Countdown to kickoff: Cardinals at Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals (4-1)
Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015
Heinz Field
1 p.m.


SERIES HISTORY:** Steelers lead, 32-23-3, regular season (Steelers lead, 1-0, postseason).

LAST MEETING: Steelers 32, Cardinals 20, Oct. 23, 2011, University of Phoenix Stadium: The visitors' win was highlighted by a 95-yard touchdown pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger to WR Mike Wallace, the longest pass play in Steelers' history and the second-longest play from scrimmage in franchise history. Roethlisberger finished with 361 yards passing, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and the Steelers' offense churned out a season-high 445 total yards. LB LaMarr Woodley was credited with a safety after QB Kevin Kolb was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, one of two sacks in Woodley's third consecutive multi-sack game.

LAST WEEK: The Steelers pulled off a last-play, come-from-behind, 24-20 win in San Diego on a 1-yard touchdown run by RB Le'Veon Bell from the Wildcat formation. The Cardinals collected six turnovers and roared back from a 7-0 deficit and won, 42-17, in Detroit.

WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL: They'll take the field confident in their ability to advance it either by running or passing. And why wouldn't they? Arizona leads the NFL with 190 points, 24 touchdowns, 17 red zone TDs, a 4.96 average per carry and a plus-100 point differential.

RB Chris Johnson has 405 yards and a 5.13 average per carry. RB Andre Ellington made his 2015 debut against the Lions and had 132 yards and two TDs on 15 attempts, including a 63-yard touchdown run. And rookie RB David Johnson has a 5.1 average per carry (91 yards on 18 rushes) and three rushing TDs. These Cardinals are more than their Kurt Warner-to-Larry Fitzgerald-and-repeat-as-necessary predecessors. The avalanche of eye-catching stats generated by the running game includes an NFL-best 23 runs of 10-plus yards and seven rushing TDs, one more than Arizona had in 2014.

QB Carson Palmer is healthy again and waking up some echoes (13 TDs, three interceptions, a 114.0 passer rating). Warner's been sacked seven times and he usually takes a lot of hits but he keeps winging it when he's upright and the mood strikes. Fitzgerald (35-490-14.0 per catch) is now considered more of a possession receiver but he leads the NFL with six receiving TDs. He's also become a willing blocker. WR John Brown (23-301-13.1-2) is considered the home run hitter due to his take-the-top-off-the-defense speed. TE Darren Fells also has two receiving TDs.


WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL:** Avoiding turnovers will be of the utmost importance against a defense that already has 11 interceptions and three pick-sixes.

The three impact players are DE Calais Campbell, CB Patrick Peterson and FS Tyrann Mathieu. Campbell's the heavy, Richard Seymour-type presence up front. Peterson will follow the other team's best receiver; WR Antonio Brown will presumably see him all day. And Mathieu will play a hybrid role that will include cornerback in passing sub-packages and the application of quickness, toughness and football smarts all over the field.

The base look is actually a traditional nickel, with second-year S Deone Bucannon (6-foot-1, 211 pounds) spending a lot of time in the box at a position the Cardinals identify as "$LB" on their depth chart, which also lists the more conventional "SAM," "WILL" and "ILB" positions. The Cardinals aren't a heavy-blitz or a great pass-rushing team. Woodley starts at "SAM" but comes out in passing situations. OLB Alex Okafor (calf) is out and might be replaced at "WILL" by rookie second-round pick Markus Golden. LB Dwight Freeney 111.5 career sacks) signed with the Cardinals this week.

SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: David Johnson (6-1, 224) has a 51.3-yard average on four kickoff returns, one of which went 108 yards for a TD at Chicago. Rookie PR J.J. Nelson was hurt in the second game at Chicago and hasn't played since but presumably still possesses the 4.32-speed that made him the fastest player at the combine. Peterson has a 5.8 average on nine punt returns this season and had four PR TDs in 2011. Steelers K Chris Boswell made his first attempt of the season (47 yards) at San Diego.

THE X-FACTOR: The Cardinals lost the physical battle and gave up 146 rushing yards on 19 Todd Gurley carries in their only loss of the season, 24-22 to St. Louis on Sept. 27 at Arizona. Will the Steelers be able to dominate physically? And can they do even more damage with Bell and RB DeAngelo Williams as they continue trying to find ways to win with QB Mike Vick?

THEY SAID IT: "I think I showed I can still go out and get it done. Techniques are changing, defensive philosophies are changing. But I feel like I've shown I still can adjust. Keep in mind I'm still in a new offense, as well. I'm still getting adjusted but still playing with a lot of confidence and just trying to rely on the guys around me to help me win the game." _ Vick on his continued efforts to replace Roethlisberger at QB for the Steelers

Here is a look at the statistical leaders for the both the Steelers and Cardinals heading into the Week 6 contest.

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