t you? He was the gazelle the Steelers could not stop in the second half of Super Bowl 43, catching two touchdowns for about 8 million yards. That was the last time these teams met.
Granted, the Cardinals had (in my opinion) a Hall of Fame quarterback at the time in Kurt Warner, but Fitz is still a beast. Kevin Kolb made the pilgrimage to the desert during the off-season, but has failed to produce in the way Ken Whisenhunt and his staff were probably hoping. He is currently 13th in the league in passing yards, but 26th in passing touchdowns.
I like the chances of the Steelers’ number-one ranked passing defense to keep Kolb and Fitz in check for the most part. (Did I just write that the Steelers have the number-one ranked passing defense?)
On the ground, the Cardinals feature Beanie Wells, who is number four in yards per game on the ground and has six touchdowns to his credit.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the game plan hasn’t changed from Tennesse to Jacksonville, and now to Arizona. Stop the running game and make the other teams’ less-than-elite quarterback try to beat you.
Overall, the Cardinals are a middling offense in both rushing and passing, but for some reason the Steelers seem unable to put teams like this away early, which leads to that sickening feeling I mentioned earlier.
Going by the numbers, which I like to do, this will be a very difficult game for the Steelers. Arizona’s running game will be the best they have faced so far and we all know how the Steelers have struggled in stopping the run this year.
That having been said, forgetting about Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Kolb (who is very good and should not be overlooked) would be the worst kind of error. Fitz is elite and is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.
The Cardinals are not known for their defense and the numbers bear that out. As usual, when the Steelers have the ball, it will all come down to offensive line play. If the big guys up front can keep Ben clean and make a few holes for Mendenhall, they should have some success.
Over the last couple games, they have been doing that pretty well. But the questions I spoke of early still swirl over the team’s heads. Why did the offense struggle so much in the second half on Sunday? Will the line be able to protect Ben and his gimpy foot enough that he doesn’t get knocked of the game (or worse)? Will Mendy show the quick decision making he showed against Jacksonville or will he revert back to the man who looked to be auditioning for the next season of Dancing With the Stars?
I like the Mighty Black and Gold to take this game against a bad team in a horrible division. (The NFC West is the only division in football with only one team with a .500 record or better.)
However, unless a lot of these questions get answered this week, the next three games (vs. New England, vs. Baltimore, at Cincinnati) are going to like watching Nascar. You know a wreck is going to happen. You just don’t know when or how bad it will be.