It’s one thing to lose to the good teams of the league, and all of the Steelers’ losses have been against teams who currently have at least seven wins. But to let a 2-10 Cardinals team that lacks elite talent come into Pittsburgh, a place they haven’t won since the late 1960s, and beat you down? That’s embarrassing.
The Steelers started off fast. They marched down the field on the opening drive of the game with the help of a 38 yard completion to George Pickens from Kenny Pickett. Unfortunately, their red zone woes continue to be detrimental and they had to settle for a field goal- those would be their only points until a garbage time touchdown from Diontae Johnson.
The Steelers outgained the Cardinals 91-21 in the first quarter, and yet the score was tied 3-3. Pittsburgh got the ball down to the Cardinals one-yard line when Kenny Pickett left the game with an ankle injury, and this is where the turning point of the game took place. The Steelers went for it on fourth and goal, and could not convert. They came out in shotgun and handed the ball to Najee Harris, who was stuffed. Matt Canada may be gone, but his fingerprints still linger on a lot of these bad play calls. Earlier in the first half, the Steelers ran a screen to Diontae Johnson on third down and four, which went nowhere and resulted in a punt.
After the turnover, the Cardinals marched 99 yards down the field and scored on a Trey McBride touchdown. I said coming into the game that one of the keys to victory would be limiting the plays over the middle- the Steelers didn’t do that. McBride caught eight passes for 89 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. Arizona didn’t have a ton of huge plays, but it was death by a thousand cuts. They were 10-of-17 on third down- the Steelers were 4-of-11. The Cardinals came to play, the Steelers didn’t- simple as that.
Now, there were a lot of underlying factors that certainly impacted the outcome. As already mentioned, Kenny Pickett went down with an ankle injury late in the second quarter and was ruled out. He was wearing a walking boot on the sideline, so we’ll see what this does to his status for Thursday against the Patriots. Elandon Roberts went down on the Cardinals’ touchdown drive in the second quarter with a groin injury and didn’t return, leaving Mark Robinson and Mykal Walker as the lone off-ball linebackers. T.J. Watt dinged up his ankle late in the game and went into the blue medical tent before returning, so we’ll see just how serious the injury is and if he practices this week. Left guard Isaac Seumalo also left the game with a shoulder injury, forcing Nate Herbig to fill his spot at left guard.
Speaking of the offensive line, Mason Cole is dreadful. He had multiple bad snaps today, one of which resulted in a fumble recovered by the Cardinals in great field position that led to the dagger in the form of a James Conner touchdown.
Injuries and two weather delays aside, the Steelers shot themselves in the foot more than anything. Miles Killebrew had three penalties by himself. Roberts made an unnecessary hit on an overthrown ball that would have resulted in a fourth down, but instead the Cardinals kept the ball and got three points off the penalty. The Steelers had nine penalties on the day to put an exclamation point on how unprepared and unbothered they looked.
Now, on a short week with several key injuries, they’ll face another bad team in the New England Patriots, and there will be no excuses if they lose. For as bad as the Cardinals are, the Patriots are worse. Arizona can at least say they sport a really good quarterback- new England will be trotting out Bailey Zappe, or hell, maybe Malik Cunningham if Bill Belichick is feeling frisky.
For a team who has yet to have a convincing win this season, they had no right to enter this game with any sense of arrogance or under-estimation of their opponent. But they did, and we saw the end result. Injuries aside, this is a game they still should have won against a dome team in the rain. Now, stacked with injuries, Thursday is close to a must-win with how the rest of the AFC playoff race is shaping up. So instead of being 8-4, the Steelers are now staring 7-6 in the face as they could end up blowing their playoff hopes.