Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- Cardinals WR Marquise Brown (heel), TE Trey McBride (groin), and WR Michael Wilson (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. Wilson appears to be the one most at risk of missing Week 13 after failing to practice to start the week after two consecutive missed games.
- Steelers WR/KR Calvin Austin (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.
- This is a game between the team with the third-highest rush rate over expectation (Arizona) and the team with the fourth-highest rush rate over expectation (Pittsburgh).
- Overall play volume is likely to be an issue here.
How Arizona Will Try To Win ::
The Cardinals currently hold the third highest rush rate over expectation, run their offense with the fourth highest overall pace (27.3 seconds per play), and average just over 61 offensive plays per game (the NFL average is just over 63). They average a paltry 17.3 points per game (18.3 per game in Kyler’s three starts) and allow a massive 26.8 points per game (31st in the league). Furthermore, quarterback Kyler Murray has been one of the least efficient quarterbacks in the league this season per EPA/DB (expected points added per dropback). Basically, this team is a dumpster fire. That said, the Cardinals held a positive PROE value for the first time in a while last week against the Rams, which should be taken in context with the extremely negative game script they encountered. Even so, an inefficient offense with an inefficient quarterback does not instill the greatest deal of confidence moving forward.
The Cardinals cut bait on under-performing running back Keaontay Ingram before their Week 12 loss, bringing in Michael Carter from the Jets to take his spot on the roster. Carter then proceeded to play a hefty 38 percent of the offensive snaps in a blowout loss, seeing eight running back opportunities to the 11 of starter James Conner. While that does not necessarily spell the end of Conner as the lead back, it does paint an ominous picture for his expected snap rates and opportunity shares moving forward. In other words, was Conner seeing borderline elite snap rates and team opportunity shares over the previous two seasons because the team legitimately just didn’t have anyone behind him that they could trust? As things currently stand with this team’s backfield, expect Conner to act as the primary back, Emari Demercado to operate as the top change-of-pace option, and Carter to serve as the obvious passing down back. The matchup on the ground against the Steelers presents an unimposing spot as Pittsburgh has allowed 4.3 yards per carry behind a middling 1.23 yards allowed before contact.
Marquise Brown is the clear alpha of the offense but he has had to fight through consistently poor quarterback play this season and has played through a heel injury in each of the previous two games (on the injury report again this week with the same heel injury). Second-year tight end Trey McBride carries the top underlying metrics against zone coverage for the Cardinals but the Steelers are in man at the sixth highest rate in the league (just under 32 percent). Rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson has missed the previous two games after earning a near every down role for the Cardinals, which has opened up additional playing time for the only other pass-catcher on this team that has consistently earned targets outside of Brown and McBride – diminutive receiver Greg Dortch. Dortch has played 75 and 76 percent of the offensive snaps in the previous two games with Wilson sidelined, most notably playing over Zach Pascal for the first time this season. Rondale Moore is the on-paper WR2 in this offense but has historically struggled to command targets when on the field, generating poor per-route efficiency metrics throughout his career. From a macro perspective, Brown has commanded targets at an elite rate against man coverage this season, seeing a solid 29.5 percent targets per route run (TPRR) but catching just 11-of-23 looks against that primary coverage this year. Hint, teams play very low rates of man coverage against the Cardinals anemic offense.