This week, the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys travel to Heinz Field to take on the 4-4 Pittsburgh Steelers, a matchup between two teams that have a combined 11 Super Bowl victories and 16 Super Bowl appearances. These two traditional powerhouses have not met since the 2012 season when the Cowboys won a nail-biter in overtime, but, with three prior Super Bowl matchups between the Cowboys and the Steelers, Sunday’s game will be anything but ordinary.
The Cowboys are looking to build upon their stellar season with their fifth straight victory on-the-road and eighth straight victory overall. Meanwhile, struggling with injuries and suspensions all season, the Steelers seem to be looking for answers in all the wrong places after starting the season 4-1 before dropping the last three games.
Back in 2012, the matchup featured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown vs. Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. While the former remains the same for the Steelers, the Cowboys have two fresh faces, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, entering the hostile environment of Heinz Field.
While an obvious storyline will be how Prescott and Elliot perform on-the-road against a preseason Super Bowl contender, it will be interesting to see how Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell do against a defense that ranks in the top 10.
The Dallas defense allowed 98 yards to Green Bay Packers wide receiver Ty Montgomery in Week 6 and 86 yards to Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles in Week 8. The two respective yardage totals are the most a single wide receiver and running back have put up against the Cowboys defense this season. In other words, this stout defense has yet to allow a 100-yard receiver or rusher, and only two teams have scored more than 20 points against the Cowboys. With Prescott and Elliot providing a fast-paced, smash mouth offensive attack, it is hard for opposing teams to win not scoring more than 20.
The only question for the Cowboys defense lies in the secondary. Safety Barry Church and cornerback Morris Claiborne are out again with injuries, which does not bode well with Roethlisberger’s tendency to throw it both deep and often. This secondary should struggle all afternoon trying to cover Pro Bowler Antonio Brown, deep threat Sammie Coates, and emerging second-year receiver Eli Rogers.
Furthermore, Roethlisberger has had a full week at practice after returning last week from injury against the Baltimore Ravens. If the Dallas front-seven can constantly put pressure on Roethlisberger and relieve the thin secondary of the Cowboys, it could be a long day for the veteran quarterback.
On the other side, Prescott better have a fresh pair of legs ready for Sunday. The Steelers run a base 3-4 defense, led by agile linebackers Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, and Jarvis Jones. There will be many times that Prescott will be flushed out of the pocket, and, if he cannot adjust to the pressure, the high-powered offense might be forced to take it down a notch.
Prescott and Elliot vs. Roethlisberger and Bell. Rookie superstars vs. All-Pro veterans.
Let the games begin.
Photo: Sports Media 101