WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
Pittsburgh ranks 10th in the league with an average of 373.0 yards per game and has gone over the 350-yard mark in consecutive weeks. The Steelers ended with 370 against the Jaguars, with its 185 rushing yards giving the team back-to- back games with at least 160 yards on the ground for the first time since late November of last year. After being active but not getting a carry in a Week 5 win over the Titans, Mendenhall (319 rushing yards, 3 TD) roared back with 146 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown against Jacksonville. The game marked the first time in his career he surpassed 100 yards rushing in the first half. Roethlisberger (1576 passing yards, 9 TD, 6 INT) had a quiet game, managing 200 yards passing while completing just 12 of his 23 pass attempts, but that didn’t stop wide receiver Mike Wallace (33 receptions, 4 TD) from having another big day. He made just two catches but totaled 76 yards, pulling in the 20th reception of his career for at least 40 yards. Twelve of those have resulted in touchdowns. Hines Ward (23 receptions, 2 TD) added three catches for 47 yards, leaving him 61 yards shy of becoming the 19th player to reach 12,000 in his career, while tight end Heath Miller (19 receptions, 1 TD) led all Pittsburgh receivers with four catches against the Jaguars.
Arizona’s 20th-ranked run defense (118.8 ypg) was torched by Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson two weeks ago to the tune of 122 yards and three touchdowns. The unit also took a hit when safety Kerry Rhodes (24 tackles, 2 sacks) suffered a broken foot that is expected to sideline him for a few weeks. That led to Cardinals’ signing veteran safety Sean Considine. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson (28 tackles) saw plenty of action against the Vikings, making a team-leading eight tackles, while inside linebacker Daryl Washington (23 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) came away with the Cardinals’ only sack as part of his five-tackle day. Defensive end Calais Campbell (29 tackles, 2.5 sacks) has stepped up his game over the past three weeks, recording 21 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, four tackles for a loss and a forced fumble in that span. Linebacker Joey Porter (14 tackles, 1 sack), who spent the first eight years of his career with Pittsburgh starting in 1999, had only one tackle in the Minnesota game and remains two sacks shy of becoming the 26th player in league history to reach 100 in his career. He is aided on the right side by Paris Lenon (30 tackles). Rashad Johnson will likely start in Rhodes’ place beside Adrian Wilson (20 tackles, 1 INT).
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
Arizona traded for quarterback Kevin Kolb in the offseason to bring long-term stability to the position, something the club lacked last year after Warner’s retirement, but the offense has struggled as Kolb goes through his growing pains. The Cardinals rank 18th in total yards per game at 340.2 and is scoring at just a 19.2 points-per-game clip. Kolb (1281 passing yards, 5 TD, 6 INT) completed half of his 42 passes versus the Vikings for 232 yards and was picked off twice, while also being sacked four times without a touchdown throw. Arizona’s lone trip to the end zone came on Beanie Wells’ two-yard run in the third quarter. Wells (381 rushing yards, 6 TD) posted his fourth straight game with a rushing touchdown, tied for the second-longest streak in club history. Ottis Anderson was the last Cards player to do so, scoring in five consecutive games from 1983-84. Kolb has one of the best options in the game in Fitzgerald (27 receptions, 2 TD), but it was fellow wideout Early Doucet (21 receptions, 1 TD) who was targeted 16 times against Minnesota. He made eight catches for 92 yards, while Fitzgerald had four receptions for 66 yards. With Todd Heap (13 receptions) missing the game with a hamstring injury, tight end Jeff King (10 receptions, 2 TD) made five catches for 35 yards.
Kolb figures to be in for another long day on Sunday, as he goes against the league’s top-ranked defense. Pittsburgh is allowing only 270.5 yards per game, including an NFL-best 157.7 yards through the air. The Steelers are also fourth overall with an average of 17 points allowed per game. Pittsburgh held the Jaguars to 76 net passing yards, marking the fourth time in the past five games it has held its opponent under 150 passing yards. That 76-yard total was also the team’s fourth-lowest output under Tomlin. Pittsburgh brought the pressure in a big way as well, notching five sacks versus the Jaguars, including four in the first half for the first time since Nov. 3, 2008. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley (27 tackles, 5 sacks) and defensive end Brett Keisel (15 tackles, 2 sacks) both had two sacks, with Keisel matching a career high. Woodley, meanwhile, has multiple sacks in two straight games, and inside linebacker James Farrior (42 tackles, 2 sacks) also had a quarterback takedown in addition to a club-leading 11 tackles. Safety Ryan Clark (38 tackles) ended with 10 stops, while Woodley had eight and Polamalu (40 tackles, 1 sack) five before exiting. Woodley has grabbed Pittsburgh’s only interception this year.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Cardinals fell behind big two weeks ago and may have trouble staying out of a big hole again on Sunday. Pittsburgh has scored on its first three drives in two straight games and has yielded three points or less during the first quarter in four of its last five contests.
If Arizona can keep pace, Wells should get a big workload. He has rushed for 216 yards and five touchdowns in the second half this season, compared to 165 yards and one score before halftime. Wells will be key to the Cardinals grinding things out late, as 13 of his 18 rushing first downs have also come in the second half.
Having Polamalu will be key for the Steelers as they try to lock down on Fitzgerald. The Cardinals’ Pro Bowl receiver had a pair of touchdowns in the Super Bowl meeting and made 10 grabs for 120 yards in his only regular-season game versus Pittsburgh.
Prediction – The Cardinals know all about the Steelers, as former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is now the head man with the Cards. Pittsburgh has all the makings of a letdown here, they travel west, are coming off two big wins, and have two big AFC teams (New England and Baltimore) at home coming up next. Pittsburgh hasn’t played all that well on the road this year, and here’s thinking that Benie Wells and Kevin Kolb push them to 4-3 after Sunday. Arizona 24 Pittsburgh 20