Two sides coming off completely contrasting results will face off in Cowboys stadium on Sunday, yet both teams are in similar situations as they chase a playoff spot in their respective conference. The Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Texas after a shocking home loss to the San Diego Chargers last week, while the Dallas Cowboys return home from Ohio where they enjoyed a come from behind victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams are desperate to win this game and push themselves that much closer to the playoffs, but even in spite of their better result last week, the Cowboys may need the result to go their way that much more.
In what appears to be a tight affair on paper, that could make all the difference at the end of 60 minutes of football. Because the Steelers currently sit in a wildcard position, while the Cowboys are on the outside looking in at the NFC playoffs, and they know they control their own destiny against the Bengals next week, their greatest motivation to get a result in the present will be to avenge the past rather than set up the future. Even though that past, a convincing loss to the Chargers, is still in the Steelers’ minds, it shouldn’t matter to the Cowboys. Under Mike Tomlin the Steelers have consistently been inconsistent as they play down to lower teams but typically perform on the bigger stages. The Cowboys may not be a top team in the league, but this is definitely a significant matchup.
Both teams are heavily involved in the playoff hunt, with outside chances of winning their divisions, but maybe more significantly, they combine to bring two of the most creative quarterbacks in the whole league onto the one field. Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger will ultimately decide who wins this game between them. The Cowboys and Steelers both have significant holes on their rosters right now. The Cowboys have a myriad of players dealing with different injuries while the Steelers couldn’t overcome the loss of Ike Taylor against the Chargers last week.
Furthermore, the Cowboys are still dealing with the loss of practice squad player Jerry Brown, part of which is the less significant loss of Josh Brent to the inactive list, while the Steelers have suspended Rashard Mendenhall, who had been reduced to an inactive on gamedays either way, and are without Willie Colon due to injury.
Offensively the Steelers must rebound from last week’s disastrous display. They may have scored 24 points, but much of that output came when the game’s outcome had already been decided. David DeCastro is set to be immediately inserted into the starting lineup, having missed all of his rookie season so far due to a torn ACL, which means that the Steelers will have two very young and inexperienced starters on the offensive line.
DeCastro should be okay in his first start; as a guard he can be more easily helped. The true test comes for Kelvin Beachum, who looks set to start at right tackle again for the injured duo of Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. Beachum is very young, but has excelled so far as a starter. Still, the prospect of the Cowboys moving DeMarcus Ware to his side of the field will be terrifying for the Steelers and likely force Heath Miller to stay inside as a pass protector more often than he typically has this season.
In order to help the offensive line, the Steelers must commit early to the running game and stick with it throughout the game. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combined for just 10 carries last week. Part of that was due to the team playing from behind for much of it’s duration, but not totally. If the Steelers can establish the run against the Cowboys, it will give the team’s offensive line better protection, the receivers better matchups and keep an ailing defense on the sidelines.
Dick LeBeau’s defense would generally see the prospect of playing Romo as a very appealing one, but Romo’s performances during the second half of this season have been efficient for the most part. He has had his off days, but the Steelers’ defense hasn’t been performing at a level where you would expect them to force him into the mistakes that he can make. Last week against the Chargers, there was very little in the way of a pass rush and even less resilience in coverage.
The best way of containing the Cowboys may be by dominating the time of possession. If the Steelers can do that, then not only will the Cowboys become one-dimensional, but Dez Bryant‘s finger would likely become more troublesome with sporadic involvement.
It’s a tough test for both teams, but only one team will feel that their chances of making the playoffs are completely over if they lose. The home team.