The Pittsburgh Steelers shouldn’t be breathing a collective sigh of relief, but in truth, they probably can. They have just completed a three-game sweep of quality opponents, with two of those games occurring on the road, and now are about to face a Dallas Cowboys team that is in such a crisis that they are starting the best quarterback in the Alliance of American Football, Garrett Gilbert.
In theory, this game should be a layup for a team as talented as Pittsburgh, and doubly so when considering the fact that Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott is dealing with a bothersome hamstring and seems to have a good chance of not even playing.
Of course, it’s never wise to look past any opponent, as that is the easiest way to let them get the better of you. I have no doubt that the Steelers are taking this game as seriously as they do any other, especially since it’s one that is on the road.
Coming off the immense emotional high of scoring a critical divisional win over the Baltimore Ravens, and implementing a no-huddle approach in the second half in that game, it will be interesting to see if they look to expand upon that today.
One of the things I will be looking for is the wide receiver rotation between James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud. Washington’s playing time has dropped precipitously in the past two weeks, while McCloud was used in ways that make the most of his talents in that no-huddle look.
I am also looking for the ground game to get back on track, which kind of floundered in the second half last week, even while getting off to a fine start in the first. The Cowboys have one of the worst run defenses in the entire NFL, so I like James Conner today, and I also like Anthony McFarland to be more involved.
That is if the Steelers can sustain drives today, which they could not last week. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner last week said that the inability to keep drives going was a factor in their lack of variety in personnel and looks.
Defensively, this is a game that you want to see the front four dominate. The Cowboys’ offensive line is in terrible shape due to injuries outside of Zach Martin, so there’s no reason to think that all of T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, and Cameron Heyward can put a stamp on this one, especially with Ezekiel Elliott nursing an injury and possibly not even playing.
Facing Gilbert at quarterback, making his first start, you obviously want to see the secondary make him look like the inexperienced player that he is. The Steelers got two interceptions—from linebackers—last week, and are among the league leaders in interceptions. But we’re also way overdue for some strip sacks as well.