Six Points: Cardinals at Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers get back one of their best offensive weapons in Week 6 against the visiting Arizona Cardinals, but they'll still have to play without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Receiver Martavis Bryant's 2015 debut was pushed back a week after he tweaked his knee in practice last week. The second-year wideout emerged as a big-play threat last season for the Steelers (3-2) with eight touchdowns in 10 games.
Arizona (4-1) is coming off a dominant 42-17 win in Detoit in which quarterback Matthew Stafford was benched after throwing three interceptions. The Cardinals look to exact the same treatment on Michael Vick, who has struggled to find a rhythm in the Steelers offense.
Here are three keys to the game for both the 49ers and Steelers.
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1. Slow down Le'Veon Bell
This is arguably at the top of every scouting report, but with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined, the Steelers offense has sputtered. In short, it's essentially one-dimensional with Bell spearheading the attack via the ground or catching passes out of the backfield. The Cardinals would be wise to take their chances with Michael Vick's arm, rather than let Bell get into a rhythm and wear down the defense.
2. Protect Carson Palmer
The Steelers defense ranks tied for fourth in the league with 16 sacks and absolutely manhandled the Chargers' injury-riddled offensive line in Week 5. Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator Keith Butler has not shied away from using an aggressive style of play, one that could force the Cardinals to tweak their offensive game plan to keep Palmer upright.
3. Get the ball out of Palmer's hands quick
Looking for quick-hitters or screens is one way to counteract the Steelers aggressive defense. The Cardinals have three capable backs in Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson and David Johnson that can all catch passes out of the backfield. Larry Fitzgerald has also been utilized out of the slot more this season. It should be a point of emphasis for Bruce Arians' squad to slow down Pittsburgh's pass rush.
1. Send Martavis Bryant deep early and often
Bryant should pick up right where he left off last season by going long to stretch the field. Vick's best pass is his deep throw, but even if he can't connect with Bryant, Antonio Brown will have a lot more room to roam for his trademark intermediate routes underneath.
2. Find Antonio Brown
Brown is growing frustrated with his lack of opportunities and has urged Vick to get the ball in his hands so he can make some plays. Vick needs to heed his receiver's advice because nine catches and 87 yards in two games is simply not enough work for arguably the game's best receiver.
3. Key on Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is enjoying a rebirth after a down season in 2014. He'll certainly be looking to make a splash back in his old college town. He is leading the league with six touchdowns and 11 catches of 20 or more yards. The Steelers' defensive backs need to keep Fitzgerald in front of them and out of the end zone.