The Arizona Cardinals lost their fifth-straight in what can barely be considered a home game considering the amount of Pittsburgh Steelers fans in the crowd. Kevin Kolb had a better game, going 18-34 for 272 yards with two touchdowns and one interception off a deflection with an unblocked rusher in his face. The defense didn't step up at a crucial time and mistakes once again plagued the team. There were bright signs though, including progress from Kevin Kolb and some nice play from a few young players.
Kolb making progress
Kolb made mistakes, including another blown throw to a wide open Rob Housler across the middle, but he did seem somewhat improved over the previous week. The Steelers were the second-ranked defense against the pass going into Sunday's game, allowing just 155 yards through the air and Kevin bested that number by quite a bit.
We said going into this game the Cardinals were going to have to run the ball and Beanie Wells needed a big day. The Steelers were missing three starters and two backups from their front seven and were 20th in the league against the run. If Wells doesn't go down with a knee injury, he very well could have been the difference.
Beanie ran 12 times before going out in the second quarter and had 42 yards. His back up, Alfonso Smith only carried the ball five times the rest of the game. Between losing Wells and falling behind, that put even more pressure on Kolb and he didn't do that bad.
"I felt from a personal standpoint, operation, in and out of the huddle, the plays, it all came a lot smoother to me today," Kolb said. "Obviously, there's a couple of throws that I would like to have back. Those plays need to be made."
Kolb looked more comfortable in the pocket at times and made some nice plays. The touchdown to LaRod Stephens-Howling was a good read. Kolb explained that he was originally looking for Fitzgerald but saw he was covered so he moved to the speedy LSH matched up against a linebacker.
" Once I gave him my eyes, he knows he can move," Kolb said. "He is very good in those one-on-one situations and he did a great job with the run run after the catch. Everyone was playing well in that play and that is how this offense is supposed to work. Get to the right guys at the right time and make plays after the catch."
People clamoring for more Larry Fitzgerald should note that he was targeted 10 times, the most of any player on the field. It should also be noted that Kolb put up a lot of numbers in his final drive that went 11 plays for 71 yards in what was essentially "garbage time".
Interception and safety
Two key plays in the game were the interception on the first possession that gave the Steelers great field position and an early 7-0 lead and the safety that add two points to a 10-point third quarter deficit.
Both plays share something in common -- unblocked rushers getting to Kolb. In both cases an outside linebacker was allowed a free pass and in both cases the Arizona tackle turned their attention to the inside rusher while rookie TE Rob Housler lined up nearest to the defender released without any contact. Neither were blitz situations.
On the safety, the pressure came from LaMarr Woodley from the right side of the line and Kolb wasn't able to either elude the defender or dump the ball quickly enough like Ben Roethlisberger did all game. It should be noted that the Cardinals started from their seven yard line thanks to a holding penalty on the kick return.
On the interception, the pressure came from the left side and Kolb was at least able to make a throw to Housler that hit the rookie and deflected for an INT. It appeared on the replay that contact was made on Housler well before the ball arrived and his arm was pinned.
Allowing a score after a score
The Cardinals were down 17-7 going into the second half and claimed to be fairly confident they could win the game. They got a stop on the first series and then engineered a six-play, 89 yard touchdown drive capped off by a beautiful 73-yard TD play from Kolb and Stephens-Howling to make it a three-point contest with tons of time left.
At this point, the defense has to hold. They don't.
The Steelers went 80 yards on 11 plays and converted two third downs to get the touchdown right back. While the game was full of penalties, this drive only had one and it was declined. Roethlisberger threw a couple of great passes including a 3rd and 6 to tight end Heath Miller who jumped over Daryl Washington to complete a 21 yard play.
Miller beat Washington again in the middle of the field on a sit-and-go route and then ran over Patrick Peterson to get an extra six yards on a 17-yard play. Washington had hurt his foot earlier in the game and the Steelers seemed to be picking on him and it worked.
The Steelers then got a great one-handed grab from Antonio Brown for 13 yards and ended up with WR Emmanuel Sanders against ILB Paris Lenon over the middle for a 20-yard completion to the Arizona two-yard line. Touchdown two plays later.
What stood out on that drive was the amount of time Roethlisberger had in the pocket. He was sacked early in the possession but after that, he wasn't touched or hurried once.
Some good things from the youngsters: Peterson, Schofield and Acho
As we talked about after the game, the young outside linebacker duo of O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho played well. They came in on the possession that straddled the third and fourth quarters and put some hits on Big Ben. Schofield got in a good shot but Roethlisberger was still able to complete the pass. Acho got to Ben, hit him high and bounced off and ended up with the sack by grabbing his leg. Almost any other quarterback goes down hard in that situation.
These young guys, along with Washington, are the future and it was good to see them get pressure that Clark Haggans and Joey Porter couldn't.
Haggans acknowledged as much, "I don't want to beat a dead horse, but being in the NFL those are plays that you have to make. Those are the plays that I missed. Those are the plays that I should have made."
The other bright spot was rookie Patrick Peterson who essentially took WR Mike Wallace out of the game. Wallace had the 95-yard touchdown play but that was against CB Richard Marshall and possibly blown coverage over the top by Rashad Johnson. Other than that, he had just two receptions for 23 yards.
Wallace gave a lot of credit to Peterson, "Patrick Peterson, he's going to a be a hell of a player. He's going to be an All-Pro, I can guarantee it. For years. He's a great player. To say this is his rookie year, he has great technique. He's going to be a great player."
I think it's clear that Wallace thinks Peterson is going to be a great player.