Yesterday marked one of the toughest tests on the Pittsburgh Steelers' schedule in a daunting season. The injured Steelers entered week 6 at 3-2, remaining highly competitive and being defeated in both of their losses by just one score. While Ben Roethlisberger would remain out for at least one more week, second year phenom Martavis Bryant would return at wide receiver with a huge impact. He had a nice feature on Pennlive.com after the game. The Cardinals sat at 4-1, looking like one of the best teams in the NFL, with their only loss coming at the hands of the tough St. Louis Rams. Their defense has been considered among the top five in the league, and their offense has scored more points than any unit so far. So let's take a look at how this contest unfolded.
Vick's Swan Song
It looks as if yesterday may be the final time we see Michael Vick in an NFL uniform, at least in an active player capacity. The Steeler offense has looked absolutely anemic with Vick at quarterback, and it seemed as if the staff didn't trust his inaccurate arm to make big throws. With Vick at 1-1 as the Steelers' starter, they couldn't get anything going with him at the helm yesterday, despite Arizona being unable to put them away. Pittsburgh only had one single passing yard at halftime of this game, and Vick finished 3 of 8 for just 6 yards on the day. Vick went down with a hamstring injury on a routine run in the second half (via ESPN). Enter Landry Jones. Jones has often been chastised for his poor pre-season play and weak decision making, but he brought the Steelers' offensive unit to life yesterday. Jones finished 8 for 12, with 168 yards and two touchdowns, and a nearly perfect passer rating. Pittsburgh got points on every one of Jones' drives, and they escaped with a quality 25-13 win. The playbook was opened up for Jones, as the plays allowed him to throw the ball downfield and put the ball in the hands of Brown and Bryant. Vick simply wasn't trusted as a passing quarterback, and the offense was proven to be dangerously successful without him. With the Steelers being the only team to give Vick a chance this pre-season, he now sits at 3rd string on the depth chart. So it'll be hard to see him getting another relevant opportunity in the National Football League.
Last year, rookie Martavis Bryant bust onto the scene near the middle of the year for the Steelers. Coming out of nowhere, Bryant played in 10 games, notching 8 touchdowns in his first season. He also finished with 549 yards on over 21 yards per catch. This season, Bryant was suspended for the first four games, and missed last week due to injury. But yesterday was his season debut, and boy, did he ever make an impact. He was really the only receiver on Vick's radar yesterday, taking an 8 yard reverse and several screen passes early. But his real play-making was showcased after Landry Jones came in, becoming the third string QB's favorite go-to guy. Bryant converted on three separate third downs, including a leaping catch in the back of the end zone that sparked the Steelers' run. With Brown and Wheaton totaling just 32 receiving yards, Bryant sealed the Cardinals' fate with an 88 yard catch-and-run on the final score of the game. He finished with 6 grabs for 137 and two touchdowns. It should also be noted that Bell ran 24 times for 88 yards and kicker Chris Boswell went 4-for-4, including two kicks that went in from over 45 yards away.
Bend, But Don't Break
The Pittsburgh defense has risen to the challenge all year, and made plays when they absolutely had to. The Cardinals achieved a ton of yards, that much was a given. Carson Palmer went 29/45 for 421 yards, with one score and two interceptions. Despite 3 Cardinal receivers having big days of 50 yards or higher (John Brown had 196, Larry Fitzgerald had 93, and Michael Floyd had 50 and a score), they kept getting stalled and forced to punt in Steelers' territory. The Arizona running game had a hard time keeping any momentum, and the Pittsburgh blitz kept pressure in Palmer's face. Timmons pulled off a great one handed interception, and Mike Mitchell had his best game as a Steeler. Mitchell recovered a fumble and also got an interception in their own end zone, cutting off a sure Cardinals' score. James Harrison also showed up with a sack and a forced fumble. So as many times as this secondary gets torched, they tighten up on their end of the field. Pittsburgh improves to 4-2 while the Cardinals fall into that same record.