This week the Cowboys will be facing the hottest team in the NFL in the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. Just how hot are they? Well, looking past them being the only undefeated team left in the NFL, they also have the fifth-ranked offense and the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL. While they are riding on a high, the Cowboys are going to be starting their fourth quarterback of the season. So it’s going to be tough for the Cowboys, but let’s see just how tough by taking a look at the Steelers.
2019 Record: 8-8
Last Meeting: 11/13/2016 Cowboys 35, Steelers 30
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
Key Additions: TE Eric Ebron, OL Stefen Wisniewski, WR Chase Claypool (Drafted),
Key Losses: DT Javon Hargrave, CB Artie Burns, G Ramon Foster, OL B.J. Finney
Biggest offensive strengths and weaknesses
It’s pretty easy to find the biggest strength on this Steeler team and that is the return of two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Last season after he went down, the Steelers offense finished 27th in the league averaging 18 points per game. Now that Big Ben has returned, they are currently ranked fifth in the NFL and are averaging 30 points per game. That’s a huge turn around for an offense that really only added two offensive weapons in Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool to an already loaded roster that has JuJu Smith-Shuster, James Conner, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson on it.
Now finding a weakness for this offense was a bit tougher to pin point. But you could say that the return of Big Ben has somewhat hurt the Steelers in the running game. There have been a few times this season where the offensive play-calling would become less balanced, leaning more towards the passing game than running game. Football Outsiders ranks the Steelers’ run-blocking as 17th in the league. If the Cowboys are able to slow down the Steelers passing game, they could in essence slow down the Steelers offense enough to stay in the game.
Biggest defensive strengths and weaknesses
The strength of the defensive unit is their defensive front that is strong up the middle at stopping the run, and has pass rushers in TJ Watt and Bud Dupree who are probably two of the fastest outside linebackers off the snap in the league. The Cowboys have already struggled in the running game with their patchwork offensive line which plays right into the Steelers strengths. Stop the run and they let Watt and Dupree go and get the quarterback. Who ever is starting for the Cowboys this week at quarterback is going to have to have a very fast clock in their head with these two coming after them.
The weakness of this defense has been shown over the last few weeks. Teams have been able to attack the Steelers cornerbacks, specifically Steven Nelson and they have a banged-up Mike Hilton, and pick up big plays with passes or being able to draw pass interference calls. For this to happen, though, the Cowboys offensive line will have to be able to handle the onslaught of blitzes from the Steeler defense. There are two players in particular that could really hurt this defense and that would be receiver CeeDee Lamb who has been a real weapon for the Cowboys in the middle of the field, the other is the emerging tight end Dalton Shultz who has been beating a number of linebackers recently. With the Steelers best defender in the middle off the field, Devin Bush, out with an ACL injury, these two players have the chance to have a big day, if the pass protection can hold up.
On offense, the biggest x-factor that will determine the Steelers success will be Big Ben’s ability to trick the Cowboys safeties long enough to hit deep passes.
On defense, it will be stopping Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in the running game and passing game, just as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stated earlier this week.