The 1-4 Arizona Cardinals are hosting the 4-2 Pittsburgh Steelers. On the surface it doesn't look like much of a matchup, but neither did it when the two played in the Super Bowl and it took a game-winning drive by the Steelers in which Ben Roethlisberger narrowly avoided sacks, Aaron Francisco slipped in coverage giving up a big gain and Santonio Holmes made one of the best catches in the end zone in Super Bowl history to defeat Arizona 27-23.
This time, the Cardinals are in much different circumstances. Kurt Warner, Bertrand Berry, Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby are either retired or signed to big contracts elsewhere. Kevin Kolb is now the quarterback and the team is currently mired in a four-game losing streak and three and a half games behind the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West standings.
Statistically, the Cardinals have the 18th ranked offense in yardage and 23rd in scoring. The face a Steelers team that is both number one in total defense and passing defense. Pittsburgh, though, scores only .6 points more per game than Arizona. The Cards have the 21st rated defense.
The history between the two teams is long and storied. They have been rivals in some way since 1933, with Pittsburgh owning a lifetime lead of the Cards by way of a 31-23-3 record.
Injuries will play a part in this game. The Steelers are a bit banged up, with LB James Harrison, NT Casey Hampton out. For the Cardinals S Kerry Rhodes is out with a broken foot and TE Todd Heap is unlikely to play because of his hamstring. He did not practice all week.
During the past two weeks, a lot of discussion as to what the Cardinals need to do to get back on track has been going on. According to Kevin Kolb, the offense has been "tweaked" to give them more success. Defensively, they need to somehow get some pressure on Big Ben. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who is one a several coaches who previously were part of the Pittsburgh staff, only has about 30 percent of the defense installed. He had hoped to be ready to use the full part of playbook by now, but instead is waiting a week longer so that Mike Williams does not roam free and unguarded in the middle of the field.
Strategically, the Cardinals would be wise to try and run the ball a lot with Beanie Wells. Pittsburgh may be starting a third-string NT because both Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke are hurt. Hampton is out and Hoke is doubtful. So hopefully the running game is used early and often up the middle.
Obviously the one thing that Cardinals must do is avoid turning over the ball. Kevin Kolb has been throwing interceptions at bad times.
So, do the Cardinals have even a chance this afternoon? Because the stadium sold out again, the game will be on local television on CBS.
Hopefully the crowd noise will be mostly Cardinals fans and not the Steelers fans that moved away to avoid that feeling where your home field sounds like a visitor stadium.
Pittsburgh is favored by 3.5 points. With the injuries, the bye for Arizona and being home, don't be surprised to see this game come down to the wire.