You can't say that the Arizona Cardinals weren't aware of Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace passing combination heading into Sunday's game. They were.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton spoke last week about scaling down the defense and taking a lot of looks out of the rotation because, in his words, they "weren't ready."
Horton also explained a big reason why things were scaled down. "Because of Mike Wallace," Horton said. "He's a special guy. You have to respect what he does and I don't want a bad matchup with 17 (Wallace) who's averaging 20 yards a catch running deep on us."
If you didn't watch the game and somebody told you that Wallace would have only three catches in the game, you'd probably be pretty happy about it.
Wallace did have only 3 catches but one of them went for a team-record 95 yards and a touchdown in the 2nd quarter of the Steelers' 32-20 win. It was just part of a nightmarish day for the Cardinals secondary.
Think about this for a minute...in the 77 seasons of Pittsburgh Steelers football and the 28,348 passes that have been thrown in the history of the franchise (yes, I figured it out--I'm pathetic), not one of them has spanned more yardage than the Roethlisberger to Wallace touchdown pass that put the Steelers up two touchdowns midway through the 1st quarter in Glendale on Sunday.
And this was after Horton made tweaks to the defense to protect against bad match-ups. Have you seen the replay? Richard Marshall guarding Mike Wallace with Rashad Johnson supplying over-the-top support is the very definition of a bad matchup against Mike Wallace.
The play was interesting because before the snap, Adrian Wilson was motioning to Johnson, who was lined up on the right side of the Cardinals' defensive alignment--opposite of where Wallace, the only wide-out in the Pittsburgh formation. Wilson was playing close to the line of scrimmage against the Steelers' big, two tight-end formation.
Roethlisberger saw it, and threw a perfect strike to Wallace who had blown by Marshall off the line (Marshall never made contact with Wallace and took a very strange path in coverage). Johnson, who again, was lined up on the other side of the field, simply had too far to run to catch the lightning-fast receiver, and literally, history was made.
But it wasn't just that play that stood out in the loss. Roethlisberger threw for 361 yards, his 9th-highest single-game passing total. And it was only the second game in Roethlisberger's top nine where the Steelers were never playing from behind.
How about the penalties? The Cardinals committed nine penalties for 67 yards in the loss. Five of those infractions came against members of the secondary. Wilson was flagged for a facemasking personal foul on the Steelers' first touchdown drive. There were three penalties on the secondary during Pittsburgh's drive that ended in a field goal that put the Steelers up 17-7 as time ran out in the first half. Marshall's defensive holding call on third down that extended the drive was obviously the most costly.
Patrick Peterson, who actually showed glimpses of improvement in coverage, had three penalties on the day, including an offsides on a 47-yard field goal attempt, that shrunk it to a 42-yard attempt that Shaun Suisham nailed.
And for good measure, reserve Michael Adams had two penalties, although one was declined. The other was a defensive holding call which offset a face masking penalty on tackle Jamon Meredith on a third down play.
We knew there would be a transition period for the Cardinals' defensive backfield, with new starters A.J. Jefferson and Peterson at the corners and an injured Adrian Wilson playing through pain (again).
But after a bye week, you could have argued that the Cardinals' defensive backs would have showed improvement. That was not the case on Sunday.