The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Steelers at State Farm Stadium:
Defense, Disappointment, And A Duck
The Cardinals have struggled on defense, and in particular, against the pass. They have given up back-to-back games in which they have surrendered 424 passing yards. But there is a sample size for Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff. Devlin "Duck" Hodges, the current Steelers QB, has basically performed for a game-and-a-half, but he's led the Steelers to a couple of wins. Pittsburgh has leaned toward the ground game first – they've used James Conner and Bennie Snell and Jaylen Samuels, although Conner's injuries haven't helped – and with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Conner out, don't have the weapons at receiver it once did. The Cardinals have to find a way to hold up. Through 12 games, they have surrendered a passer rating of 113.5. The record for highest rating allowed in a season is the 116.2 the 2016 Saints gave up. The Cards need to make sure their number goes down on Sunday.
Steeling Yourself Against The Pressure Knowing The Pass Rush Is Coming
It wasn't long after the Rams game ended that quarterback Kyler Murray acknowledged that he had failed to trust his blocking after one early pressure, and those breakdowns ultimately made it hard on the passing game last week. It isn't as if Murray hasn't been good of late – a clunker of a game isn't the worst thing. But the Steelers have been playing defense as well as anyone in the league, and their pass rush – led by T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree – has caused chaos much of the season. The Cardinals have to find a way to counteract that pressure, and find a way to hurt the Steelers through the air. The Rams found that pressure and jumping the short routes would work. How might Murray and Kingsbury find a solution to that?
A Season Unto Itself, Take Two
The idea was that the final five games after the bye would be like it's own season, Kliff Klingsbury said. So that didn't exactly get off to the right start, the way the Cardinals performed last week in the loss to the Rams. Here's for a reset of the reset. Four games left, two at home – where the Cards have struggled the last two seasons – the Cards could find a way to knock off a playoff contender in the Steelers albeit a team that has holes and presents a winnable game. "I wouldn't say I'm proud of the way I'm handling it because, like I said, I don't like to lose, but I understand there're going to be ups and downs," Murray said this week. The numbers say most teams (that aren't the Dolphins) rebound well after a blowout loss and many win the next week. The Cardinals need desperately to snap their losing streak and remove that lousy taste of the Rams' loss. Getting a win at home would be preferable too.