It’s week ten, the Steelers are relatively healthy and face a red hot Dallas Cowboys team with a stout defense, excellent offensive line and two very talented rookies on the offensive side of the ball. I’m going to walk through the scenarios that could lead to a Steelers win or loss for this 4:25 p.m. kickoff.
Why the Steelers will win: On offense, this team needs to try and pick up where they left off in the fourth quarter of the game against Baltimore. You know, where Ben Roethlisberger looked efficient and made accurate throws. Where receivers caught the balls thrown to them and where the offensive line looked like the large investment this front office has put into it wasn’t a huge waste of cash.
The secret is out on what makes this offense successful. The combination of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell is too potent for a defense not to add extra defenders to stop them. In theory that opens up the field for the rest of the offensive skill players. Against Baltimore in week nine, this didn’t really happen until the fourth quarter. For the Steelers to have success, Ben must get his accuracy and timing back, and the second, third and fourth options—guys like Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton, Jesse James and (dare I say it) Ladarius Green must be ready to step up and make plays to keep the offense on track. Consistent success from that standpoint will lead to points on the board. Either Dallas will have to shift some of the extra coverage from Brown and Bell which gives them room to make plays, or James, Coates and Company will make them pay for leaving the rest of the offense in man on man coverage.
On defense, if the Steelers show the kind of run stopping they did against Baltimore, they have a good chance of winning this game. Ezekiel Elliott is having a very good season so far, and he does run behind one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. The Steelers’ defense can play very stout run defense when they are healthy. If Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and the rest of the front seven can contain Elliott, they still have to watch for Prescott, who is fast and strong in his own right and can beat you with his legs or his arm. This is where they must maintain discipline. The Steelers have seen too many slower quarterbacks get big chunks of yardage and first downs. They must contain Elliott and Prescott to have success.
Why The Cowboys will win: Penalties. Penalties killed the Steelers last week at Baltimore. They cannot afford to give the Cowboys’ dynamic offense easy first downs and chunks of penalty yards. On this same line of thinking, the discipline of the players, the Cowboys can beat the Steelers if the Pittsburgh defenders can’t keep their heads in the game. It’s a proven formula for failure. Playing out of position and taking cheap shots equals too many opportunities for the opposing offense.
Lack of success in the running game. Bell is still a great running back, and getting him involved should take pressure off of Big Ben. But, if Todd Haley is content with the status quo and not prepared to change it up a bit, and the offensive line struggles, the Cowboys will bottle up Bell and create problems for Roethlisberger all afternoon.
Jason Witten. The ageless tight end for Dallas still makes plays and Prescott knows how to find him. Tight ends are an Achilles heel for the Steelers defense. Witten is a crafty, strong veteran who has a great feel for the middle of the field. If the Steelers lose track of Witten, it could be a long day.
More special teams gaffes. Hopefully the Steelers don’t have to resort to an onside kick. Other than that though, the return and coverage teams need to stay focused and disciplined (there’s that word again-Hello Shamarko Thomas) do their job without costly mistakes and turnovers. The Cowboys will take advantage and make the Steelers pay for these mental errors.
The bottom line is the Steelers have a chance to win this game. A home game after a bitter loss to a division opponent. The team is getting healthier and are hungry for a win. The Cowboys are coming to town with a 7-1 record. Nothing eases the sting of losing like winning. Even better when the opponent is near the top of the league standings. The Steelers haven’t settled into an identity yet. Winning this game goes a long way towards proving they belong in the playoffs. Losing goes a long way towards proving they have a long way to go yet. Mental errors have plagued the Steelers in all four of their losses. Keeping their composure and their discipline is a recipe for success, along with some of the high flying offense they displayed so often last year and parts of this season. Otherwise, the Steelers are looking at a loss at home and a losing record, looking up at Baltimore.