Saturday, October 22, 2011

Steelers Game Day 7 - @ Arizona Cardinals

After getting back on the right track against the hapless Jaguars the Steelers turn its attention to the Arizona Cardinals and head coach Ken Whisenhunt. As you can remember Whisenhunt was a member of the Steelers staff for many years as the offensive coordinator and was a part of the Super Bowl squad that brought home a title in 2005. He was then up for the head coaching spot in Pittsburgh after Bill Cowher retried after said Super Bowl.

Turns out he didn’t get the job and the Steelers told him that he could look elsewhere and so he landed in Arizona. He took Russ Grimm with him who was the Steelers line coach and also didn’t get the head coaching job and this past year he picked up Ray Horton (defensive backs coach) and Deshea Townsend (former Steelers DB) to join the staff and pretty much label the Arizona Cardinals “Pittsburgh West.”

The two met in a Super Bowl a few years back but since then the team’s have gone in very different directions. The Steelers have continued to be one of the best franchises in the NFL and the Cardinals have struggled a great deal.

This has trap game written all over it. The Steelers do not typically fair well in West Coast games and with two huge games on the horizon it would be very easy for them to look past the Cardinals to the Pats and Ravens and lose this game. Add on top of that that the ex-Steelers staff would love nothing more than to beat the Steelers and try to turn its season around. Those staffers know the Steelers very well and I am sure they are going to have a good game plan so it would be keen of the Steelers to come up with something to counter that and give them the best chance to win. I think that will happen but this might be one of the most “up in the air” games on the Steelers schedule.

Lets take a look at the statistics on these two teams:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 17, Jacksonville 13
Passing: Roethlisberger - 12/23, 200 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 23 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Wallace - 2 rec, 76 yards, 1 TD

Minnesota 34, Arizona 10 (Week 5, Arizona had week six bye)
Passing: Kolb - 21/42, 232 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Wells - 20 carries, 60 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Doucet - 8 rec, 92 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Arizona: 31-23-3 (1-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings

Feb. 1, 2009 - Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23 (Super Bowl XLIII)
Sep. 30, 2007 - Arizona 21, Pittsburgh 14
Nov. 9, 2003 - Pittsburgh 28, Arizona 15
Nov. 30, 1997 - Pittsburgh 26, Arizona 20
Oct. 30, 1994 - Arizona 20, Pittsburgh 17

Team Stats

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 373.0 yards/game (10th)
Arizona: 340.2 yards/game (18th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 250.7 yards/game (12th)
Arizona: 237.2 yards/game (16th)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 122.3 yards/game (11th)
Arizona: 103 yards/game (21st)

Points
Pittsburgh: 19.8 points/game (22nd)
Arizona: 19.2 points/game (t-23rd)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 270.5 yards/game (1st)
Arizona: 377 yards/game (21st)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 157.7 yards/game (1st)
Arizona: 258.2 yards/game (20th)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 112.8 yards/game (15th)
Arizona: 118.8 yards/game (20th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 17 points/game (4th)
Arizona: 24.2 points/game (t-19th)


Hit the jump for a closer look at the Arizona Cardinals


Quarterback



Remember last year when Kevin Kolb was on the Philadelphia Eagles and every team that didn’t have a decent quarterback was lining up to try and make him their franchise quarterback. Well, the Cardinals won, or did they? So far this season the Kolb effect hasn’t exactly set in as Arizona is 1-4 and Kolb has been very good.

So far this season Kolb has been less than stellar throwing six picks as opposed to only two touchdowns and is completing less than 60% of his passes. While he boasts a decent yard per attempt average of 7.4 he isn’t throwing up the numbers that led the Cardinals to giving him a huge contract and a couple of players in the trade.

So far this season Kolb has thrown 30 or more passes four times and thrown for at least 250 yards three times. However, these stats can be somewhat misleading as the only game that Kolb, and the Cardinals, won was the time he threw only 27 times and he threw for 309 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions against the Panthers. Since then things have gone downhill for Kolb which culminated in his worst game of the season where he completed only 50% of his passes and threw no touchdowns and two picks against Minnesota in a lopsided loss.

Football Outsiders has Kolb ranked as one of the worst passes among the 34 qualified quarterbacks. If you remember last week I talked about how bad Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert were then you will be excited to hear that Kolb is only ranked ahead of two players: McCown and Gabbert. Kolb is only one of four quarterbacks with a negative DYAR which is known as Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the quarterback’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. Remember kinds, positive is good for offensive numbers so Kolb’s -85 isn’t really that impressive.

Kolb also ranks 32nd in the league in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance. Negative DVOA represents below-average offense) where he has a -18.1% just above McCown and Gabbert and just behind Kerry Collins. Unreal.

Running Back



Beanie Wells leads the Cardinals in rushing the football and to be honest he is the only guy that really carries the football. Since coming out of Ohio State Wells has been hurt more often than he has been healthy. His best season since becoming a pro was his rookie season when he gained 793 yards and scored seven touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The sights were set high by Wells and the Cardinals decided not to keep Tim Hightower and then Wells slipped. He only gained 397 yards last season and scored two touchdowns in 13 games. No idea who the real Beanie Wells is.

So far this season he has been pretty good. In four games so far Wells has almost surpassed last season’s yardage total with 381 yards and has six touchdowns and averages 4.8 yards per attempt. In four games this season Wells had gained 90 yards in three of them and has scored a touchdown in each game he has played. The high point of his season was in week three when he rumbled for 138 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the New York Giants. Not a bad day at the office.

Just like the team Wells really went downhill against the Vikings as he only gained 60 yards on 20 carries so not really sure what this means for Wells. The Steelers defense has been getting better every week and I truly have a hard time thinking that Wells is going to beat them if they shut down Kolb.

All things considered Wells has been a beast this season. HE ranks fourth in the NFL with a 107 DYAR only trailing LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson and Adrian Peterson in that category while supporting the second best DVOA (22%) among qualified running backs. I know it seems like the Steelers go off against a good running back every week but this is a surprising one. Wells is also second in the league with a 62% success rate which is defined as the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays.

Outside of Wells the Cardinals have only rushed for 134 yards and nobody else has more than 100 yards and only Wells has a rush of 20 yards or more (actually three of them). Alfonso Smith is the other running back that has a few carries as he has 72 yards on 20 attempts. He wouldn’t have near that if he didn’t fill in for Beanie Wells in a game against Seattle where he rushed the ball 17 times for 54 yards.

Ex-Pitt Panther LaRod Stephens-Howling is also on the team but he really isn’t in the game to much to make anything happen. In five carries this season he has 16 yards and a long of eight. You would think that Stephens-Howling would be a guy that could catch the ball out of the backfield to cause some problems but he only has two catches for 11 yards. Actually the backs as a whole don’t catch the ball too much as the backfield has 10 catches for 56 yards and no touchdowns.

Receivers



I really think that you only need to talk about one person when you bring of the Arizona Cardinals skill players and that is Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is a Pitt product and while he was here he rewrote the record books and graced us with ESPN Top-10 plays almost on a daily basis. It was a true privledge to be able to watch him grow as a football player while he was here and now he is one of the best receivers in the whole game. The only down side is that since Kurt Warner left he has the equivalent of me and you throwing to him.

So far this season Fitz leads the Cardinals with 27 catches for 427 yards and two touchdowns. He already has eight catches of 20 or more yards and 19 of his catches have gone for first downs. Fitz has two games where he caught over 100 yards that came against the Redskins and the Giants and he has a long of 73 this year but we know that he can stretch the field.

Overall Fitzgerald doesn’t rank out as one of the best receivers according to Football Outsiders but to be honest with a guy like Fitz I wouldn’t put a ton of stock into it. I am sure a lot of this has to do with the horrid quarterback play they have got from Kevin Kolb but Fitz still scares the absolute shit out of me. Fitzgerald ranks out as the 20th best receiver with a 104 DYAR and the 32nd best receiver with a 16.5% DVOA. Like I said there is no way I buy this as Fitz could come out and take this game over but with Kevin Kolb you don’t even know if he can get him the ball.

Five of the past six years Fitzgerald has topped the 1,000 yard mark and four of those years he has caught 10 or more touchdown passes. Like I said he scares me. Thank God we have Ike Taylor.

Outside of Fitzgerald the Cardinals have been relying on Early Doucet who has been pretty good this season. Doucet has 21 catches and 16 of those have gone for first downs. It is pretty clear that he is the favorite target of Kolb as he has been targeted only four less times than Fitzgerald this season. Doucet has 309 receiving yards and a touchdown but he does a lot of his damage after he makes the catch. He ranks first on the team with 142 yards after the catch so it is pretty easy to see that the Cardinals just try to get this guy the ball and then let him do work.

The Cardinals also have a familiar face to Steelers fans as they will lineup Todd Heap at the tight end position. Heap is third on the team in both catches and yards but has yet to find the end zone. 13 catches for 150 yards and three catches of 20 or more yards. Heap has been more productive over the past two weeks as he has 10 catches for 102 yards in the last two weeks so he might be finding his way in the offense and might be a security blanket for Kevin Kolb as he was for Joe Flacco.

Jeff King is another tight end for the Cardinals and actually ranks pretty highly according to Football Outsiders. He is 12th among all qualified tight ends with a 50 DYAR and fourth with a 52.9% DVOA. King has the third best catch rate (83%) of all tight ends but only has 10 catches on the season and 135 yards and two touchdowns. He will be one of those understated players that could possible kill the Steelers if matched up on linebackers.

Offensive Line



I guess you can categorize the Arizona offensive line as experienced but they all have at least four years of experience but no more than eight years. Three of five linemen have either four or five years of experience and they have been pretty good this year.

No names are going to jump out at you from the team except maybe that the team’s left tackle is none other than Penn State grad Levi Brown. The other members of the team are Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot and Brandon Keith. Hadnot is the eldest of the bunch with eight years of experience.

Arizona holds the second best adjusted line yards in the NFL with a 4.60 number. Adjusted line yards is Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages: Losses: 120% value, 0-4 Yards: 100% value, 5-10 Yards: 50% value, 11+ Yards: 0% value. These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations.

The offensive line has only given up seven sacks the entire season and that works out to only the second least in the NFL. Kevin Kolb might suck but it’s not because the offensive line isn’t protecting him.

Arizona also holds a pretty steady power ranking (8th in the league) at 67% which is Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. They also rank ninth in the league in stuffed percentage at only 17% which Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.

The Cardinals are most successful when running up the gut of the defense. They rank third in the national football league with an adjusted line yard of 4.74 running up the middle/at the guards. They slip a little bit when running off the tackles where they rank 12th off the left tackle and 10th off the right tackle. They rank eighth running to either end so I would imagine they will try to go right at the Steelers defense, especially without Casey Hampton and possibly without Chris Hoke.

It is no secret that the Cardinals have been pretty successful running the football and that is what they are going to have to do against the Steelers. Teams have done that with more frequency against Pittsburgh this season and with the poor quarterback play they are going to need to get the running game going early and often to give Kolb a chance at working Larry Fitzgerald on play action.

Defense



The Arizona defense hasn’t been that great this season as they rank 29th in the league with a 19.7% DVOA. If you remember positive is good for the offense in DVOA and the Cardinals are well into the positive so needless to say they aren’t playing that great of football.

The Cardinals fair a little better against the pass than they do against the run as they rank 25th in the league with a 26.1% DVOA against the pass and rank 30th in the league with a 10% DVOA against the run. Not good for the defense at all against some particularly bad teams. In terms of yardage numbers the Cardinals rank 20th in the league but when you take into consideration that the quarterbacks they played include Rex Grossman, Tavaris Jackson and Donovan McNabb you can see how Arizona fans might be a little worried about their teams. Starting in week seven McNabb and Grossman are no longer starting for their respective teams. In terms of DYAR those are the 28th, 27th and 25th ranked quarterbacks in the national football league. Woof.

The Cardinals are especially not very good against team’s number one receiver. It could be a huge day for Mike Wallace. Against number one receivers the Cardinals rank 27th in the league giving up just under 97 yards per game and over 10 yards a reception. The Cardinals also aren’t very good against tight ends giving up about 55 yards a game and a 51.2% DVOA which is good for 31st in the league. Paging Heath Miller.

Against the run I talked about how the Cardinals aren’t very good and that should be something that the Steelers can expose if they have enough linemen stay healthy throughout the game. The Cards have a 73% power success against them which is only good for 21st in the league so in those short yardage situations the Steelers should be pretty successful running the football with either Rashard Mendenhall or Isaac Redman. On the flip side I found it pretty interesting that the Cardinals also rank sixth in the NFL with a 23% stuffed ranking. While teams are having a good bit of success against them in short yardage situations the Cardinals are still doing one of the best jobs in the league of plugging up running backs behind the line of scrimmage.

The Arizona defense has some decent naming rights and by that I mean some names that you should recognize from being with the Steelers before. We all know our boy Joey Porter plays for the Cards and even though he hasn’t been that productive the past couple of seasons it sure will be nice to see him pregame. So far this season Porter has only 14 tackles and a sack. Yawn. Clark Haggans is also a Cardinal after some good years with the Steelers but much like Porter his play has slipped. He only has 12 tackles and no sacks. Both of their best years are behind them.

Paris Lenon leads the team with 30 tackles from his middle linebacker position while A.J. Jefferson, the second year corner from Fresno State is the leading solo tackler with a team-high 23. The Cards also have a top draft pick in the defensive backfield in Patrick Peterson who is in his rookie season. Peterson is 6’1 and 220 pounds and was a physical force when he was at LSU but as any rookie I am sure he has had some growing pains. Even if he has there are definite signs of progress as he has made 25 tackles, 21 solo, and has a pick already this season.

Calais Campbell leads the team with 2.5 sacks while Kerry Rhodes and Daryl Washington each have two sacks. The Cardinals get after the quarterback a good bit with 11 sacks so I wouldn’t be shocked if they can get after Ben. Another guy that scares me on the defense is Adrian Wilson. While Wilson only has one pick and 20 tackles he can be an absolute game changer.

General Thoughts:

-Just like last week I just don’t think this Arizona Cardinals offense is good enough to beat the Steelers. I also don’t think that Kevin Kolb is good enough to beat the Steelers by himself. Although the Cardinals are a better football team than Jacksonville and have a better offensive line I just don’t see the Cardinals jumping all over the Steelers offensive line. Sure, Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke are both not going to be playing but I think that the defense is a whole has got better week to week defending the run and Beanie Wells isn’t as dynamic as a Maurice Jones-Drew or Arian Foster to do to the Steelers what those two did. That isn’t to say that the Steelers defense has been good. They rank 25th or worse in adjusted line yards (4.30, 26th), power success (75%, 25th) and stuffed success (17%, 25th). A big game would be nice from the run stuffing defense.

-As I said in the intro this could be trap game city. The Steelers do not fair well when they travel to the West coast. Since the 2005 season the Steelers are 2-4 when they travel any farther West than the Central Time Zone and the last time they played the Cardinals was in 2007 when the Steelers lost 21-14. I know the Steelers are a better team but for just some reason something about going to Arizona and playing against a team that is trying to mirror the Steelers in some senses. I just don’t know how to read this. I can see the Steelers dominating but then again I can see this being a tie game and coming down to the last drive.

-Which Ben Roethlisberger are we going to see? I was listening to TribLive Radio the other day and they threw out a stat that this season Roethlisberger has the second best completion percentage in the first half of games in his career. On the contrast he has the second worst completion percentage in the second half of games. This is all well and good against bad teams but if you didn’t notice they are going to be going up against the Patriots and Ravens the next two weeks after this. If you don’t play a complete game against either of those teams then you are going to get buried in a hurry. I still think that Ben in the elite status of quarterbacks I just have no idea why he can’t put complete games together. Is it because he has been banged up and has little to no continuity with the make shift offensive line? I have no idea but a complete game would be really nice to see. He wants to go no huddle more often but I am not sure how I feel about that. I like when they work the no huddle because Ben can read the defenses and he knows what works. On the other hand I think that there is a game plan and BA and the coaching staff knows the tendencies and can see the bigger picture from the sidelines and from in the booth. Not really sure how I feel about all that. All I know is that I want to happened whatever gives the Steelers the best chance to win.

-Talking about the Patriots and Ravens that brings another aspect of this “trap game” theory. I just hope that the Steelers understand that they can’t afford to look past Arizona. The Steelers haven’t been very good on the road this year and that is the last thing that they need is to go into the two huge games with a 4-3 record. Getting to 5-2 would be huge for as bad as the beginning of the year has started and that means that they need to focus only on the Cardinals. I know players will tell you they take it one game at a time but for the history of the Steelers with the Pats and Ravens you know it is creeping into their heads.

-I threw out something on twitter and asked people what they wanted to see in this preview. A lot of people came back at me asking about when the offense was going to come around and when they were going to score points and things of that nature. At face I can see where people are coming from but looking a little deeper it appears that the Steelers offense is doing just fine. In terms of total offense the Steelers rank 10th overall in offensive DVOA with a 11.8% mark. Not too shabby. They also rank ninth in rushing offense (9.7% DVOA) and 12th in pass offense (22% DVOA). Overall would you consider those terrible numbers? I know that the end game of any offense is scoring points and the team is definatly not doing that very well but I talk about these types of situation a lot with hockey as I am covering the Penguins. I would be much more conserned if they weren't doing the job or not getting chances (in the hockey sense). If you are producing (which it shows the Steelers offesne has been) then it is going to come together. Just like when the Penguins had Marian Hossa and he wasn't scoring goals in the regular season when the brought him over. He was getting chances, just couldn't get the puck into the net. What happened? He went on to lead the team in goals in the Stanley Cup playoff run. Does this mean that the Steelers are all of a sudden going to rip it up? Maybe, maybe not, but I am much more inclined to think so with a top-10 offensive DVOA than a team like Chicago or Washington with a DVOA of 25th and 27th, respectively.

Not much else to talk about here. I could go into a lot more depth on stuff but that would be wasting your time and it wouldn’t be worth me reaching for things. Getting to 5-2 is a big deal and right now the difference between 4-3 and 5-2 at this point of the season is a pretty big deal, IMO even if I think the Steelers will make the playoffs regardless of the result but if there is any hope of winning the AFC North then they really need to get a win here.

PREDICTION – I know a lot of people are saying that this is going to be a close game because of the past and I see that. Wiz and company are going to be geeked up for this game but I think the Steelers bounce back and take care of business. It is very, very, rare that the Steelers play two bad games in a row. Not that last week was terrible, or that they lost, but they played pretty bad and the offense has something to prove. Steelers 27, Cardinals 10.

Hit it.



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