The 4-4 Pittsburgh Steelers have a tough task ahead of them by way of the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys coming to town this Sunday. When the two teams meet at Heinz Field in Week 10, a game brimming with offensive talent will be on display in front of a national audience.
With that said, we went behind enemy lines to talk with Dave Halprin, Editor of Blogging the Boys (SB Nation’s Dallas Cowboys website) about several different angles of this matchup.
Check out the interview below to get a feel for what the other side is thinking heading into this game.
The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. While everyone talks about the two rookies doing work on a weekly basis, what else has been working for Dallas to get them to where they are entering Week 10?
Besides Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, there are two other things that have fueled the Cowboys 7-1 record. One of them is the offensive line. They truly are one of the best units in the league and have done a remarkable job of run blocking and pass protection. Some of the success of Prescott and Elliott can be attributed to the work of the line. The Cowboys have invested a lot of draft capital in the unit and it has paid off. Elliott leads the league in rushing yards, and yards gained before contact, giving you an idea of just how big the holes are sometimes. Dak Prescott is second in the league in time allowed in the pocket, again the line is a big part of it.
The other element is a surprising defense that is fourth in the league in points allowed per game at 17.5. It helps that they face fewer drives/plays than many defenses because of the Cowboys ball control offense that eats up time of possession. Some of the credit does go to the defense, though, as they are playing a bend-don't-break style that relies on discipline on assignments, hustle and gang-tackling. For as much derision as was heaped on the defense this offseason, they are one of the biggest surprises.
From a fan's perspective, what are the weaknesses on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football? Anything glaring which has people concerned about the upcoming game?
On offense, there is little weakness that we've seen so far. They are very efficient and are fourth in the league in points per game at 27.9. They can run the ball and throw the ball, they have a quality line and quality skill positions. If there has been one thing that has worked to throw them off balance, it was when the Eagles sent a lot of heavy blitzes. When they got pressure on Prescott he sometimes resorted to poor footwork and under-threw quite a few passes. So I would say the weakness is to try and pressure Prescott and get him to play like a rookie.
On defense, the Cowboys have a very inconsistent pass rush. They are about league average in sacks but they can go long stretches of the game getting very little pressure on the quarterback. Their style of defense relies on forcing an offense to take a lot of plays to score and betting that they'll make mistakes along the way. They also lost their starting corner (Morris Claiborne) and starting safety (Barry Church) two weeks ago, and they were integral parts of the secondary. This defense has played surprisingly well, but it doesn't have a lot of elite players and they aren't an attacking bunch. An efficient, mistake-free offense could give them trouble.
Dak Prescott or Tony Romo? In my opinion this isn't even a question, but how are fans of the 'Boys handling this debate with Romo now back to practice?
Honestly, there has been a lot of contention in the debate about the quarterback issue. People's opinions have also evolved over time. At first, there was obviously a feeling that Prescott was just buying time until Romo could return. But once he started to win and look good doing it, the debate really kicked in. Now there is pretty strong sentiment among a large block of fans that Prescott should stay. I'm in the boat of keeping Prescott in as long as he doesn't falter. If he starts regressing at some point, they may want to give Romo a shot, but for now just keep things as they are. There is another group that thinks Romo should come back and that he could make this offense even better. They may be right, in 2014 when he had a running game like this, Romo was the best statistical QB in the league (for that one season it's true, you can look it up!). So maybe he could lift this offense higher, but I'm not willing to find out unless it's necessary.
Shockingly, the Steelers are anywhere from 2 to 3-point favorites in Week 10. How have the Cowboys played on the road in 2016 and are does Vegas know something others don't in regards to a potential upset in the making?
The Cowboys are 4-0 this season on the road. Going back to the 2014 season, the Cowboys haven't lost a regular-season road game as long as Romo or Prescott is under center for the entire game. I'm not sure why Vegas thinks the Cowboys should be underdogs, their road record doesn't show that they play poorly traveling, in fact it shows just the opposite. Of course, Vegas lines are more about getting money spread evenly on both teams, so they are probably guessing the betting public thinks the Cowboys will struggle in Pittsburgh. Maybe it's because of the rookie quarterback thing? Hard to say.
How do you see this game playing out on Sunday evening? You can give a score if you want, but am curious to see how the other side of the fence views this vintage matchup between two of the best organizations in the NFL.
I think it's going to be a close game. The Steelers really need a win, they don't want to start falling behind in the playoff race, so they will be highly motivated. After a hot start they have really struggled, they will look at this game as the moment to turn things around. Ben Roethlisberger should be more confident in his knee and has had time to shake a little rust off. I expect the Steelers to throw the kitchen sink at Prescott in an effort to disrupt the Cowboys offense, which is the key to taking them down. And the odds say the Cowboys have to cool off at some point, don't they? But every time I look at the Cowboys offensive line and their array of weapons on offense, it gives me confidence they can win. I think that Prescott will struggle a little to start but eventually find his footing, the Cowboys defense will do just enough to hold them in the game, then the offense will take over late and the Cowboys win 31-27.