Wins are keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers happy. The performances have been a lot less satisfying.
The Arizona Cardinals are hoping a week off has quelled their own frustrations.
The Steelers look for a more complete effort as they face the struggling Cardinals on Sunday in the first meeting since beating them in the Super Bowl nearly three years ago.
Pittsburgh (4-2) has won four of five, but those victories have come against teams with a combined 6-16 record. The Steelers have also failed to put together complete performances in those contests, and that happened again in last week’s 17-13 victory over Jacksonville.
They totaled 315 yards of offense in the first half to take a 14-point lead, but were held to 70 in the second half.
“We (want to be) a team that is good and executes on third down and in the red zone and not turn the ball over,” wide receiver Hines Ward(notes) said. “If we do that, we’re a pretty good ball club. We just have to be consistent. We are not doing it on a consistent level yet. But we’re getting there.”
The defense has found consistency and ranks as the best in the NFL, giving up 270.5 yards per game - 157.7 through the air.
Coach Mike Tomlin is pleased with the defense, but knows stiffer tests lay ahead. The four teams the Steelers have beaten rank 19th (Tennessee), 30th (Seattle), 31st (Indianapolis) and 32nd (Jacksonville) in the league in yards per game.
“I think the jury is still out on us,” Tomlin said. “We’ve done some nice things but due to some circumstances, one way or another, we haven’t been tested like we will be. The big challenges lie ahead.”
The superstar wide receiver leads the Cardinals (1-4) with 427 receiving yards and 27 receptions while adding two touchdowns. While those numbers may be somewhat modest for Fitzgerald, the Steelers are well aware of his capabilities after struggling to contain him in a 27-23 win over Arizona in the Super Bowl following the 2008 season.
Fitzgerald had 127 yards on seven catches while hauling in two scoring grabs in that meeting, which still weighs heavily on him.
“It still breaks my heart to this day,” Fitzgerald said. “But you’ve got to look to the future and try and get better and improve.”
Dealing with Fitzgerald may be a bit easier with a healthy Troy Polamalu(notes), the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He’s expected to be available after passing a concussion test earlier in the week. The safety exited last week’s win in the fourth quarter after apparently getting hit in the head while diving at running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s(notes) legs as he stuffed him on a third-and-1 play.
That could benefit the Cardinals, who are looking to snap a four-game slide that continued with a 34-10 loss at Minnesota on Oct. 9. They’re averaging 17.0 points and 222.8 passing yards during the losing streak, and feel the week off may provide an obstacle.
Kevin Kolb(notes) vented his frustration following the loss to the Vikings, as he completed half of his 42 passes for 232 yards with two interceptions and a fumble. He has a 77.2 rating on the season, but it’s a paltry 60.8 over the last three games while throwing one scoring pass and five picks.
“Kevin has always been a good leader,” said coach Ken Whisenhunt, a member of the Steelers’ staff from 2001-06. “Kevin has been working very hard to get better at some of the things, for instance, footwork things in the pocket, and if he does that I’m sure it is going to translate into us being more efficient offensively.”
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger(notes) has thrown nine touchdown passes and six INTs, but five of those scores came in a 38-17 win over the Titans on Oct. 9. He followed that up by completing 12 of 23 passes for 200 yards with one TD last week.
Rashard Mendenhall(notes) picked up some of the slack against the Jaguars, rushing for 146 yards and one TD on 23 attempts after a hamstring injury forced him out of the previous contest. He’ll now face a Cardinals run defense that has surrendered an average of 130.0 yards over the last four games.