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Jim Wexell breaks down today's Arizona Cardinals-Pittsburgh Steelers game

Everything anyone needs to know about today's Cardinals-Steelers game at Heinz Field.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT


Steelers 27, Cardinals 23


Feb. 1, 2009: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay.


The greatest play in Super Bowl history started with the Steelers leading the Cardinals 10-7. The Cardinals had a first-and-goal at the 1 with 18 seconds left in the first half. Without any timeouts, QB Kurt Warner dropped back and attempted to pass to Anquan Bolden. OLB James Harrison had dropped into coverage and Warner threw the ball right to him. Then-defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau picks up the call from there:


"When James picked it off, I thought, ‘Oh, man, they’re not going to get anything out of this.’ And then I expected him to be down very quickly. There were a lot of Cardinals in the vicinity but pretty soon you saw that helmet. They were down in the far corner from me, certainly not the best vantage point, but I saw that helmet still bouncing around over there, and then pretty soon it broke, and I thought, ‘Hey, we’ve got a chance here.’ And then our guys rallied and I could see some of the angles that our guys had. And then James made a couple of fantastic individual moves and jumped over a couple guys on the ground that might’ve tripped him up and he fell probably two inches into the end zone. It’s so Hollywood-ish that if you were in the movie business you’d say, ‘Get that out of here. That could never happen. A play like that could never happen.’ And yet, it did happen, and it happened at the most fortuitous time for us. I could not get myself to go on to the next series (while re-watching tape). I just kept running the play back. I can describe it to you pretty well. It was a relish. I guess you get a relish every now and then in your life."


TALE OF THE TAPE

"Carson Palmer still throws a frozen rope. He looks terrific, especially when his feet are set. He does a great job of hitching into his throws. He shuffles back; he shuffles forward. When he struggles is when he can't hitch into his throws. When his feet are not under him he doesn't throw as well. You also notice that No. 11 (Larry
Fitzgerald) is now a possession receiver and he does it very, very well. He mixes it up well in between the numbers. He's very crafty. What he used to do with athleticism and speed he now does with craftiness and is a little more physical. He'll swim more; he'll shake more. The offensive line is not great, especially on the inside. They'll still take their shots downfield. The young receivers are fast but it's really fun watching Larry Fitzgerald and see the receiver he is now compared to the receiver he was as a young man. He's the crafty, possession vet but he can still get deep on you. And Carson looks for him, especially in plus territory." -- Steelers broadcast analyst Tunch Ilkin.


TOP QUESTION

Will the Steelers bounce back with emotion off an emotional win Monday night?

In 2005, the Steelers came back from their Monday night win in San Diego and lost at home to Jacksonville in overtime in a performance that was maddening not only because the Steelers lacked emotion but the staff made some questionable playcalls late. That was under Bill cowher, a master motivator. Mike Tomlin seems to struggle more in flat spots, and in home games following Monday Night road wins Tomlin's Steelers are 0-3 with losses to Indianapolis (2008), Cincinnati (2009) and New England (2010). I don't see that trend changing this week after an emotional win on the West Coast.

THREE QUESTIONS: With OLB Bud Dupree

Q: You're tied with Hau'oli Kikaha for the NFL rookie lead with three sacks. Do you have a favorite sack?

BD: "Nah. Each one feels like a touchdown to me."

Q: Deacon Jones once said that when he sacks a quarterback he feels like he's taken down an entire city. Would you agree?

BD: "Yeeeaaahhh. Man, it's a powerful feeling."

Q: You've taken a few more snaps than Arthur Moats on your side, but it's pretty even. Are you feeling more fresh late in games because of the rotation?

BD: "Definitely. Last year I noticed that taking every snap makes you take some plays off, and you're just too tired. Now you feel fresh and every play you can go out and be fast."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers today against Arizona:

ON OFFENSE:


Will last week's late-game heroics spur Mike Vick? Well, he needs to get it going. In nearly an exact 50/50 split with Ben Roethlisberger, Vick has thrown for 29 percent of the Steelers' seasonal passing yardage and led the team to 31 percent of its points. He'll need Le'Veon Bell to continue with a two-game string of 100-yard rushing games; he'll need to trust Antonio Brown when Brown says "You've got to take some shots"; and he'll probably need the NFL's leading intercepting team to drop a few this game, too. But the Cards can be run upon, and that might be the place to start.


ON DEFENSE:


The matchup edge in the middle of the line goes to the Steelers' inside pass-rushers, and that could help disrupt Carson Palmer. Can the secondary continue its surprising early-season showing against Michael Floyd, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and Jermaine Gresham? And can the front seven stop a rejuvenated Chris Johnson? They'll need plenty of emotion both on the field and in the stands, and they'll need Palmer to make some mistakes. An inside rush would be the right place to start.
 
PREDICTION


No doubt a flat spot for the Steelers, and everyone knows Bruce Arians wants this badly, but this doesn't really add up to be the Carindals blowout so many seem to assume. For one, the Cardinals are coming off an away game at Detroit and have spent the week in West Virginia. And were haunted by a little girl's voice. At least
that's the story from safety Tony Jefferson. The Cardinals have only slight statistical edges at the line of scrimmage and scoring efficiency but have played a much easier schedule than have the Steelers. But as much as I'd like to make a contrarian case for the Steelers, Vick has to show more to sell me on an upset. Cardinals, 23-16.

BY THE NUMBERS

68: Number of years since the Cardinals' last NFL championship, the second longest drought in American professional sports behind the Chicago Cubs, who haven't won a championship in 107 years.


4: Number of starters from Super Bowl XLIII who'll play in today's game: Heath Miller, James Harrison, Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendelin. LaMarr Woodley would be a fifth but he's questionable for the Cardinals with a chest injury. Ben Roethlisberger, of course, has been ruled out.


3: Number of reserves from Super Bowl XLIII expected to start today's game: William Gay, Lawrence Timmons, Calais Campbell.


1965: Last time an NFL rookie (Gale Sayers) did what Cardinals rookie RB David Johnson has done in a team's first five games: 2 TDs rushing, 2 TDs receiving, 2 TDs kick return.


111.5: Number of career sacks by Dwight Freeney, whom the Cardinals signed earlier in the week.


1: Fitzgerald's college number, one of nine numbers retired by Pitt.


DOWNLOADS:

* Is this the Cardinals' year? Well, if it is their time to break a 68-year losing streak they'll have to overcome the curse of the Pottsville Maroons. The Maroons won the 1925 NFL championship but had it stripped for territorial violations. It was given to the runner-up Chicago Cardinals, whose owner felt Pottsville deserved it. But when the Bidwills bought the team in 1933, they refused to give up the banner. The NFL re-opened the case in 1963 and Art Rooney and George Halas were the only owners who voted for the Maroons. It was opened again in 2003, this time only the Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles voted for the Maroons. The banner remains with the Cardinals. So does the curse.


* It was 10 1/2 months since Matt Spaeth had been targeted with a pass, and when he was targeted Monday night early in the fourth quarter he dropped it. Of course, Spaeth is playing with a full cast on his right hand after breaking a bone while blocking against the St. Louis Rams. "I ain't here to make excuses. It was a ball I should've caught and my team needs me to catch it," said Spaeth. But what about that left-hander's spin? "Like I said, I'm not here to make excuses. I've got to get better."


* Reserve DT/NT Daniel McCullers was listed as probable Monday night but didn't play because his knee suddenly felt bad during pre-game warmups. He said he'll play today.


* The Cardinals have played in Heinz Field only one time, in 2003, when the Steelers broke their five-game losing streak with a 28-13 win. Tommy Maddox threw two touchdown passes to Hines Ward and one to Chris Doering, and Jason Gildon sacked Arizona QB Jeff Blake three times.


* Bell with his lean build has a bit of Marcus Allen in him, and that open-field high-step strut is all Walter Payton. Here's what Haley said when asked to make a comparison for his star running back: "It’s hard to compare him to a lot of different people because he is a little unique in how he does things. He is real patient. In Coach (Mike) Munchak’s first couple of games with him over the headset you would hear, 'Hit it! Hit it! Hit it!' [Laughs]. It’s just different. It takes some getting used to. But he has great vision and patience. He makes it work."


* Tuitt still leads the Steelers with 3.5 sacks, and his grades from Pro Football Focus say that his play against the pass (+4.3) is markedly better than his play against the run (+1.1). Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said this about Tuitt's run defense: "He’s still got a long way to go, but he’s getting better every week. He’s a bear when you’re trying to keep him from pass rushing, but there are some thing he can do better in the running game. He can be a better player. We like where he’s at right now. We want to see him continue to get better. We feel like he can. I don’t think we are nitpicking with him. I think we just want to see him on the rise, like we think he can."

PARTING SHOT

"I really see Mike Tomlin’s footprints on this defense more than before, when it was Dick Lebeau and Keith Butler. Now, it’s Keith and there’s a lot of Tomlin’s defense I see on tape. That’s a pretty good combination when you have those two guys working together." -- Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.




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