The Steelers put forth such a lackluster and disappointing performance last week against the Ravens I couldn’t even bring myself to write a Game Recap. The Steelers have lost 3 in a row as the red hot Cowboys come to town. The last time Dallas visited Pittsburgh was in 2008 when DeShea Townsend sealed the game with a pick-6 of Tony Romo with 2 minutes to go.
What To Watch For
1. Stop the Run
The Steelers did a better job of shutting down the ground game in Baltimore than they had before the bye. Dallas has the top rushing attack in the league with their offensive line loaded with top end draft picks and rookie Ezekiel Elliot. Even with Cam Heyward back, the Steelers aren’t that far removed from giving up 222 yards to Miami and 140 yards to New England. If the Steelers are going to have any chance to win this game, they will need to force Dak Prescott to make plays with the ball in his hands by taking the running game away.
2. Whose Secondary is Worse?
Both teams enter the game with big question marks in the secondary. For the Steelers, their defensive backs have struggled with the fundamentals of the game (covering and tackling) all season. Dallas’ secondary isn’t much better and the Cowboys will be without starting CB Mo Claiborne and starting S Barry Church. Both teams have just 4 interceptions on the season. The Steelers need to attack Dallas’ secondary down the field, as it is clearly the weak point of their defense.
3. 20 Points
Coming into the season, the Steelers made no secret of their stated goal of averaging 30 points per game. Halfway through the season the Steelers have averaged just 23 points per game but have only actually scored in the 20s once. In their 4 wins they have put up 38, 23, 42, and 31 while they have been held under 17 points in all 4 of their losses. 20 points is the magic number for the Steelers this season. They broke 20 and held their opponents under 20 in all 4 of their wins, while the script was reversed in all 4 losses – the Steelers failed to score 20 and their opponents broke 20. The bad news is that Dallas has broken 20 points in all 7 of their victories and their only loss came in Week 1 when they scored 19. The Cowboys defense has been fairly stout, only allowing two opponents to score 21 or more and none to break 24.
4. Ladarius Green
Remember him? The guy who was the big offseason free agent signee by the Steelers? He finally came off the PUP list this week and presumably will be in the lineup. It remains to be seen how much Green will be used in the offense, but with Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton continuing to nurse injuries, the Steelers definitely need another reliable receiving threat for Ben. Green’s offseason was shrouded in mystery as he was held out of training camp as he recovered from an ankle injury but then reports came out he was suffering from continued headaches. All reports were good from practice this week so we will finally actually get to see Ladarius Green in uniform. Green is not the blocker that Heath Miller was an is more of a “joker” tight end but he can absolutely be a weapon down the middle of the field.
5. Home Ben
A lot has been made about Ben Roethlisberger’s subpar splits on the road. This is absolutely true and has been a key factor in the Steelers dropping a number of road games to subpar teams. The flip side is that Ben has been absolutely unbelievable at home this season. He has completed 67.5% of his passes (over 9% better than on the road), averaged 8.4 yards per attempt (2.1 more than on the road), and 313 yards per game (61 more than on the road). Additionally, Ben has thrown 12 TDs and only 2 INTs at home while throwing 5 TDs and 5 INTs on the road. Ben’s home QB rating is 122.2 while his road rating is 74.2. If Ben played all his games like he has at home, his QB rating would be second only to Tom Brady. However, his road rating would make him the 30th-ranked quarterback in the league, behind Blake Bortles, Joe Flacco, and Case Keenum and ahead of only Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. We can only hope that playing in the friendly confines of Heinz Field brings back “Home Ben” and we can break the funk of a 3-game losing streak.