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Cowboys vs. Steelers: A To-do List

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Some matchups the Cowboys must win and some assignments they need to fulfill in order to win Sunday:

1.  Keep both of Flozell Adams' arms in play.  He injured his left shoulder some time in October and speed rushers began beating him.  Arizona's Travis LaBoy embarrassed him in the Cardinals loss.  He later injured a finger on his right hand that caused it to swell to an enormous size.

When Dallas was flailing, Adams was the no-armed man.  He's been clean since the bye, but we missed a chance to see how healthy he is when Seattle's Patrick Kearney missed the Thanksgiving Day game.   Kearney is a pure, blow-and-go DE, a speed rusher who tries to beat you around the corner every time. This is the type of player who was getting by Flo with ease mid-season.

In training camp, Demarcus Ware could not beat Adams -- ever.  In September, he was sound.  In October Adams fell apart.  In November, he started to look like the old Flozell.

Sunday, he faces James Harrison, he of the 14.5 sacks.  If the old Flo is ready, Tony Romo's job will be much easier.

 

2.  Throw to Tashard Choice.  It's a lot to ask a rookie making his first start to dent the Steelers front seven on the ground.  I'll be happy if he can get 65-70 yards and post a respectable yards-per-attempt average.   Choice can be a weapon as a receiver.  Harrison and fellow OLB Lamarr Woodley go forward much better than they cover, though Harrison is the better of the two.  The Patriots had success throwing to Kevin Faulk on wide, shallow routes.  Get Choice in space and let the OLBs chase him.

3.  Get Terrell Owens in the intermediate middle.  Randy Moss ruined a great Sunday with two huge drops.  In the late 1st quarter Matt Cassell ducked under a blitz, stepped up in the pocket and found Moss alone 25 yards downfield.  Moss dropped the ball.

Just before halftime, Moss got open along the back line of the end zone and dropped a second easy Cassell toss.  The Pats blew a short field goal two plays later and went into halftime even at ten rather than up 17-10. 

Moss regularly got open running deep ins, diagonals and intermediate crosses.  These are the type of routes Terrell Owens runs best.  The Steelers run a lot of man-to-man, because they blitz so much.  For this reason, Owens will probably get less double-coverage than he has in weeks.  He'll get open.  Whether Romo can find him remains to be seen.

4.  Keep Martellus Bennett busy:  Jason Witten will see a lot of Troy Polamalu.  He might get some attention from linebackers as well.  Bennett is getting more throws every week and is beating linebackers with his height.  He should get matchps with ILBs and will offer Romo a legit target.

5.  Attack the middle of Pittsburgh's o-line.  When the Steelers went 15-1 in '04 and won a Super Bowl in '05, they had a big, bruising trio anchoring their o-line.  Jeff Hartings was a multiple Pro Bowler at C, as was Alan Faneca at LG.  RG Kendall Simmons was almost as good. 

The Steelers' rushing attack ranked 5th in '05 and 10th in '06.  Hartings retired after that campaign, but Faneca and Simmons helped the Steelers ramble to a 3rd overall rush ranking last year. 

Faneca joined the Jets in free agency this past spring and Simmons went down for the season after four games.  Their backups have not measured up.  They rank 22nd in rushing and 27th in sacks allowed.  They're the only winning team besides New England to rank in the bottom quarter in the latter stat.

Bradie James is having a career year with 5.0 sacks.  Dallas is sending him a ton, either off the corner from the "Bum" package or on delayed blitzes inside.  Look for him to team with Jay Ratliff on lots of inside twists.

6.  Protect Montrae Holland:  The Cowboys had a lot of trouble with twists early this year, when Adams was playing hurt and Cory Proctor was subbing for Kyle Kosier.  The Seahawks broke the Cowboys' pocket in the 2nd half last week, when they started running games at Dallas' left side.  Marion Barber missed some assignments but Holland did too.  Holland is a much better scrapper than Proctor, but the Steelers will run games at him to see if he can keep a level head. 

Overall:  The Dallas offense will face its toughest test.  Conversely, the Steelers will face their toughest rush.  The Chargers rank 9th in sacks and they dropped Roethlisberger four times.  The Giants rank 4th and they got Roethlisberger five times and grabbed four picks.  The Eagles rank 3rd in sacks and they bagged Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich nine times.  Big Ben was knocked out of the game in the second half.

The Cowboys rank 2nd in sacks. 

Pittsburgh hasn't handled a good rush all year.  Dallas is applying its best pressure of the season right now.  Romo is a Wisconsin boy.  He'll feel right at home in the cold. 

Dallas 21, Pittsburgh 17