Cardinals at Steelers Game Recap: The Revenge of the Goat
I’ll get into the nitty gritty of the game shortly, but first I’ll explain the title, if it isn’t obvious. Who is the player who has been at or near the top of most people’s short list to be cut? I’ll give you a hint if you’re having trouble making the connection. The Steelers were derided for drafting him. He has never, apparently, made anything like a positive contribution to the team in the three years he has been on it. And the Steelers coaching staff clearly didn’t feel confident enough in him to entrust the offense to him when Ben went down. I refer, of course, to quarterback Landry Jones.
I will freely admit I thought “Oh, bother” when it was obvious Vick was hurt. Nothing Jones showed during the preseason gave Steeler Nation a reason to expect much of anything. But lo and behold, the QB who looked tentative and shaky most of the preseason came out, threw a touchdown on his first NFL completion, and engineered another touchdown drive as a stunned Cardinals sideline looked on in disbelief.
He had a little help from his friends, of course. Le’Veon Bell looked fantastic once the defense came to the conclusion that passing was an actual threat. And what can you say about Martavis Bryant, other than to pray he’s learned his lesson and will stay clean? Because right now the only person who can stop Martavis is Martavis.
Another unlikely hero was kicker Chris Boswell, who kicked field goals from 47, 48, 51, and 28 yards, and made his two extra point kicks, which as we’re seeing this season is scarcely a sure bet anymore. In the meantime his opponent missed a 47-yard attempt. As it happened, it didn’t matter one way or the other, but at that point in the game the miss was huge.
Punter Jordan Berry was looking like he might be a goat—his first two punts were awful. But he settled down after that and pinned the Cardinals at their 2 yard line in the first quarter and boomed a 79 yard punt from the Steelers 21 to essentially end the second quarter. After that he didn’t have to punt, which is nothing short of miraculous.
It was that sort of game. Despite everything, despite the practically record-breaking lack of offense in the first half of the game, the defense kept after it and got the ball back for the Pittsburgh offense. And yes, there was more of the frittering it away, as we saw last week. The Cardinals had almost 250 yards passing at the end of the first half, although the running game never really got off the ground. The Steelers had -6 passing yards.
If that’s all you knew, would you suspect the score would be as close as 10 to 3? For that matter, if you knew at the end of the game the Steelers offense had a net of 169 passing yards, to 414 for the Cardinals, what conclusion would you arrive at?
The second half didn’t really look any more promising, except that Michael Vick, presumably pretty certain he was never again going to complete a pass, made a couple of plays with his feet. Unfortunately his feet got in the way, and he pulled a hammie tripping over his own leg on his way out of bounds. So Landry Jones it was.
One thing this did for the Steelers offense was to open up the playbook a good bit. Although Jones hasn’t had many reps with the first team offense, he’s been around long enough to know the whole offense, and played like he meant it. In the end he was 8 of 12 for a 66.6% completion rate, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and 149.5 QB rating. I think we would all take that all day.
But in my excitement for young Mr. Jones I mustn’t overlook the men who made this possible—the defense who held the Cardinals offense to 13 points. This is the self-same Cardinals offense who had heretofore gained the fifth highest number of points in NFL history in the first five games of the season. Even the highly-vaunted (and rightly so) Rams defense gave up 20 points to them. As I opined in my opponent preview, we could hope for the Steelers D to hold the Cardinals to 30 points, but it was a trickier proposition to think the offense could score more than that.
Let’s get this out of the way—it is certainly true the Cardinals provided some valuable assistance to the Steelers defense. They had nine penalties for a breathtaking 111 yards. Three personal foul penalties—on the offense!—within a few minutes of game time will do that. There were a few holding penalties (not nearly enough, however, as James Harrison, as usual, was being held in a way that would practically constitute a felony in almost any other situation than a football game. One of them was called, IIRC.) The Steelers defense definitely got away with a few non-called pass interference penalties before Bruce Arians dressed down the officials numerous times. Yes, those things helped. But it isn’t like it was one-sided, either. A Michael Vick 12 yard run on third down resulted in a bogus penalty that forced the Steelers to punt.
But the main reason the Cardinals got in their own way was, the Steelers defense was stopping the run and scaring the crap out of Carson Palmer. As the game progressed his throws became increasingly erratic. As Tunch Ilkin pointed out earlier in the week, if you can make Palmer have to throw before he can set his feet he will make mistakes.
Oh yes, he made some beautiful throws. But he was also intercepted twice (he had three all year up to this point) and threw a number of incompletions. The stat line won’t look great for the Steelers defense—they gave up 414 yards—but who cares, as long as those yards don’t result in points? That’s what has annoyed Steeler fans for years now—the offense has gained impressive numbers of yards, but not the ones that matter most—those last few over the goal line. And today, against all odds, the Steelers defense got it done.
I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to watching the game. As is my wont now, I was recording the game so I could let the first hour or so go by and then watch it without having to wait through the commercials. During that first hour I was, as a favor to a friend, looking at a harpsichord she was thinking of buying to evaluate it. The man who let us in to see it said as we were leaving “Well, now I’m going to go watch the Steelers screw this up.” I assumed he had been following the score, and wasn’t in any great hurry to watch the game, as I figured they were probably already down 21-0 or some such. So what a pleasant surprise it was to not only not have my fears confirmed but to have my most optimistic projections exceeded. This game, like last week, was one for the ages. I think if the Steelers go on this way I may die of joy. And what a way to go!
Well, I’m just too excited, so I’m going to post this on Sunday! Tomorrow morning we will have what will undoubtedly be more in-depth analysis from Ivan et al. But now is a time to rejoice, and I want to give you all a chance to do that!