PITTSBURGH – There are memories that will linger from the Cardinals' five-day stay at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
Safety Tony Jefferson was convinced the place was haunted. Defensive tackle Cory Redding said he was handed a map and flashlight upon arrival and told 'May the Force be with you.' In a less harrowing moment, the entire roster gathered to watch the Monday Night Football game at the resort's sports bar.
"I've never done that in 12 years, having your whole team in one place together, breaking bread and having drinks," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
For those reasons the road trip won't soon be forgotten, but to make sure this nine-day, three-city stretch is looked back at with fondness, the Cardinals have one more objective: Leave Heinz Field on Sunday with a victory over the Steelers.
Two other times in the past eight years the Cardinals stayed on the East Coast for a week, and their combined record was 1-3. After beating the Lions last Sunday, they're halfway to a sweep and a joyful plane ride home.
"It would definitely be huge, because one of the hardest things to do is to get wins on the road," guard Jonathan Cooper said. "We kind of got off schedule losing the one game (to the Rams) at home. We try our best not to do that. This is what it will take to get where we want to go, to win consecutive road games and keep the ball rolling."
The Cardinals are facing the storied Steelers franchise for the first time since 2011 and for only the second time since their Super Bowl matchup in 2009. Coach Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator for Pittsburgh in that game and stayed with the team through the 2011 season until his contract wasn't renewed.
It will be his first regular season trip back to Heinz Field since the split, and while Arians has downplayed the reunion all week, his players believe it's a meaningful return. Arians is one of many Cardinals with Steelers ties. Coaches Larry Foote, Harold Goodwin, Amos Jones, Tom Moore, Brentson Buckner, Larry Zierlein and Levon Kirkland played or coached there. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, punter Drew Butler, center A.Q. Shipley and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are ex-Steelers.
"I'm more worried about Foote and Buckner and Levon Kirkland and LaMarr Woodley and A.Q. Shipley, all those guys from Pittsburgh, than me," Arians said.
The Cardinals won 10 games or more in the first two seasons with Arians and his Steelers-heavy staff, and seem well on their way to another double-digit victory total in 2015.
"Those guys started a great tradition in Pittsburgh, and they're trying to bring that tradition to the desert as well," cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
The Steelers are 3-2 and are among the AFC elite when healthy, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will miss his third straight game with a knee sprain. Pittsburgh is 1-1 with Michael Vick at quarterback, losing to the Ravens in overtime at home and beating the Chargers on a last-second touchdown run by Le'Veon Bell on Monday.
Vick's mobility can hurt defenses when plays break down, but the passing offense will be simplified.
"Mike's smart too, but you can tell Ben is a little better in this offense, as far as reading coverages or whatnot," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "It's just him being around longer."
Bell was suspended the first two games for violating the NFL's player conduct policy but has been back to his dominant ways since returning. He's averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry on the season.
Antonio Brown is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL, although his production has decreased with Vick at the helm. He returns punts and could see several quick screens, which puts the emphasis on sure tackling.
The Cardinals offense continues to roll. The team leads the NFL in scoring at 38 points per game and in yards per carry with 5.0. Quarterback Carson Palmer has the fourth-best quarterback rating (114.0) in the NFL.
While the Cardinals are coming off an impressive showing against the Lions, it's hard to predict how the team will respond from practicing all week "in the woods," as Minter put it, while staying in hotel rooms with hundreds of years of history.
"I haven't seen any ghosts or anything yet," Fitzgerald said Thursday, "but if I do I'll let you know."
The Cardinals escaped any paranormal activity at The Greenbrier. On Sunday, Arians will look to exorcise some demons in Pittsburgh.
Images of the key players for this week's opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers