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Grading the Cowboys close loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Cowboys fought all the way to the end and showed they still want to fight for their season.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys took an undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers team to the brink, and almost pulled off the biggest upset of the season. The defense stepped up and kept Ben Roethlisberger and his offense off-balance with some of their best defensive play of the year. The offense would try to follow their lead and put together nice drives to keep them in the game, and actually scored a touchdown. All around a fun game to watch, but let’s go a little deeper and take a look at how the positions and coaches did this week.

Overall: B

Even though they lost the game in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys as a whole played an excellent game, well, until the fourth quarter that is. The underdogs in this games coming in showed that they aren’t going to be an easy team on anyone's schedule. It was a bit tougher for them to win when they are also fighting the officials who made a few ticky-tack calls, one that would eventually lead to the Steelers game winning drive.

This team seems to finally be coming around to the new coaching staffs philosophy, especially on defense. If they can keep this up they will be building some momentum for the future.

Coaching: B

The coaching in this game kept you on the edge of your seat as the Cowboys, especially on special teams, pulled out the stops to create big plays. On the offensive side of the football, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore made the game easy for new starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert who looked like player that had complete control of the offense. Then you have defensive coordinator Mike Nolan who had his team fired up and fighting hard to unseat the undefeated Steelers. The only knock against Nolan this week was his decision late in the fourth quarter of having his cornerbacks play off the receivers making easier for the Steelers to hit out patterns and march down the field and win the game.

The coaching staff seems to have turned to corner, a great sign for the future.

Quarterback: B

Man who was expecting that performance from Garrett Gilbert this week against that defense. The Cowboys may have found their backup quarterback of the future with the strong possibility of Andy Dalton leaving next season. Gilbert showed poise in the pocket and hung in there while taking hits in an effort to complete passes. The Cowboys have a big decision to make after the bye week. Do they let Dalton come back and take the starting role or do they give Gilbert an extended look? It seems that Stephen Jones thinks that decision is settled.

Running Backs: B

The Cowboys running backs had a pretty good game this week, both running the ball and staying in for pass protection for the first time NFL starter at quarterback. Both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard had had over 50 yards rushing which kept the Steelers defense honest in the way they were trying to play against this offense. Pollard had the better day on the ground and after that performance could have earned more touches.

They still need to get more out of Zeke and they should incorporate them more in the passing game to help negate defenses that continue to bring heavy pressure.

Wide Receivers: B-

The Cowboys receivers really stepped up for their newest quarterback and were able to get open long enough for him to complete some plays down field. All three starters were able to haul in at least three passes each with rookie CeeDee Lamb having the most yards with 71 and a touchdown. This talented group has the ability every week to keep this Cowboys offense down Dak Prescott in games. There was the CeeDee Lamb fumble which was a big negative in the game.

If the Cowboys can give these guys someone under center consistently then they might be able to create more problems for defenses.

Tight Ends: B

Dalton Schultz continues to play well in the passing game, but previously seemed to struggle a bit with his blocking. This week Schultz looks like he’s also turning the corner when it comes to his blocking. He was able to hold up his blocking to help with pass rushers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt this week. He’s really becoming someone the Cowboys are going to have to find ways to keep on the field when Blake Jarwin comes back next season.

Offensive Line: C

Overall the Cowboys offensive line played well against the most blitz happy team in the NFL. Both Cam Erving and Terence Steele played well enough to give Gilbert time in the pocket or the ability to escape. The only glaring weakness again on this team has to be left guard Connor Williams who once again was tossed around and pushed back into the quarterback resulting in a big day for Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.

The Cowboys must figure out what they are going to do at the left guard position.

Defensive Line: B

Unfortunately the Cowboys defensive line was again unable to to sack another opposing quarterback, even when this quarterback was hobbled with a knee injury in the second quarter. But while they weren’t able to get sacks they were able to get a good amount of quarterback pressures and hits this week. The biggest revelation though has to be the emergence of defensive tackle Neville Gallimore who was wreaking havoc against the Steelers interior offensive line. Then you have Randy Gregory who seemed to be in the back field on every play.

This defensive front seems to be rounding into form.

Linebackers: C

The Cowboys linebackers had another good game stopping the run but were once again a liability in the passing game. They still seem to be falling for play-action passing plays and not recognizing running backs slipping out the back on passing plays. They also had two bad penalties late in the game which led helped put points on the board for the Steelers.

They are getting better now they just need to not commit bad penalties.

Secondary: B

It was probably the best performance they’ve put on the field this season even with the yards produced. The Steelers have so many receivers they put on the field with differing skill sets and yet the Cowboys cornerbacks and safeties were able to hold this talented group to 278 yards from the receivers. You also have to take into account that most of these yards came later in the game when the Cowboys scheme had them playing farther away from the receivers.

Still overall a nice performance from this group.

Summary

While a loss is still a loss. this has to be a big moral boost for this Cowboys coaching staff and players that things are starting to click for them and they were able to take the last undefeated team in the NFL down to the wire. Things are looking up for this team and the addition by subtraction they did before the NFL trade deadline seems to be working.