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Nightmarish Sunday for Cardinals secondary

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

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

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.