Bruce Arians had turned the Cardinals back around after his predecessor both in Arizona and in Pittsburgh as offensive coordinator, Kevin Whisenhunt, saw his version of the team plummet from NFC champions in 2008-2009, to 5-11 in 2012.
Part of what has brought the Cardinals back has been their defense and the versatility they've shown in multiple players being able to get jobs done. Arizona's defense is aggressive, flowing hard to the ball and trying to beat offenses to the punch. They are currently the fifth best defense when it comes to the points per game, they've forced the second most turnovers in the NFL with 13 through five games, and are part of a team that has taken an early lead in the NFC West, a division dominated for years between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers.
Pittsburgh is going to have to establish the run against Arizona to give Vick better opportunities in the passing game. Vick threw a few passes that could have been picked off against San Diego were there secondary more on their game; the Steelers cannot hope for the same sort of luck this week against a secondary led by Patrick Peterson.
The Cardinals' only loss this season came against the St. Louis Rams, a team Pittsburgh has defeated, whom was led by rookie running back, Todd Gurley.
Gurley racked up 146 yards on 19 carries against Arizona and led the way for the Rams offense two weeks ago as St. Louis won 24-22. Pittsburgh's best chance against Arizona would be a similar performance this week. Let's look at just how aggressive Arizona's defense has been by looking at some of their more aggressive run-defense plays the past two weeks.
Kevin Minter is a problem in the Cardinals' front seven. He's quick to the ball and leads the Cardinals' linebackers and linemen in tackles. Watch this play as he disects the run scheme quickly and is too quick for the right tackle to come out of his zone blocking assignment to catch him. Pittsburgh's run blockers need to identify where Minter is and be prepared to keep him from stopping running plays before they can start.
This play is another example of Arizona's aggressiveness on defense. Here they do a good job of flowing to the strong side of the offense and not making that way an option. However their backside pursuit leaves a solid opportunity for Abdullah to make a play and he manages to gain five yards. The Steelers have shown that they can run to the weak side of offensive formations with Le'veon Bell. If Bell can get one-on-one matchups on defensive backs like this, it could lead to bigger splash plays for the superstar running back.
We mentioned earlier how Gurley gashed the Cardinals' defense for a ton of yardage two weeks ago, so we thought it appropriate to show one of his successful run plays. This play went for 30+ yards and was sprung because of a combination of factors. The Cardinals' aggressiveness follows the motion of the Rams, but the motioned tight end peels back to the weak side of the formation to pick off the first defender he comes across. Fortunately for St. Louis, Woodley overshoots the play by chasing Foles and the tight end can pick off Minter and spring Gurley for a huge play.
The Steelers have solid run blockers on both their offensive line, and in Heath Miller in Roosevelt Nix. Taking advantage of the Cardinals' aggressive attack to the strong side of offenses may be a key to victory this Sunday when Pittsburgh takes them on at Heinz Field.
Both Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are adept at playing in space and if the offense can get them in space it will take a lot of pressure off of Michael Vick to have to force several plays against the Cardinals. Look for some solid backside counters and traps to keep Arizona off-balance this Sunday.