The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The running game will lead the Steelers’ offense against the Dallas Cowboys.
Explanation: The Steelers at one point in the season were about the most balanced team in the NFL in terms of their ratio of runs to passes, very close to a 50-50 split. That has been less the case the past two weeks, throwing at a 2:1 ratio, but the Cowboys are one of the worst run defenses in the league.
You play to your opponents’ weaknesses as much as you play to your own strengths, and the Cowboys have a clear weakness against the run this year. In fact, they rank dead last in terms of rushing yards allowed and are allowing more than five yards per carry, surrendering 11 rushing touchdowns.
This has the markings of a James Conner game all the way, especially with some of the changes that they have made to their front recently, and Aldon Smith is not a great run defender on top of that. The Cowboys don’t figure to have much of an offense, so it’s likely that they will be playing with the lead for a long stretch.
Conner hasn’t had more than 20 carries in any game this season, so it’s not as though they have been pounding the ball. And Randy Fichtner has also been saying for weeks that he wants to get Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland more involved. Some extended drives taking up clock would give him the perfect opportunity to do it.
The Cowboys are conveniently bad against the run, but they aren’t good against the pass, either. For one thing, they are giving up the sixth-most passing touchdowns on a per-game basis this season, having already allowed 18, and they’ve only recorded three interceptions.
They may have gotten four turnovers last week, but overall, this hasn’t been an opportunistic group. They only have three other takeaways on the year spanning their first seven games, and they didn’t just suddenly lose Andy Dalton. An outlier game against the most turnover-prone quarterback in the NFL in Carson Wentz doesn’t change that.
In other words, there should be no reservations about throwing the ball around, and that’s what the Steelers do best. So they ought to do it. Much of their passing game is what they would call a run game extension, anyway.