After a divisional victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to face the Arizona Cardinals at home. This game offers the Steelers a chance to notch up their second consecutive win, setting the stage for a favorable stretch of remaining games where they can further solidify their position.
This game isn't one the Steelers just want to breeze through. They're looking to make a statement and, for the first time this season, put together a solid performance that truly showcases the team's potential.
How will the offense build upon from last week?
The offense showed promising strides last week, making noticeable and significant improvements that can serve as valuable building blocks for the rest of the season. Under Matt Canada's tenure, one of the major concerns was the implementation of high school-level route concepts by the offense.
With Canada no longer in charge and the first game without him, we witnessed the incorporation of more suitable and standard passing concepts, including added personnel groupings and more purposeful motion. These much-needed improvements, alongside a long-awaited increase in Kenny Pickett's aggressiveness, were immediately apparent.
Despite these positive changes, the team struggled to convert in the red zone, a crucial area that must be addressed moving forward. Looking ahead to Sunday's game, I anticipate seeing similar positive developments from last week, possibly with some added wrinkles and packages.
The utilization of the middle of the field and attempts downfield should become staples in the passing game. Maintaining the ability to keep safeties deep and forcing them to respect the threat of a downfield passing attack will contribute to sustaining the strength of our running game.
Additionally, I expect an increase in play-action usage as the running game gains momentum. The running game itself has been a standout since the bye week, making it crucial for the offense to build upon this success. Given the aggressiveness of the Cardinals' defense and their playmaking abilities, it's essential not to be overly aggressive and avoid forcing plays.
Protecting the ball is paramount, especially after last week's turnover. Moreover, facing a defensive strategist like Jonathan Gannon, who employs disguised coverages and stunts, the offensive line and running back group must improve their pass protection and effectively pick up specific stunts. Overcoming these challenges will be pivotal against a defense known for its adaptability and intensity.
Keys to containing Kyler Murray
Defensively, the Steelers are likely to welcome back Minkah Fitzpatrick, a significant boost in their ability to spy and contain Kyler Murray. Given Murray's considerable threat on the ground, it's crucial for the Steelers to employ strong gap integrity and disciplined football on Sunday. The focus must be on keeping Murray within the pocket, denying him the opportunity to play outside of structure and make plays on the move.
Teryl Austin needs to devise stunts that generate pressure in the quarterback's face while maintaining containment outside the tackles to restrict Murray's mobility. Given Arizona's QB's height disadvantage, the Steelers should aim to transform him into a pocket passer.
Last week's effective use of post-snap rotations and disguises by the Steelers' secondary should become a consistent strategy. This approach clearly confused Jake Browning, and incorporating diverse looks, both pre and post-snap, can unsettle mobile quarterbacks, forcing them to hold onto the ball longer or make bad decisions—a strategy the Steelers' defense is expected to employ more on Sunday.
Final thoughts and predictions
In conclusion, in the NFL, no team should be overlooked based on record. The Cardinals can be a feisty team and have managed to stick around in some games. The Steelers absolutely can't afford to let this team keep it close until the 4th quarter. As mentioned earlier, this is a game to showcase what type of team they have. I anticipate Sunday to be one of the more complete games of the season for the Steelers, witnessing the offense finally take that next step and score more points.