The bad news is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are hungry and desperate for a win. The good news is that the Steelers are hungry and desperate for a win. Plus Ben Roethlisberger‘s knee is one week healthier and Ladarius Green is active, and the Cowboys’ secondary is banged up. Something good has got to happen, as long as the defense can hold off the big plays.
While the Cowboys have a good defense, the secondary is not their strongest unit, and dropping one of their starting cornerbacks and safeties puts them in a vulnerable position, lacking the sort of depth that even the Ravens had a week ago. I expect the passing game to be a lot more successful, with Dallas struggling to contain Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers, Le’Veon Bell, and Ladarius Green reaping the rewards underneath.
Steelers Inactive Players:
QB Zach Mettenberger
DE L.T. Walton
S Jordan Dangerfield
T Brian Mihalik
WR Markus Wheaton
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
RB DeAngelo Williams
Cowboys Inactive Players
S Barry Church
CB Morris Claiborne
QB Tony Romo
RB Darius Jackson
LB Mark Nzeocha
T Chaz Green
DE Benson Mayowa
The Steelers won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. The opening kickoff went for a touchback. The Cowboys opened in a run-heavy set and gained six yards off right tackle. Artie Burns was slow to turn to the ball on second down on a 19-yard completion to Dez Bryant. From midfield, a play-action motion led to Ryan Shazier blitzing and pressuring Dak Prescott, with Anthony Chickillo hustling to get the strip sack from behind, and Shazier recovered for the turnover. It was Chickillo’s second sack, and second strip sack.
Jesse James started at tight end and got the first pass for eight yards after a pump fake screen to the flat for the running back. From the 30-yard line, Le’Veon Bell got first-down yardage with a spin move in the hole to the right. Looking left first, Ben Roethlisberger looked right and threw to Bell, who had a catch and run inside the 15.
From the 14, Bell took the ball off left tackle for about eight yards. Spreading Bell out wide, Roethlisberger threw quick to David Johnson, who got hammered just at the first-down marker, setting up first and goal. Out ofthe 11, Bell got the handoff to the right to pick up about a yard and a half. From the two, with Bell wide, Roethlisberger looked for him in the left corner, but the ball was well wide. There was contact, but no flag was thrown, possibly due to an uncatchable pass. On third down, Bell again wide, an empty set, Bell made a fantastic stabbing reception of the ball on a hot pass away from his body, making sure to hold on to the ball and stabilize it to ensure that he secured the touchdown. The offense went for a two-point conversion, spreading Bell out, with Green on the field. Roethlisberger looked for Green in the left corner against the safety, but he was covered well and could not bring in the pass.
Boswell’s second kickoff of the game went out of bounds, giving the Cowboys the ball at the 40. Another unnecessary special teams penalty. Ezekiel Elliot pounded up the middle for three yards on first down. Elliot was able to bounce the run outside on second down for about eight yards. From the Steelers’ side of the field, play action gave Prescott time to find Bryant open with Burns in coverage for another first down.
From the 35, a quick handoff to Elliot went for six. A false start on Tyron Smith, however, backed Dallas up. On second and nine, Elliot added eight to set up a short-yardage scenario. On third and one, the defense was unable to get to the rookie back to stop the conversion. Prescott’s third pass in Bryant’s direction was incomplete, the two not on the same page. His subsequent pass was over the head of his tight end, setting up third and 10 from the 23. A screen pass to the wide receiver Williams was not immediately contained, but stopped after five yards, so Dan Bailey’s field goal made it a 6-3 game.
Sammie Coates remained the kick returner, with Toussaint settling under it for a touchback. Antonio Brown got his first target of the day, a screen for five yards, with Eli Rogers up in front of him for the block. The little guy has shown a willingness to do that dirty work. On second and five, Roethlisberger looked to a screen for Bell, but instead turned to his left and found Rogers open downfield for a big gain. It was a free play due to an offside penalty that was declined. Roethlisberger’s hand was hit as he threw.
From Dallas’ 48 after a 22-yard pass, Roethlisberger threw quick to James, who picked up 17 yards, for once actually showing some ability to pick up yards after the catch, which has been in short supply from the tight ends. Bell was bottled up at the line of scrimmage on the following play. On second down from the 30, another free play saw Roethlisberger look Cobi Hamilton‘s direction in the end zone, but Hamilton was behind the play anyway. So it is second and four. Bell found some running room on the next play for 16 yards to set up another first and goal at the nine.
Bell got the handoff on first down, showing exceptionable patience and vision to spin up the field for eight. On second and one, however, Bell was tackled in the backfield for a loss of one or two by Byron Jones, the first-round safety. On third and goal from the three, Roethlisberger with Johnson in the backfield and Bell in the slot threw poorly, but well enough, for Eli Rogers to pick the ball up off the ground. The ball did touch the ground, but it appears that Rogers had secured the catch by then with incidental contact. Going for two points again, Roethlisberger’s initial read was not there, so he kept looking, and could not find his tight end at the back of the end zone, so the Steelers took a 12-3 lead instead.
Tyron Smith was flagged for a false start on first down after a touchback. Elliot picked that yardage back up plus one, but Zach Martin was flagged for a hold on Shazier. So instead the Cowboys were put in a first and 25. Smith got James Harrison on the ground on first down, with Prescott completing I think to Cole Beasley for seven. Burns was shaken up on that play. Disaster struck immediately after, with Prescott finding Elliot on the screen pass for an 83-yard touchdown. Ross Cockrell and Robert Golden were handled by downfield blocking. The Steelers now lead just 12-10.
The Steelers started their drive from the 21. Xavier Grimble was the target on first down, but the ball sputtered out before he secured the catch. On second down, Brown snatched the ball away from the cornerback, but he took a knee to the ribs. The end of the first quarter gave him some time. On third and one, a deep toss to Bell resulted in a loss of yardage, and Bell even lost the ball. The Cowboys should have recovered the fumble, but it eventually spilled out of bounds, with Marcus Gilbert helping to ensure that Jones did not come away with the ball. Bell now has two fumbles this season.
The Cowboys began their next drive from their 40 after the punt. Alfred Morris checked in and was tackled after two yards. With time to throw, Prescott bound Bryant for a first down. Now from Pittsburgh’s 42, the Steelers jumped offside. On first and five from the 37, Morris got about half the yardage, but Doug Free was called for a hold. Back to the 47, Prescott under pressure had to check down to Morris after six. On second and nine, Morris picked up six off left tackle. On third and three, Elliot checked back in, with Prescott looking for Beasley, who could not hold on to the ball. Bailey connected from 53 to give the Cowboys the 13-12 lead.
Following a touchback, Roethlisberger got the ball to Brown on a screen, who picked up nearly 10 yards on the play. A bubble screen to Brown was nearly blown up, but he was able to get past the first defender just to get the first down. From the 36, Bell’s first carry since the fumble went for 11 with some wiggle up the middle.
Roethlisberger had to escape an initial sack, but then he took a hard hit in the back as he threw for an incompletion. A roughing the passer penalty was called. Roethlisberger took a hit to his neck area in the front as he was being tackled from the back, bending him backwards. He left the field, though under his own power. Landry Jones checked into the game at the Cowboys, 37, handing off to Bell, who was stopped at the line of scrimmage.
Roethlisberger checked back in after the one play. Roosevelt Nix was on the field on the next snap, which resulted in a false start, but they got the yardage back on an encroachment penalty on the next attempted snap. On second and 10 from the original line of scrimmage, Roethlisberger threw a screen to Brown, who was tackled by Cowboys rookie cornerback Anthony Brown immediately. On third and nine, Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket and found Brown escaping his man for the first down.
At the 25, Roethlisberger threw down the seam to Green, incomplete. He did not look open. On second down, with Nix on the field, Bell got the draw but was stopped for a loss of one. Now looking at third and 11, a tight end screen to Grimble picked up five yards, setting up Boswell from the 21 for a 39-yard attempt. The make allowed Pittsburgh to retake the lead at 15-13.
The Cowboys began their next drive with 4:43 remaining in the first half from the 25. The drive began with Beasley’s first catch for eight yards as he slid out of bounds. But the defense was able to bottle up the run on second down to set up a third and two. The Steelers were able to get some interior pressure that prevented Prescott from getting a good throw down the field to Bryant. It was Tuitt on the pressure up the middle. The three-and-out gave the Steelers a chance for another score before the end of the half.
Following a good punt, Pittsburgh took over from their own 18. On first down, Bell took a run wide for just a yard. Roethlisberger found Rogers in the middle of the field ahead of Orlando Scandrick, however, for the first down, his third catch. From the 32, Bell got the pass in open space and picked up about 14 heading into the two-minute warning.
Roethlisberger went back to Rogers on a quick hitter for four yards. He found Brown for the first down on the next play across midfield. From the 40, Roethlisberger looked for it all in Sammie Coates’ direction on his first target, but the ball was too deep. No flags, but I don’t think he would have been able to catch the ball. On second down, a pump fake apparently faked Brown, as Roethlisberger’s deep target had only one possible pass catcher, and it was the Dallas defensive back. On third and 10 now, Roethlisberger could only desperately get a ball to Bell, who was tackled behind the line of scrimmage, but it did make the Cowboys use a timeout with 52 seconds to play.
Berry’s punt was not a long one, fair caught at the 16. William Gay broke up the first pass on the drive for Beasley on what would have otherwise been a first down. Prescott was put under pressure and looked to check down to Dunbar, but he could not grab the ball behind the line of scrimmage. With two incompletions, 33 seconds remained heading into the third and 10. Ross Cockrell stepped in front of the target to deflect the pass intended for Beasley on third down. With three timeouts, Brown fair caught the ball at the 36 with 20 seconds to play.
Bell made a defender miss on first down to get to the 49 and get out of bounds with 13 seconds to play. Green made his first catch of the season for nine yards with eight seconds remaining and a quick timeout. Roethlisberger hit Rogers down the field for a big gain. It was called a catch on the field. The defensive back was called for a hold, declined. The booth elected to review the play. The booth review ruled the pass incomplete, but a five-yard penalty set up a 55-yard try for Boswell with two seconds in the half. The second-year kicker booted it wide right by a couple yards, but Pittsburgh entered the second half with the lead, and they start the third quarter getting the ball.