An answered prayer. Week Five ended with running back Le’Veon Bell taking the snap out out of the Wildcat formation and inching his way into the endzone. It was a play that, in all likelihood, may have saved the Pittsburgh Steelers season. At the very least, the play itself gave this team the ability to continue surviving without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Simply surviving may not be enough when the Arizona Cardinals march into Heinz Field on Sunday. The Cardinals currently boast the highest scoring offense in football, and against a secondary that is prone to surrendering yards and an offense that is missing its star quarterback, this match-up looks like it could be a nightmare for the Steelers.
The offense needs to continue to Ring the Bell, and allow Bell to carry the majority of the offensive workload. The possession game will not be enough for the Steelers to beat the Cardinals, however. The Steelers need to turn to their other potential potent offensive weapon to walk out of week 6 with a win.
The Steelers need to take the leash off of Mike Vick.
Key Match-up to Watch Offensively:
Receiver Antonio Brown vs. cornerback Patrick Peterson
All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown has recently implored Vick to have more trust in him, and to give him the opportunity to make plays in the open field. The chemistry that Brown and Roethlisberger have cannot be matched, as Roethlisberger will routinely make throws downfield to a sometimes double-covered Brown and watch as he makes an incredible reception. At this point, Steelers fans may be jaded as to just how good Brown is. Watching him week after week make incredible, jaw-dropping catches look routine will do that to a fan base.
Vick needs to take similar shots.
Brown is arguably the league’s best route runner. He isn’t the fastest receiver in the league, but Brown creates separation with his cuts in and out of his routes. Vick’s anticipation with the football and ability to throw a receiver open has never been his strength, but Brown gives him a safety blanket. For Brown to make a play on the ball, it just needs to be in his vicinity. The play calling to this point has been focused on not allowing Vick to turn the ball over, but this has completely shut down the passing game. If Bell did not possess immense talent, the Steelers offense would not be able to move the ball. On more than one occurrence against the San Diego Chargers, the box was loaded with nine defenders. These plays resulted in negative yardage, but a defense cannot stack the box with Roethlisberger in the game. Defensive coordinators are attempting to make the Steelers one-dimensional but are failing, and this is solely because of the talent of Bell.
Haley needs to let Michael Vick be Michael Vick. Yes, Vick is prone to turnovers when improvising and taking shots downfield. Yes, Vick can make an ill-advised throw or not slide and take a big shot in the open field. All of this is true, but it is also true that Vick possesses one of the biggest arms in football and this needs to be utilized. In last week’s preview, I mentioned several times the importance of receiver Martavis Bryant returning to the lineup and what type of impact that would have on the gameplan. Unfortunately, Bryant missed the Chargers game with a lingering injury. Fortunately for Vick, Bryant returns against the Cardinals and is expected to have a major role in the offense. Vick needs to be allowed to take his shots downfield to Bryant in this game. The offensive line is not playing an overly-dominant Cardinals defensive line, but the defense can not be allowed to put nine in the box and try to negate Bell. The offense also needs to negate potential blitzes and slow the defense down, not allowing them to consistently send four to five and effectively end the Steelers passing game before it begins. If this means implementing a quick strike, simple read offense for Vick, so be it.
Most importantly, Brown needs to be targeted more than five times against the Cardinals. Yes, he is up against one of the elite corners in the game. Brown is also one of the leagues best receivers and he needs to be allowed to make plays. If this means the Steelers offense operates with a mostly-underneath passing attack with him, so be it. But the offense needs to find a way to get him the ball. They can no longer afford to allow the leagues best receiver to waste away in the offensive gameplan.
Key Match-up to Watch for Defensively:
Linebacker Jarvis Jones vs. tackle Jared Veldheer
I was recently quite critical of outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. While the reasoning and logic behind so was sound, the game that Jones produced against the Chargers bought him more time in my book. Yes, Jones played against a second- then third-string left tackle, but he had the type of performance one should have against that level of competition. Jones was a dominant force on the edge, consistently providing pressure and forcing Philip Rivers into hurried throws. This type of game needs to be seen more consistently out of him if he wishes the criticism to stop.
This week, Jones is matched up against Jared Veldheer, the unheralded but very solid left tackle on the Cardinals. Veldheer possesses above-average strength at the position, which means Jones is going to need more in his arsenal on Sunday than his patented bull rush if he wishes to provide pressure on Carson Palmer.
With the play of Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, there is going to be pressure from the interior of the defensive line against the Cardinals. Against the Cardinals interior of the offensive line, Heyward and Tuitt should be able to feast and collapse the pocket all game long. There needs to be more than the pressure provided against the Cardinals than from the defensive ends.
With cornerback William Gay surrendering a completion percentage of over seventy percent, Palmer can not be allowed to simply sit back and pick apart the Steelers secondary. Jones needs to continue to build on his game against the Chargers and provide pressure on Palmer, forcing hurried throws and perhaps an interception or two.
This was always going to be the Steelers toughest contest without Roethlisberger under center. They play a high flying offense that is seemingly firing on all cylinders. If the Steelers have a hope of winning this game, they must dominant time of possession and allow Vick to take his shots down the field. This likely means that, once again, Bell is going to have to set-up the play-action game and allow Bryant to work in single coverage.
This is a game I just can’t see the Steelers winning. The deck is stacked against them and without the ability to keep up offensively with the Cardinals, they welcome Roethlisberger back next week against the Kansas City Chiefs with open arms.
Cardinals 34 – Steelers 24
That is unless there is another answered prayer.