Steelers vs. Cowboys Preview: Injuries could affect historical rivalry game

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The NFL's history is marked largely by the Steelers and the Cowboys. They'll square off in a regular season game Sunday with playoff implications for both teams resting on the result.

No biography on the NFL could fail to include a chapter on the Steelers vs. Cowboys rivalry.

Three head-to-head Super Bowl games (Steelers lead 2-1), 11 combined Super Bowl wins (Steelers 6, Cowboys 5), and Team of the Decade titles for each (the Steelers in the 1970s, the Cowboys in the 1990s).

That rivalry is only refreshed once every four years, being the teams play in different conferences, but this game always takes on an air of history.

The Steelers have won the last two regular season games (2008 and 2004), both of them being dramatically concluded.

Cornerback Deshea Townsend took a Tony Romo interception 25 yards for the game-winning touchdown in 2008, while Ben Roethlisberger - then a rookie - led the Steelers to 14 points in the fourth quarter, overcoming a 20-10 deficit, to defeat Dallas in 2004.

When the Cowboys have the ball

Much of this will depend on the health of Dez Bryant, who is getting a second opinion on the need for surgery on his fractured left index finger. Surgery would end his season.

Bryant is having the breakout season the Cowboys expected when they traded up in the 2010 draft to take him with the 24th overall pick. He's 10th in the NFL with 1,028 yards, 11th with 75 catches and is tied for third with nine touchdowns.

If he cannot play, a huge chunk of the Cowboys' offense goes away. Dallas is 31st in rushing yards per game (79.8) while sitting third overall with 292 passing yards a game. Jason Witten is fifth in the NFL with 92 catches, but with an offense that only averages 3.4 yards a carry, they're only scoring 23.1 points a game - 15th in the league.

When the Steelers have the ball

Pittsburgh will again be without two starting offensive linemen - left guard Willie Colon (knee) and right tackle Mike Adams (ankle). The Steelers may start Ramon Foster at left guard in this game - Maurkice Pouncey has been filling in there while Doug Legursky started at center. This would give Steelers rookie David DeCastro his first career start, filling in for Foster at right guard.

With the suspension of Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers' offense has been in turmoil this week. Much of the anxiety surrounding it could be caused by the general lack of production since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's injury in Week 10. He returned in Week 14, but the Steelers were blown out at home 34-24, with 14 of those points coming in garbage time.

Running the ball has been a huge problem since Week 10, only averaging 93.5 yards a game in Pittsburgh's last four games - 3.2 yards per carry.

Injuries have largely contributed to that, but with Dallas's mediocre run defense (118.8 yards per game), it could be the time the Steelers get back on track running the ball.

Perhaps that's because passing isn't a great option against Dallas.

Even with cornerback Morris Claiborne (concussion) missing practice early in the week, Dallas's defensive strength is against the pass. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is having another outstanding season (11 sacks, four forced fumbles) and will create a problem off the edge. Rookie Kelvin Beachum will start his third consecutive game, and has been less than impressive in that time (six pressures allowed in his last two games).

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