PITTSBURGH -- It’s not just the little things in life. It’s the little things in football too.
When they’re done right, wins follow. The Arizona Cardinals have seen that in their four victories this season. But when done wrong, they can derail a game more quickly than the weather changed Sunday at Heinz Field. While Mother Nature couldn’t decide if she wanted to be sunny, cloudy or snowy, the Cardinals couldn’t figure out which thing to fix first.
“We didn’t do it right or well enough to get it done in all three phases,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We have to play better.”
Unlike in their first loss, two weeks ago against St. Louis, there wasn’t one overriding issue that plagued the Cardinals on Sunday. Instead, there were a bevy: penalties, missed opportunities in the red zone, bad throws, poor assignments, lack of focus and maybe a lack of confidence.
After a first half in which they tallied 279 yards but only 10 points, the Cardinals couldn’t find the end zone or a rhythm in the third quarter, when they were outscored 12-0. Pittsburgh outscored Arizona 22-3 in the second half, mainly behind its third-string quarterback.
Arizona didn’t have an answer for Landry Jones, who replaced Mike Vick after Vick got dirt in his eye and suffered a hamstring injury, per separate press box announcements. Jones threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns -- after Vick had been held to just 6 passing yards.
Not much -- if anything -- changed from the Steelers’ end when Jones took over, depending which Cardinals defender was asked. They felt like it was on them.
“I feel like they probably would’ve won, too, if Vick were in there, the way we were playing,” linebacker Kevin Minter said.
It wasn’t just Jones. The Cardinals were able to corral Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell in the first half and held him to 29 yards. But in the second half, he ran for 27 yards on one drive and 24 yards on another; both drives ended in points for Pittsburgh. Safety Tyrann Mathieu said Arizona loaded the box with eight defenders in an effort to slow Bell, but the Cardinals went away from that in the second half.
“For some reason, we let him off the hook,” Mathieu said. “And now we’re paying.”
Bell’s last carry, a 2-yard run with 2:20 left in the game, set up an 88-yard touchdown catch by Martavis Bryant, who weaved through the Cardinals' defense like someone trying to catch the last train.
“I won’t say we lost the fire, but in the fourth quarter, we played a little bit different,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We didn’t make the plays that we needed to make.”
Arizona’s offense had as many small problems as the defense, but quarterback Carson Palmer said its issues are equally easy to fix. The Cardinals finished the first half with nearly 300 yards but could only score one touchdown, whether because of a penalty, a failed third down, an interception or a missed field goal.
“I thought we moved the ball, for the most part, pretty well,” Palmer said. “Penalties and kicking field goals are what hurt us. We’ve been so good in some games in the red zone, and then today it wasn’t good enough, obviously.”
The Cardinals were 1-for-4 in the red zone. On third down, they finished 5-for-12 after going 4-for-8 in the first half.
An unnecessary roughness penalty on Bobby Massie in the first quarter moved Arizona out of field goal range. A chop block in the second quarter negated a 16-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald that would’ve put the Cards on Pittsburgh’s side of the field. A call of offensive pass interference on Michael Floyd erased a touchdown pass in the second quarter.
“We just felt like, eventually, we were going to get down there and score,” Fitzgerald said. “That was just the feeling that you had. Unfortunately, that never happened.”
Among the litany of mistakes and mishaps Arizona will seek to fix this week, Fitzgerald has his focus on one: red zone production. If that’s an easy fix, the rest of the season can take care of itself.
“We’re getting down there,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a ton of offensive red zone snaps. We just got to execute them better, point blank. That’s where it stops.
“If we are scoring touchdowns and we put 30 points on the board, we walk out of here with a win.”