Steelers Offense vs Cards Defense

In some ways, this game reminds me of the San Diego game.  The best defense going up against one of the top offenses.  Our offense vs. a middle of the pack defense that has played well over the past few games.  Personally, I'd be surprised if we completely shut down the Cards offense.  I'd be even more surprised if they passed up and down the field on us like they did for a half against Philly.  There's a good chance they'll stalemate at about 14-24 points and the game will largely be decided by the other matchup: our offense against their defense. 

I did a little research on how our offense performed against different opponents before the SD game, and here's what I wrote:

I looked at our opponents’ yards and points against and compared them to the yards and points we scored over the course of the regular season. Here’s what I found:
Opposing teams averaged 20.0 points and 310 yards (division weighted x2) against them. If anyone cares, that’d be the 11th yardage and 10th scoring defense.
We averaged 21.7 points and 312 yards, giving us on average +1.7 (7.9 percent) points and +1.5 (0.5 percent) yards versus the other teams they played. This suggests that our offense is almost exactly average at moving the ball, and I’ll hypothesize that our defense accounts for a lot of the point value over average. I find it odd that our FO offensive DVOA is an identical number (1.7) I hope that’s not their “proprietary formula”.
Now let’s split how we performed against top 10 defenses and everyone else. We played 7 games against top 10 defenses, averaging 16.1 points and 259 yards. The top 10 defenses averaged 17.6 points and 281 for the year. So on average, we were -1.4 (-8.8 percent) points and -21.7 yards (-8.4 percent) from our opponents’ opponents’ offenses. We were above average in 2 of 7 games in both points and yards.

On the flip side, we were +4.2 (16 percent) points and +19.6 (5.6 percent) yards against non-top 10 defenses. We were above average in 7 of 9 games in both points and yards.

This suggests the following:
1) On average, our offense is almost exactly average.
2) Our offense performs worse than most teams would when faced with a good defense and better than most teams would when faced with a bad defense. All teams production should fall off against good defenses, but ours declines more rapidly than usual as opposing defenses get better.

We can analyze the reasons for this, but it looks like a pretty consistent trend. This is, of course, the worst kind of playoff offense around since you want them to step up to the challenge, instead of backing down. If we want to win the SB, we may have to beat the Ravens, Titans, Giants, or Eagles. The good news is we play the Chargers this week.

Against the Chargers, we continued that trend of shredding bad defenses, blowing away their usual scoring defense, although we underperformed their average yardage by 7 yards.  We then beat the Ravens season averages by a point and a handful of yards, but only after Carey Davis and Limas Sweed took finished off the last of their healthy CB's.  We certainly didn't do that running the ball.  We are fortunate that that was the only "top" defense standing between us and the SB trophy. 

On the other side, during the regular season, the Cardinals defense was 19th in yardage, 28th in scoring, 30th in passer rating, and 11th in rushing YPC.  If you're a FO believer, they were 21st in DVOA, 23rd against the pass, and 15th against the run. 

They've played better in the playoffs, but not exceptionally so.  They've averaged 324 yards (would have been 12th in the regular season) and 21 points (14th, reg. season) in games against a rookie QB and huge QB meltdown (not that they don't get any credit for that).  They've gotten a ton of turnovers, but especially the Panthers game had "outlier" written all over it.  They did actually get one more turnover than we did in the regular season, but ended +0 in overall ratio, whereas we were +4. 

So looking at the stats, they look like a poor defense that has stepped it up to average in the playoffs, which still bodes well for our offense.  Looking away from the numbers for a moment, I've been harping on this a lot, but the Steelers offense struggles against 2 things: man press coverage on the WR's, and athletic, penetrating defenders.  The Cardinals have no shortage of penetrating defenders: Dockett, Berry, Dansby and Wilson are all good pass rushers would could also disrupt our POS zone running game.  However, they don't have a CB like Sheldon Brown or Carlos Rogers who can disrupt quick timing routes with successful jams.  I have no doubt that DRC will do a good job on Holmes, but he's a lanky speed guy, and I question how well he'll do in this area.  If Holmes beat the jam and beats him to the inside on a blitz, he could be running for a long time.  On the other side, Hood is bigger, but he's also easier to run away from.  If the Cards want to consistently blitz Wilson and/or Dansby, they are going to risk some big RAC plays on quick slants and drags.  So basically, I don't think they can do what the Eagles did to us. 

The Cardinals defense matches up with us a little better than the Chargers defense did - especially in the running game - so I don't think this is going to be a cake walk.  However, there's isn't much reason to think they'll be able to get our offense into self-destruct mode, and I think Ben will have some success against their secondary.  I still say if we can run the ball, it's over. 

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