Cardinals at Steelers Game Recap: The Revenge of the Goat

via OU Blog

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!

10 comments

  • What a game. Stars of the game (this is insane): Landry Jones, Chris Boswell, Ali Villanueva & Martavis’s Bryant. However, really bad news on Beachum who is out for the year with an ACL.

    I’m not going to say anything negative at all. Not even the injuries can dampen my enthusiasm. I’m ready to ride with this team and enjoy it. Really every game this year has been an outstanding effort. We failed to execute a few times. If not for That Kicker, we are 5-1. Considering the injuries, this team. Is playing outstanding football. Love this team. Love them, love them, love them.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Jones wasn’t terrible in preseason. But we were all mostly pre-programmed to feel that way. Perhaps the coaching staff was as well. If he was good enough to remain on the roster, then it should stand to reason that he should have been good enough to deserve a shot when Grad was ruled out. The NFL is littered with stories of players who came from nowhere…mainly because they weren’t given a real shot.
    If you look back..with hindsight, of course… shouldn’t it have been obvious to play the guy with multiple years in the offense, familiarity with the WRs, and the ability to look over the offensive line instead of the guy who was here for a week, had zero chemistry with the receivers, and can’t see over the offensive line?
    Mike Vick has been washed up and none of his actual QB play has merited a reconsideration on my part…I’m just glad that Jones was able to come through in the clutch. There’s no certain promise that Jones would repeat his performance next week…but I think I’d rather have his unknown than Vick’s known. I”m tired of 2 yard passes….if lucky.

    What is certain is that this defense can play.

    Both of these together? Jones and the Defense? Well, yet another example of the fans knowing less than the folks paid to know. ‘Cept for Vick. I knew he was terri-bad.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Who would have thought that they can top last week’s nailbiter with an even more legendary game today…?

    Like

  • Craaaazzzzy game, and it went kind of like the weather. First half was overcast and gray. At halftime, it was raining sideways. For the second half, it gradually cleared up and the sun came out. What a game! What a day! And I take back every bad thing that I said about Landry Jones.

    This team is something special.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I am so very very glad I read this blog. I thought to myself, “Thank heaven for this” when reading a previous article but I’m going to gush here–thanks are due, not to heaven, but to Rebecca and Ivan and Roxannafirehall and all those who comment who have made this such a joy to read–or better yet, a place where joy and generosity and appreciation have a home.

    Oh Bother? I hardly ever really laugh aloud when reading things on the web, but Rebecca’s “oh bother” did it. I’m not big on swearing myself but even I said something a wee bit ruder when Vick limped off the field. But now I have a new curse and one that will make me laugh every time something goes wrong. I hope it always reminds me that football, like God, moves in mysterious ways and better to sit back and watch it unfold than to curse and complain and find fault.

    ANd as usual, I agree with all the comments. (so many smart comments, I’m really just someone who can’t find the like button, so has to talk) These last two games are ones to remember, this team is something special, and among the many things Ivan was right about, he was most right to advise that one not let anyone steal the joy from your fandom. I loved, absolutely loved, the way Tomlin went from someone who chose Vick over Landry Jones to the coach who went for the two point conversion as if he’d never doubted Jones. It doesn’t even matter that it failed. If there’s any moment in this crazy season when I had full faith in this team, it was when I realized they were going for two. It was the perfect Tomlin moment: I think we can do this. And then no one drooped when they didn’t pull it off. They’d made the effort, they believed in themselves as the team that could do that with the QB no one had trusted until they did…and they were that team, behind their QB to the end. Wow. This team might just pull off everything, or at least a good chunk of it, for all the right reasons.
    The semi-anonymous voice called Earthling

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very good point about the 2 point conversion. I’ve seen Tomlin being lambasted on other sites about the call, but I feel the same as you. Historically, Tomlin has not been one to change his philosophy just because the personnel on the field changes. That Landry Jones was given that 2 pt conversion try was as much about giving the kid assurances that he was trusted as it was an attempt to widen a lead.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your wonderful comments, Earthling. They are the reason we started this site—because we thought there were people like you who would get it. And I’m glad you liked “oh bother” – it comes from my British husband. Another favorite of his is “Gracious!”, which makes one feel as if one is in a Victorian novel. Both of us use stronger words on rare occasions (like when you miss the nail and hit your finger instead) but the Victorian style words do very well for ordinary life.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Yep! A lot of folks moaned about Landry Jones after every preseason game. Jones was definitely on most fans short list to be cut. Thank goodness we don’t make the personnel decisions. This is the second time in recent years the 3 QB strategy has payed off for the Steelers. Remember BB, Leftwich, and Charlie Batch,(in that order). We would have had a gimpy, pocket passing Mike Vick for the 4th quarter and an extra DB on the practice squad:( The Steelers goose would have been cooked.

    Liked by 1 person

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