Pittsburgh returns to Arlington for the first time since it lost Super Bowl XLV in February 2011. This Steelers team doesn’t look nearly as formidable, however. They stand at 7-6 and while they have the top-ranked defense in the NFL they also have a suspect running game and a quarterback, Ben Roetlisberger, who is still trying to regain his form after recently missing three games because of shoulder and rib injuries. The Cowboys, who are also 7-6, are aiming to achieve their fifth victory in their last six games. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
While he Cowboys still can’t depend on their ground attack to move the ball over the course of an entire game, tailback DeMarco Murray has helped give it some punch since he returned to action earlier this month. Murray, who has gained 136 yards in two games after coming back from a sprained left foot, has made an impact. But he will be presented with one of his toughest challenges yet. Pittsburgh’s defense, even though it’s been decimated by injuries, is conceding only 3.69 yards per carry—the fourth-lowest average in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
The fractured left index finger Dez Bryant suffered last Sunday could spell disaster for the Cowboys. Bryant, listed as questionable on the team’s official report, was enjoying the most productive stretch of his career, making 33 catches, amassing 525 receiving yards and scoring seven touchdowns in his last five games. Not having Bryant at full strength could be harmful to a passing offense and a quarterback, Tony Romo, that has depended on him. Romo and his receivers will have one of their toughest tests yet. The Steelers have yielded 169.2 passing yards per game – the lowest average in the NFL. They have also allowed 54.2 percent of the pass attempts against them to be completed.
When the Steelers run
Pittsburgh’s most productive back, Jonathan Dwyer, ranks 27th in the NFL in rushing yards. The Steelers have averaged only 98.6 yards on the ground this season. And their running game has accounted for only seven touchdowns – tied for the sixth-lowest total in the league. Yet the Steelers may be able to take advantage of Dallas’ run defense that has conceded 6.1 yards per carry in the last three games.
When the Steelers pass
Ben Roethlisberger is back. That’s the good news for Pittsburgh. The bad? The two-time Super Bowl winner wasn’t in top form last Sunday in the first game he played since suffering a sprained right shoulder and dislocated rib. In a 10-point loss to San Diego he completed only 52 percent of his pass attempts. That same day, a Cowboys defense that looked ragged in its previous two games stood strong against Andy Dalton, allowing only 206 passing yards and sacking him five times. Whether Dallas can deliver the same punishment to Roethlisberger could be the difference Sunday.
There are only four kickers who have made a higher percentage of their field-goal attempts than the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey. One of them is Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham, who has converted 25 of 26 tries. Suisham stands on the opposite side of the spectrum as the Steelers’ Antonio Brown, who has the lowest punt-return average in the NFL. The Cowboys, meanwhile, averted disaster last Sunday. And that’s a good thing for a team that has conceded a blocked punt, allowed a 108-yard kick return and has committed two turnovers on special teams this season.
The Cowboys will play their first game at home since the one-vehicle accident that killed practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown and led to nose tackle Josh Brent being charged with intoxication manslaughter. The team has been through quite an ordeal ever since and head coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys were emotionally “spent” earlier this week. Whether Dallas can regain the energy needed to beat a team fighting for a playoff spot is uncertain. But the Cowboys managed to persevere last Sunday and they may find enough in themselves to be able to so again Sunday.
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