The Pittsburgh Steelers are riding a three-game losing streak, the longest slide that they have faced since they began the 2013 season going 0-4 in the first four games. They ended up starting the first half of that season 2-6, but went 6-2 in the season half of the year to finish 8-8.
They have already gotten to 4-4 at the midway point, so a 6-2 second-half would be a pretty good finish to get them to 10-6, which, this season, looks like it will probably be enough to win the AFC North, especially provided that many of those wins come within the division, particularly the Christmas Day game against the Ravens.
But before we can start worrying about what sort of Christmas we will be having, the Steelers need to get themselves back on the right foot, and that starts this evening against perhaps their toughest challenge of the season, hosting the Cowboys.
There will be a lot to watch for in this one, but even with the Steelers debut of prized free agent tight end Ladarius Green, the central focus still must be on the development of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who struggled in his first game back from a meniscus tear last week.
In that game, the only interception that he threw came off of a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, but the reality is that he threw at least three other passes that were prime candidates to be intercepted, and a better defense who can create more opportunities for poor passes can quickly make this game ugly if Roethlisberger is not on his game.
In order to help the passing game, the Steelers must do a better job of establishing the run, but teams have not been running much on Dallas. The Cowboys have seen just 109 rushing attempts against them for 695 yards, though they have allowed 4.2 yards per carry. The offensive line must do a far better job of winning in the trenches this week.
The two that I will look at most are the two working back from injuries, namely Marcus Gilbert, who missed three games, and Maurkice Pouncey, who just had surgery on his thumb, yet was a full participant in practice on Friday. They must win their battles in order to allow Le’Veon Bell to be successful.
Speaking of Green, let’s see how many snaps he plays, how much time he spends blocking in the run game, and whether or not Roethlisberger spends much time looking for him in the passing game. With the injuries at the wide receiver position, the Steelers offense is looking for another prime target.
The defensive front seven if going to be up against a tall task trying to contain a powerful Cowboys rushing attack behind the best offensive line in football and a very impressive rookie runner. I don’t know how well they will be able to contain it, so to me, the key is going to be reverting back to finding situational success on third down and in the red zone.
While Dez Bryant may not be at full capacity, the young Ross Cockrell and Artie Burns are going to have their hands full, as if that were not enough. But Cole Beasley leads the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, while Jason Witten will need to be dealt with among the linebackers and safeties.