Steelers Hope Offensive Uptick Against Cincinnati Wasn't A Mirage As Struggling Cards Visit

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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ARIZONA (2-10) at PITTSBURGH (7-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, CBS.

OPENING LINE: Steelers by 5 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Cardinals 6-6; Steelers 7-4.

SERIES RECORD: Steelers lead 35-23-3.

LAST MEETING: Steelers beat Cardinals 23-17 on Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz.

LAST WEEK: Cardinals lost to Rams 37-14; Steelers beat Bengals 16-10.

CARDINALS OFFENSE: OVERALL (28), RUSH (16), PASS (31), SCORING (28).

CARDINALS DEFENSE: OVERALL (27), RUSH (23), PASS (23), SCORING (7).

STEELERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (26), RUSH (14), PASS (28), SCORING (28).

STEELERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (25), RUSH (22), PASS (24), SCORING (5).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Cardinals minus-1; Steelers plus-11.

CARDINALS PLAYER TO WATCH: Safety Jalen Thompson has had interceptions in back-to-back games and is playing some of the best football of his five-year career. Thompson has 55 tackles this season, which is the most on the team for a healthy player after linebacker Kyzir White (biceps) went on injured reserve last week.

STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: Linebacker T.J. Watt is putting together a season eerily similar to his 2021 campaign in which he tied the NFL record for sacks in a season on his way to AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin called Watt the best defensive player “on the planet” this week and he might not be wrong. Watt has 13 1/2 sacks heading into the weekend and has been remarkably consistent, racking up at least one half-sack in nine of Pittsburgh's 11 games.

KEY MATCHUP: Arizona's defensive line vs. Pittsburgh's running game. The Cardinals gave up 228 yards on the ground against Los Angeles last week and now face one of the NFL's best running back duos in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. The Steelers have topped 150 yards on the ground in each of the past four weeks, the first time they've done that since 2006.

KEY INJURIES: The Cardinals hope WR Michael Wilson (shoulder) can return after being inactive last week. WR Marquise Brown (heel), TE Trey McBride (groin) and S Jalen Thompson (ribs) are all dealing with injuries that kept them out of Wednesday’s practice. ... The Steelers are hoping to get S Minkah Fitzpatrick back. The perennial All-Pro hasn't played in a month because of a hamstring injury. Pittsburgh DT Montravius Adams is also expected to return after missing two games because of an ankle injury. WR Calvin Austin (ankle) missed practice during the week.

SERIES NOTES: It's just the fourth time the two teams have played since the Steelers beat the Cardinals 27-23 in 2009 in a Super Bowl thriller. The Steelers have won six of the past seven meetings overall with Arizona. The Cardinals haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1969, when the franchise was based in St. Louis and Chuck Noll was in his first season of what became a Hall of Fame run with the Steelers.

STATS AND STUFF: The Steelers have won three of four to vault to the top of the AFC wild-card race. The Cardinals are 1-2 since QB Kyler Murray returned from a torn ACL. ... The Cardinals started four rookies on defense last week, including DL Dante Stills and DBs Garrett Williams, Kei’Trel Clark and Starling Thomas V. Other than the 1987 season, which had replacement players because of a work stoppage, it's the first time since at least 1970 that the Cardinals have started that many rookies on defense. ... The Steelers are one of three teams that Cardinals RB James Conner has never faced. Conner played for the Steelers from 2017 to 2020. ... TE Trey McBride has 48 catches for 521 yards this season and needs just nine more catches to set the franchise record for a tight end. ... Arizona ranks 10th in the NFL with 121.8 yards rushing per game. ... The Cardinals have 14 runs that have gained at least 20 yards this season. That ranks second in the league behind the Dolphins. ... Murray has thrown for 719 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in three games since his return from an 11-month absence because of an ACL tear in his right knee. ... The Steelers are playing their second game since firing Matt Canada as offensive coordinator and replacing him with Eddie Faulkner. Pittsburgh piled up 421 yards against Cincinnati last week with Faulker putting together the game plan and Mike Sullivan calling the plays. It marked the first time the Steelers had topped 400 yards since 2020. ... Steelers QB Kenny Pickett threw for a season-high 278 yards against the Bengals and hasn't thrown an interception in 208 pass attempts and counting, the longest active streak in the league. ... Harris has shown a burst this season. He already has seven runs of 20 yards or longer after having just one run over 20 yards all of last season. ... Pittsburgh rookie CB Joey Porter Jr. is quickly developing into one of the better players at his position in the league. Opposing QBs have a passer rating of just 73.5 when targeting Porter this season, and he's allowed just one touchdown. ... While Murray is one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league, the Steelers have proven adept at handling QBs who can make plays with their legs, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson in particular. Pittsburgh limited Jackson to 45 yards rushing in a win over Baltimore on Oct. 8.

FANTASY TIP: It can sometimes be a coin flip when trying to figure out whether to start Warren or Harris, who have taken turns being a difference-maker in the running game. Harris, however, seems to be the preferred choice near the goal line — all four of his touchdowns this season are from 10 yards or closer — so he's the pick.

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