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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers West Coming Off Bye Tough Test For Steelers

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It makes no nevermind to PZB that former Steelers coach - and current Steelers West coach - Ken Whisenhunt is 1-3 coming out of bye weeks. What matters is the Cardinals have shown flashes of life in their running game, and a steady diet of Beanie Left could cure their ails.

Steeler Moses, however, could give them even more ails, just as long as one of the league's best deep passing combinations hits for a bit more accuracy.

Familiar foes square off again, PZB's gonna take you through what will be a competitive four-quarter game. 

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Of all the Bye Week Game Balls given to Cardinals players by the writers of Revenge of the Birds, none went to prize free agent acquisition Kevin Kolb.

Cardinals RB Beanie Wells shares his thoughts on LeBron's NFL position, Big Macs and the task of building bedrooms during bye weeks.

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald sarcastically reminds us Anquan Boldin was a productive player in Arizona.

Last Game

That slightly acidic and metallic taste in SteelerNation's collective mouth is caused by unmet expectations. Jacksonville's 1-4, they have a rookie quarterback, their uniforms are teal. There's no reason the Steelers shouldn't have expanded on a 17-rip halftime lead.

Those kinds of expectations are what surrounds a team with Super Bowl aspirations playing a teal team at home starting a rookie passer.

Just how realistic are they?

They pay the other guys, too. For as downright miserable as Blaine Gabbert looked at times, roughing the punter penalties extend drives and keep the ball in the hands of studs like Maurice Jones-Drew. It also keeps Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons playing out of position, and Larry Foote probably playing more snaps than he should play.

Even with those obstacles, the Steelers defense - now leading the league at 270.5 yards per game - barely allowed the Jaguars to move, save a few drives here and there.

With 130 yards on the ground at halftime, the loss of LG Doug Legursky - wait for it - hurt the team more than it helped. Legursky may have found a more permanent future home over the last two weeks, as the Steelers rushed for 359 yards in games when Legursky starts at left guard.

Despite the Jaguars' now 1-5 record, they are a solid defensive team, and put together a good effort. The wind was also blowing pretty hard at Heinz Field, as characterized by several missed passes by both Gabbert and Ben Roethlisberger.

Even when it came down to a Gabbert pass short of the end zone (trying to replicate the magic they had last season when Mike Thomas trailed a David Garrard pass short of the end zone, only to catch the rebound, completing a 50-yard Hail Mary to defeat Houston), the Steelers never waivered. They may not have forced any turnovers, but they didn't commit any either. They got big plays from the offense, sacks from the defense and beat a team they should have beaten.

It's not like they're in the BCS and get points for size of victory. 

Opponent Spotlight: RB Beanie Wells

WR Larry Fitzgerald made comments this week pertaining to the opponents of the Cardinals basically selling out to not let Fitzgerald beat them.

Not a bad strategy, considering Steelers fans, of all people, know what Fitzgerald can do.

It wasn't Fitzgerald crying for help, but we can fill in the blanks. Offensively, he and QB Kevin Kolb are clearly not in rhythm, and their offense is sputtering.

After a week off to re-tool their dismal offensive line, expect the Cardinals to strap on the pads and try to dominate the Steelers defensive line the way teams have in stretches this season.

Literally, in and with stretches.

While Wells is not going to be a great cut-back runner a la Ray Rice and Arian Foster, the concept will still be implemented in how Arizona approaches their rushing attack. They're going to want to get Wells on the outside, particularly targeting either out-of-place OLB Lawrence Timmons or second-year OLB Jason Worilds - whichever will get the bulk of snaps at the Steelers ROLB position.

Wells is running with much more balance this season compared to last, where he struggled through much of the year with injuries. His hamstring should be tuned up this week, and the Cardinals will challenge their offensive line to win this game for them on the ground.

It may be a good game to get Timmons back to his natural inside linebacker position just to help with the run, but regardless of who's on the edge, they're going to have a tough assignment in fending off pulling guards and hauling down the 240-pound Wells. His ability to run through creases will be a determining factor in Arizona's success.

Steelers Spotlight:  WR Mike Wallace

The Steelers are going to stick with what works.

Roethlisberger-to-Wallace works. With 10 hook-ups from 40+ yards in the last three seasons, it's the second-most prolific QB/WR combination. The Cardinals are going to see plenty of them Sunday.

While technically, Wallace's success is going to be based off the production Mendenhall will get early, the last three games, Roethlisberger has been looking to drive the game-ending dagger in his opponents from way out. Against Jacksonville, a tough swirling wind prevented a few would-be completions to an open Wallace. They hit one against Tennessee. Roethlisberger got hit on a few against Houston.

Arizona has an exploitable secondary, a meager pass rush and the controlled environment of University of Phoenix Stadium will give Wallace running room and open looks.

The problem this season has been the frequency of times Roethlisberger has dipped in the well, only to find nothing. He's thrown 26 passes 20 yards or more down the field, completing just eight of them (34.6 percent) with only two of them going for touchdowns. At least one of those throws Wallace caught despite poor throws from Roethlisberger. The Steelers' desire to throw deep is well-known, but teams have to start thinking their infrequency of completing it is reason to blitz the bejeezus out of them, counting on poor throws to bail them out of the blitz doesn't work.

All the more reason for Wallace to take this game over.

Much of this will be predicated off the play-action, in which Wallace can help set up. He doesn't always sell the run very hard, and the Cardinals secondary is likely to be well-schooled in all things Wallace this week. Former Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton is the defensive coordinator in Arizona, and he saw plenty of Wallace the last two seasons. Wallace will have to show consistency in his body language off the line, because in even coverage, the Cardinals don't have a chance in covering him down the field.

I See You

I see you, Brett Keisel, a.k.a Steeler Moses. Even after highlighting you in the Play of the Week for your first of two sacks of Gabbert, it didn't dawn on me until a commenter on that article asked whether you were still improving, even at the "ancient" age of 33.

You played your best football in 2010, and 2011 is quickly giving that Pro Bowl season a run for its money. SteelerNation will look back on this season as The Year Steeler Moses Blew Up. Whether that's the improvement of your game, a in-depth understanding of a complex position or the fact you're just kicking tail, your performance against Jacksonville was lights-out, especially when it had to be. Of your two sacks, the first came on third down and the second came on Jacksonville's last drive. Nothing is more crippling for an offense than taking a sack on its final drive without any timeouts.

I see you, Steeler Moses, may the power coming from your beard continue to flow.

Key Stats

  • The Steelers Week 6 victory moved them to 17-1 when Chris Hoke starts at NT
  • Under Dick Lebeau, the Steelers are 12-1 when facing a rookie QB
  • Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is 1-3 coming out of bye weeks