The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their eighth regular season game of 2020 Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys as they look to notch their eighth consecutive win. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with another road win against the Cowboys and move to 8-0 on the season.
Make Gilbert Throw…A Lot – Journeyman backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert will make his first career NFL start on Sunday against the Steelers and I do not envy him. The Cowboys offensive line is not good as it has been ravaged by injuries. Heck, even starting running back Ezekiel Elliott might not play on Sunday because of a hamstring injury. If he does play, he won’t be 100 percent and thus will surely be limited in his touches. The Steelers main defensive game plan isn’t a secret. Stop the run at all cost early and force Gilbert to put the football in the air a ton. The more Gilbert must drop back and pass in this game, the more opportunity there is for something to go very wrong for him and the rest of the Cowboys’ offense. If the Steelers get a comfortable lead in this game, the defense will really be able to pin their ears back and get after Gilbert, or backup Cooper Rush, should he need to enter the game. Stop. The. Run. Win. The. Game.
Bring Back The Motion Lotion – I called for the Steelers to use a lot of pre-snap motion against the Ravens last week in my keys to the game. However, after they fell behind, the offense wound up needing to use a lot of empty and no-huddle in the second half on that contest. In total, the offense had a season-low five offensive plays against the Ravens that included pre snap motion. This is a new week and on Sunday the Steelers will play a defense that lacks great sideline-to-sideline speed at the second level. Because of that, and due to the Cowboys entire defense being horrible against the run this season, the Steelers offense should use a lot of pre-snap motion on Sunday with tons of success. Seriously, anything less than 15 offensive plays that include pre-snap motion taking place at the snap of the football will be very disappointing. This Cowboy defense begs to be run on. Using a lot of pre-snap motion against that defense could result in some big plays for running backs James Conner and Benny Snell Jr.
Calculated Deep Shots – So far this season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been necessarily great with his deep passes of more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. Thankfully, a few pass interference penalties have been called on opposing defenses so far this season and that has resulted in some nice supplemental hidden yardage. On Sunday in Dallas, Roethlisberger should have more than a few chances to go deep on a very suspect Cowboys secondary that will once again be without cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. While cornerback Trevon Diggs did have two interceptions last Sunday, he still has allowed five receiving touchdowns so far this season to go along with 32 total receptions. He has great hands but that’s about it. The other Dallas cornerbacks and safeties just don’t stack up at all with the Steelers wide receiver depth chart. If Roethlisberger gets a single high safety look, he should try to attack it deep on the outside. Also, a well-timed slot fade to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster should be there for the taking on Sunday. In short, if Roethlisberger can’t finally get his deep pass connection working against the Cowboys defense, one must wonder if he’ll get it on track and more consistent the remainder of the season.
Keep A Lid On It – Multiple explosive plays and turnovers are they only way the Steelers will lose on Sunday to the Cowboys. The Steelers defense has already allowed 11 pass plays of 30 or more yards this season and that’s sixth-most in the NFL entering Week 9. Three of those have gone for touchdowns. Gilbert won’t be afraid to go deep some on Sunday and especially down the middle of the field. He showed that in the AAF in 2019. If the Cowboys have anything right now it’s a talented wide receiver depth chart as it includes Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and Cedric Wilson. All four can produce explosives receiving plays down the field. Heading into Week 9, the four have 11 receptions that have gone for 30 or more yards with four of them resulting in touchdowns. All but one of those passes was a deep one. If the Steelers secondary can keep everything under 30 yards on Sunday, it should go a long way in helping the team easily dispose of the Cowboys.
Punting Isn’t Awful – The Steelers easily outclass the Cowboys in this game from a talent standpoint and that’s obviously evident with them being more than two touchdown road favorites. In short, if the Steelers don’t make a huge number of mistakes on Sunday in Dallas, they should win the game by at least one point. Obviously, turnovers can quickly turn a game around and give an extreme underdog a chance. In short, the Steelers have no need to take huge risks on Sunday and that includes throwing for the chains and beyond on third and longs. A punt or three by Steelers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If a punt needs to follow a third and long draw play or short screen pass that offers no real chance at achieving a first down, so be it. In games such as the one the Steelers will play Sunday against the Cowboys in Dallas, being safe rather than being sorry should be the primary undertaking.