By Christina Rivers

The Arizona Cardinals didn’t fly home after their dominating 42-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The NFC West leaders got onto a plane for West Virginia where they met with and signed Dwight Freeney on Tuesday and set up practices. The only loss the Cardinals have seen in 2015 was in week four, at home, to the St. Louis Rams by a score of 24-22. Through week five, the Cardinals have averaged 38 points per game and will rely on Bruce Arians’ knowledge of the Pittsburgh Steelers to help them continue their winning ways.

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The Cardinals on Defense

Freeney, 35, signed a one-year contract worth $870,000 plus $1 million in incentives for sacks, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Ed Werder. A veteran pass-rusher, Freeney had 3.5 sacks with the Chargers in 2014 and 111.5 in his career, placing him at No. 21 on the all-time list in the league. His signing is an attempt by Arizona to bolster their defense with outside linebacker Alex Okafor injured (calf) on Sunday.

Deone Bucannon currently leads the Cardinals’ defense in total tackles (30), with a combined effort from Jerraud Powers, Calais Campbell, Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, Patrick Peterson and Cory Redding which has made Arizona one of the toughest in the league this year. Arizona has recorded eight sacks, seven forced-fumbles and 11 interceptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

Arizona’s high-performance offense

Carson Palmer isn’t the flashiest of quarterbacks in the league, but has put together a decent stat sheet of his own this season. Completing 96-of-148 passes for 1,316 yards and 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions and seven sacks has given Palmer a rating of 114.0 through week five. Palmer has been consistent in his play, due in part to efficient play from his offensive line and a strong running game.

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Veteran running back, Chris Johnson, anchors the run for Arizona with 79 attempts for 405 yards (a 5.1 yards-per-attempt average) and two touchdowns. His leadership has benefited David Johnson and Andre Ellington as well. Ellington returned on Sunday after suffering a knee sprain in week one and has two touchdowns of his own with 132 yards rushing. Both Johnson and Ellington have the ability to break long runs, with Ellington earning a 63-yard touchdown against Detroit.

Larry Fitzgerald has 35 receptions on the season for 490 yards and six touchdowns. John Brown is close behind with 23 receptions for 301 yards and two touchdowns. Palmer has plenty of targets which has led the a balanced offense. The Cardinals have 13 passing touchdowns so far this season.

Cardinals players to watch

After the Steelers struggled to protect Michael Vick in the pocket, they will need to focus on the push from Arizona’s defensive line, but may be more concerned about the play of Powers and Patrick Peterson at cornerback. Peterson had a disappointing 2014 season, but has lost weight and gotten back on track this season. Through four games, Peterson has only been targeted 12 times, but allowed just four catches. Peterson lost Josh Bellamy of the Chicago Bears in a miscommunication that allowed a 48-yard touchdown, but has been solid since, allowing just 85 yards. With Powers recording one sack and one interception to Peterson’s two takeaways, the duo will shadow Pittsburgh’s receivers who are already finding frustration as Vick attempts to find them as he moves through the progressions.

Overview

Sunday’s game will be a true test for both the Cardinals and the Steelers. With Arians returning to Pittsburgh, he won’t have Roethlisberger, a close friend, to plan for, but will stand across the field from several others he knows very well on the sideline. This game looks to be a chess match from the start.

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.