Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers look to snap their three-game losing streak against the red-hot Cowboys
The top two NFL franchises when it comes to the number of Lombardi Trophies on the shelf meet on Sunday in a battle between the hottest team in the NFC and potentially one of the best in the AFC. If the historical highlights are not enough to get you to tune in when the Cowboys take on the Steelers, buckle up and get ready for a potential shootout as two of the best offenses in the league meet with serious playoff implications on the line.
Dallas is of course the talk of the NFL after reeling off seven straight victories and forcing everybody to talk about the play of their rookie backfield. Quarterback Dak Prescott gets all of the attention with his relatively mistake-free play to begin the year but the schedule is about to tick up a notch starting with this week’s road trip. No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott has lived up to the hype so far and leads the league in rushing behind that big offensive line of his. The team’s defense has played well down the stretch as well has to be excited about how things stand after one of its best performances of the season.
Pittsburgh enters the game with just a .500 record and on a three-game losing streak, but make no mistake that this is a team that has played better than its record indicates. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is still recovering from a minor knee surgery and didn’t play great last week against the Ravens but heated up at the end to regain his form from early October. Tailback Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown give the offense a ton of big-play potential and they should be excited to get things going in front of the home crowd in what should be an electric atmosphere that might be playoff-esque when all those terrible towels start to wave.
The Cowboys won the last meeting between the two back in 2012 and hold a narrow one game lead in the all-time series that includes three meetings in the Super Bowl (Pittsburgh is ahead 2-1 in the postseason). You have to go back to 1997 for the last time Dallas won in the Steel City however.
Dallas at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 13 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Steelers -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Big Ben vs. the Dak Attack
Let’s face it, this is a quarterback-driven league and that can apply to both of these teams in different ways. The Steelers’ offense has been one of the best in football the past several seasons but has hit some choppy waters as of late due to the health of their starting signal-caller. Ben Roethlisberger looked like he was rushed back too quickly from knee surgery last week against Baltimore but did rally in the fourth quarter to make things interesting. If he uses the extra time this week to get healthier, things could certainly pick up for the team’s dangerous offense. Tony Romo may again be inactive for this game as he recovers from an injury himself but that’s fine for Dallas fans as it allows another week of Dak Prescott under center as the unquestioned leader in Big D.
2. Veteran back meets young buck
Le’Veon Bell has picked up where he left off last year and been on a tear since returning from a four-game suspension. He’s second in the league in offensive yards since entering the lineup and will shoulder more of the load on Sunday with backup DeAngelo Williams out for the foreseeable future after undergoing knee surgery. Unfortunately for Bell, All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey will be a game-time decision after undergoing thumb surgery, which adds to the challenge facing him against Dallas’ surprisingly stout front seven that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 2016. It should also be plenty of fun to see how the head-to-head matchups between Bell and counterpart Ezekiel Elliott, who has burst onto the scene out of Ohio State and is on pace to set a host of rookie rushing records if he keeps up his pace.
3. Star pass catchers
There’s a ton of offensive star powers all over the field in this game but each team’s No. 1 wide receiver may be able to lay claim to being the best in the league at his position. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown was a bright spot last week against the Ravens and is already up to 55 catches on the season despite facing double-teams on pretty much every snap. He’ll have to be licking his chops to face Dallas, which hasn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver this year but will be without defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne on Sunday. Similarly, Dez Bryant will face a Steelers defense that has a weak spot on the back end and gave up 124 yards to Mike Wallace last week. If you love to see some of the best wideouts in the game, this is the one to tune in for.
If you couldn’t tell already, this game should feature a ton of offense. It has two of the better quarterbacks in the game right now, two of the best tailbacks and a pair of All-Pro receivers you have to double-team on each snap. That will put a premium on playing stiff defense and winning the turnover battle as each side likely will want to limit possessions for the other.
That’s been the game plan for the Cowboys in their seven-game winning streak, controlling the clock behind Ezekiel Elliott and using Dak Prescott’s legs and arm to pick up key third downs. The defense has been a revelation for the team however, with improvement in just about every statistical area despite not adding too much in the offseason for coordinator Rod Marinelli to work with. The formula has worked to perfection so far in some big wins and you can bet the team is hoping for much the same as Dallas has become the early NFC favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh has been trending in the opposite direction lately after a hot start to the season and is hoping to get back on track at home this week. Nearly half the playoff teams from last year made the postseason despite hitting the midway point of the season at .500 or worse but the Steelers can’t afford to lose much ground as they’ve been passed in the AFC North and are well behind Kansas City and Denver in the wild card race.
As a result, expect a hostile environment at Heinz Field as Ben Roethlisberger and company regain their earlier form to capture a huge win on Sunday. It might feel a bit like a shootout given the two offenses involved but don’t be surprised if it’s the Steelers’ defense that steps up in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Cowboys 27
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.