This Sunday it will be deja vu all over again when the [intlink id=”20″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] face off against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards are still led by our ex-offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, and boast a roster filled with refugees from the Black and Gold. Whiz must really admire his old franchise (and why shouldn’t he?) what with his almost comical fetish for adding ex-Steelers to his team. When the Steelers step inside the Big Toaster on Sunday, they’ll see no fewer than four ex-teammates across the sidelines with two more members of the roster having played their college ball at Pitt.
Pittsburgh and their slacker younger brother have faced each other twice since that fateful off-season of 2007 when [intlink id=”49″ type=”category”]Bill Cowher[/intlink] left to exchange phony laughs with James Brown and pretend to understand the words coming out of Shannon Sharpe’s mush-mouth. Whiz, the obvious heir apparent (he even has his own mini-Chin!), was surprisingly eliminated early in the process, leading him to bolt for the head job in Arizona. After the media erroneously reported longtime offensive line coach Russ Grimm had won the job, the Steelers announced they were going with a relatively unknown defensive coordinator from Minnesota named [intlink id=”45″ type=”category”]Mike Tomlin[/intlink]. That year, the two teams met during the regular season with the Cardinals scoring an emotional victory in a game their spurned head coach badly wanted to win.
Of course, the next time the two teams met, the Steelers would walk away with a victory in Super Bowl XLIII. He who laughs last, laughs best and all that.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs CARDINALS OFFENSE
The Cardinals’ fortunes rose a little when they hired Whisenhunt, they rose a lot when they brought in Kurt Warner to be their starting quarterback. Warner, who had bounced around the league and was thought to be washed-up, found the Fountain of Youth in the Arizona desert. Since he retired a couple years back, the Cards have floundered in their attempts to find a suitable replacement.
This off-season, they got trade raped (yes, I watch The League) by the Philadelphia Eagles in a mega-deal to acquire Kevin Kolb. Kolb had performed well in very limited duty with the Iggles and Arizona believed he was the answer to their signal calling woes. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out how they drew them up. Kolb (5 TDs against 6 INTs) has been stunningly mediocre in leading an offense that ranks 16th in passing and 25th in points scored. It probably doesn’t help that he’s been sacked an almost Roethlisbergian 16 times.
Of course, the Cards still possess one of the most dangerous big play wide receivers in football, Larry Fitzgerald. What they no longer have are receivers to draw attention away from him. Gone are both Anquan Boldin and Stevie Breaston and in their place are Early Doucet and noted Steeler Killer Todd Heap. This may explain why Fitz only has two 100 yard games and two TDs as we near the mid-way point of the season.
Still, this game should present an interesting challenge for the Steelers top ranked pass defense. I need to repeat that because even I can’t believe it. The Steelers are the top ranked pass defense in the NFL. Despite last week’s stumble, [intlink id=”101″ type=”category”]Ike Taylor[/intlink] is having a Pro Bowl caliber season. We were robbed of the chance to see him go one-on-one with Andre Johnson when Johnson’s skinny little legs gave out on him so it’ll be interesting to see how Face Me Ike fares when matched-up with Larry Fitz.
The Steelers much-maligned run defense has risen to 15th after ranking dead last the first few weeks of the season. The Cards legendary duo of LaRod Stephens-Howling and Beanie Wells don’t run the ball particularly well. However, one of the men I credit for the resurgent run D, nose tackle Chris Hoke, is injured and is listed as doubtful for Sunday. If he can’t go, the Steelers will be down to their third string nose tackle, Steve McClendon.
One player they will have is safety [intlink id=”57″ type=”category”]Troy Polamalu[/intlink], who practiced all week and seems to be showing no ill-effects from last week’s blow to the hair. While he may have felt momentarily lightheaded, he’s definitely feeling a little lighter in the wallet thanks to Roger Goodell. If you watched the game, you may remember a quick shot of Troy talking on a cell phone after being pulled from the game. Evidently he was calling his wife to re-assure her that he was alright. The [intlink id=”8″ type=”category”]Ginger Dictator[/intlink], blackhearted son of a bitch that he is, cares not for Troy’s wife and fined him $10,000 for using a cell phone during a game.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs ARIZONA DEFENSE
Last week was a rough outing for [intlink id=”14″ type=”category”]Ben Roethlisberger[/intlink] and the Steeler offense. He didn’t take a physical beating yet managed to accomplish absolutely nothing the entire second half after rolling up over 300 yards of offense in the first. The apologists in the media are blaming the swirling winds for his horrid passing performance which I’ll reserve judgment on until I see what he does this week. Big Ben recently told reporters he would like to run more no-huddle hurry-up offense, which for whatever reason (*Cough*Ariansdoesntcallplays*Cough*) has always brought the offense to life.
The Cards, who attempted to poach our Defensive Coordinator-in-waiting (Keith Butler) to be their DC before settling on our secondary coach, rank in the bottom third of the league in pass defense, rush defense, sacks and points allowed per game. They don’t stop anything particularly well so the entire playbook would seemingly be open on Sunday. Mike Wallace, who tweaked a hammy chasing after Ben’s errant throws, will look to take advantage of a secondary decimated by the loss of Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie. Mewelde Moore is healthy and will take Jonathan Dwyer’s spot in the Three Headed Run Monster coming off last week’s league-leading rushing output by [intlink id=”88″ type=”category”]Rashard Mendenhall[/intlink].
The Steelers beleaguered offensive line will start YET ANOTHER new combination as the [intlink id=”85″ type=”category”]Big Legursky[/intlink] exits with a broken toe and they welcome back Chris Kemoeatu to LG. Maurkice Pouncey banged up his elbow in practice earlier in the week but practiced fully on Friday and says he’s good to go. Hopefully he guts it out because losing him would be bad enough but with his back-up also unavailable things could get ugly.
I won’t lie, this game worries me. A LOT. I would probably be more confident if the Steelers had rolled last week against a lousy Jacksonville team but the sputtering second half showed me what can happen when this team takes their eyes off the prize. On paper, this is a game the Steelers should win. The Cardinals dismal performance last season revealed some serious underlying issues which they seemingly failed to address during the abbreviated off-season. However, Hell Comes To Pittsburgh the next three weeks with games against the Patriots, Ravens and Bengals looming. If there’s a trap game on the schedule, this is it.