Steelers Round Out September With Trip Out West
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Sunday, September 30, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
Following a dominant victory over the 49ers that has the national media buzzing, the 3-0 Steelers take their perfect record to the desert to face the Arizona Cardinals, in what will be a reunion of sorts for many of the Steelers' players.
The Cardinals are coached by former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who very well could have been the Steelers' head coach. As is, he's taken on the task of turning around an Arizona franchise that has struggled mightily in, well, forever.
As for his former team, they're off to an excellent start, with a balanced offense and a shutdown defense. The Steelers are averaging 378.3 yards per game on offense, which ranks eighth in the league, paced by the league's best rushing offense, which is averaging 198.3 yards per game.
As for the defense, it ranks second at 244.3 yards per game, and hasn't allowed any opponent to gain more than 289 yards so far. And, it also ranks first in points and points per game (26 - 8.7).
In case you're wondering, New England leads the league in both total offense and total defense, so you can have that Dec. 9 matchup in Foxboro circled, if you don't already.
As for Sunday's game, all signs are pointing towards another Pittsburgh win, but the Cardinals are going to come to play, and will look to halt the Steelers' early momentum.
Looking at the Cardinals
Arizona's taken the hard road so far. All three of their games so far have been decided in the final seconds.
Unfortunately, they've come out on the wrong side twice. In the opener, they held a 17-13 lead late in the 4th, but Alex Smith led the 49ers to a game-winning touchdown in the final moments. And, just last week, Arizona rallied from a 23-6 fourth-quarter deficit to tie Baltimore at 23, but lost on a last-second field goal.
In between those gut-wrenching losses, they had a last-second win agains the Seahawks, where Neil Rackers nailed a field goal with a second left to give Arizona a 23-20 win.
So, it's not as if they're a bad team. They've just had a little bad luck (read: invisible defense in the final two minutes).
The main question out of Cardinals' camp is if there's a quarterback controversy brewing. Matt Leinart was replaced by Kurt Warner in last week's game after he struggled through the first two-plus quarters, and all Warner did was lead the Cardinals on their big comeback, going 15 of 20 for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
Leinart (454 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) is still the starter, but last week's game shows that there might be a pretty short leash if he starts struggling against Pittsburgh.
If the offense struggles, then that places a lot of pressure on a defense that's, at best, a big question mark.
Keys to Success
Continue to play mistake-free football. The Cardinals aren't big on forcing turnovers, so the key will be to keep that number blank.
Get some pressure on Leinart (or Warner). The Cardinals' offensive line has allowed only two sacks in three games, but you don't have to get the sack to make a good defensive play. The Steelers have picked up 12 sacks in three games, so if they can regularly get in Leinart's face, then there might be a repeat of last week.
A steady dose of Willie Parker, thank you very much. Parker has rushed for 368 yards and is averaging five yards per carry in the first three games, leading the league's best rushing offense. The Cardinals have done a decent job against the run, but as long as the offensive line keeps opening up holes, then no one's going to stop the P-train.
What We'll See
If the Cardinals defense doesn't show up, this one could be over very, very quickly.
But, if the Cardinals offense gets going, then it could be a wild one. However, they'll be going up against a defense that has let very little past them.
The Steelers are the clear favorite, but the Cardinals, as they've shown in the first three games, won't go down without a fight.
But, when the dust settles, the Steelers should end the first month of the season in style, with a 4-0 record and an ever-rising star.