Red zone 'D' keys Steelers' victory


Steelers' record: 4-2
One year ago: 3-3
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 35-23-3


This was how Coach Mike Tomlin saw the game against the Cardinals unfolding: "We have to do a great job of protecting the football. They feed off turnovers. If they're getting turnovers then we're going to be in a situation that's uncomfortable for us, because we're going to have to try to match scores with a potent offense using a backup quarterback. That can't happen, and so we have to take care of the football. On defense, we have to slow their offense down. If they move the ball some, we have to make them kick field goals. That's what the St. Louis Rams made them do. The Cardinals went up and down the field on the Rams some, but the Rams made them kick five or six field goals over the course of the game, and that was a formula for winning. Defensively, we have to play good ball when the field gets short, and offensively it's paramount that we take care of the football."

Job 1, according to Tomlin, was to protect the football, to avoid the kinds of turnovers the Cardinals had been using as a springboard to blowing out four of the first five opponents, and that was accomplished.

Mike Vick might have completed only 3-for-8 for 6 yards in his one half plus one series of play, but he didn't throw an interception to a Cardinals defense that came into Heinz Field leading the NFL with 11. When Vick injured a hamstring and had to be replaced by Landry Jones, the Steelers still protected the football in flawless fashion. Jones completed 8-of-12 for 168 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. And Jones was more aggressive throwing the ball down the field than Vick.

The second part of Tomlin's formula – holding the Cardinals to field goals at the end of their offensive possessions – also came true, except on three of the Arizona possessions that ended with the Steelers defense taking the ball away.

The Cardinals ran 66 offensive plays – to 53 for the Steelers, by comparison – and they gained 469 yards of total offense. Their quarterback, Carson Palmer, passed for 421 yards but completed only 51 percent; John Brown caught 10 passes for 196 yards; and Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 93 yards. Palmer completed passes of 45, 44, and 32 yards, but the Cardinals were just 1-for-4 in the red zone. And they were minus-3 in the turnover ratio.


Game action from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 6 game against the Arizona Cardinals.

There was a lot not to like about the Steelers offense in the first half, but finishing with 59 total yards on 22 plays summed up the overall futility.

It would be trite to point to the insertion of Landry Jones at quarterback and label it the turning point, but it was a bit more involved than that. What actually got things moving in the Steelers' direction came one play earlier, when James Harrison forced a fumble that Mike Mitchell recovered at the Arizona 32-yard line. With that takeaway coming on the heels of a 48-yard field goal from Chris Boswell that cut the Cardinals lead to 10-6, the mood in Heinz Field seemed to brighten, at the same time as a brief shower ended and the sun cracked through the clouds.

In his first 11 NFL games, Martavis Bryant has three touchdown catches of 80-or-more yards.

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