Pregame stretch: Cowboys at Steelers

Daunting matchups for Steelers D, but all eyes on Roethlisberger

Dallas Cowboys (6-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) at Heinz Field, capacity 68,400; Sunday at 4:25 p.m., FOX

Announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Annoyance factor: We know both of these guys have their faults (and tons of detractors) but they are Hall of Famers compared to Jeem and Pheel and it will be refreshing to hear some new voice and perspectives. Information courtesy www.the506.com.

Weather – or not?: Sunny, temperatures falling through the 50s. A little colder would be preferred for the dome-dwelling Cowboys.. Information courtesy www.weather.com.

How they rank: Dallas offense: 18th passing, 1st rushing, 4th ppg; Pittsburgh defense: 24th passing, 13th rushing, 13th ppg; Pittsburgh offense: 8th passing, 25th rushing, 16th ppg; Dallas defense: 15th passing, 6th rushing, 4th ppg; Sacks: Dallas 15th (18); Pittsburgh 30th (11); Sacks allowed: Dallas 1st (11), Pittsburgh 7th (13). Comment: Hmmmm, lesseeeee here, the Cowboys run the ball, stop the run and protect their quarterback. Sounds like a winning formula. With the best rushing offense in the league, how tempted will the Cowboys be to test Pittsburgh porous pass defense?

Referee: Clete Blakeman. Competence factor: After the drek we got from John Hussey’s crew last week, this should a nice change of pace. This traditionally has been one of the best white hats and crews in the NFL, but be warned they are way about the league average at close to 16 penalties per game assessed at 137 yards. Information courtesy www.footballzebras.com and www.profootballreference.com.

The line: Steelers -2.5. Smarts say: Huh? The Cowboys would only be favored by a half-point on a neutral field? That sounds like it says more about what Vegas thinks of the Cowboys and Cowboy bettors than it does anything about Pittsburgh. The over/under of 50 means something in the neighborhood of Steelers 27-24. Information courtesy www.dannysheridan.com and www.pregame.com.

The last time: The Steelers and Cowboys played one of the most even NFL games you’ll ever see the last time they met with Dallas prevailing 27-24 in overtime at Cowboys Stadium in December of 2012. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 341 yards and two TDs for Pittsburgh while Tony Romo piled up 339 yards and a couple scores. Antonio Brown had eight catches for 77 yards while Miles Austin had seven for 79. You get the idea.

Key matchup: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Dallas safeties J.J. Wilcox and Byron Jones. Because: We literally could come up with six key matchups for this game (most of them looking like a nightmare for Pittsburgh, but if the Steelers are going to win it’s going to be because Ben Roethlisberger played well and when has played well this year it’s started with a completed deep ball early to get inside the opposing safeties heads. With veteran Barry Church out of this game, there may be a better chance to do that and open things up in the seams for the return of Antonio Brown (remember him?).

Quick hits:

+ A cursory look at the Steelers mediocre start might have one pointing fingers at Mssrs. Roethlisberger and Brown, but Pittsburgh’s woes start much more fundamentally than that, on the defensive and offensive lines. On D, any chance Pittsburgh has of making the playoffs and making some noise revolves around the return to form for Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Heyward, at least, is injured. Tuitt’s disappearing act is a puzzler. On the other side of the ball, a unit we were ready to start talking about just a few weeks ago as one of the best in the game, has fallen apart, due to injuries (Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Fragilee Pouncey) and another bizarre flameout, this one from David DeCastro, who’s gone from All-Pro to whipping boy on a lot of Sundays.

+ To think that Bud Dupree is going to step onto the field in Week 10 and help the Steelers pass rush is at once ridiculous and understandable. Dupree showed a handful of flashes in his rookie year but was graded bottom five in the league by Pro Football Focus. That said, he’s young and has the athletic ability and the guys playing so far in front of him have been dreadful.

+ Ben Roethlisberger’s “follow me” comment to a reporter who asked how the Steelers can avoid panic amidst a losing streak could be the phrase that launched a thousand memes and a million T-shirt sales if #7 can work out one little detail. He’s gotta play better — a lot better.

+ In terms of a rookie making his first start, we liked what we saw from Artie Burns last week. He’s got a long way to go as a tackler, but he at least gave the impression of someone who could blossom into a pretty good NFL cover guy.

+ All signs point to Ladarius Green going this week so we’ll note again that, normally, we’d think someone coming back after a one-year absence from the field wouldn’t be much of a factor, but tight ends are a little bit different animal because of their red zone value.

+ Hey, the Cowboys run the football… a lot. That means for the first time in a long time the Pittsburgh nose tackle, rookie Javon Hargrave, a very key figure to watch in this game. But if it Hargrave is on the field trying to stop the run, that means fewer DB which means a linebacker could often be matching up with Jason Witten.

The pick: A very smart and snarky Twitter user (@Bentzburg) posted this week that “If Mike Tomlin were president, we would destroy China in a war then get invaded by Norway the next week.” He’s right, by the way. After some time in the Norwegian Wood, it’ll be Chinese Democracy on Sunday  …. Steelers 31-19. (Blogger’s note: That’s Beatles and Guns ‘n’ Roses references in context in the same Steelers prediction, that’s gotta be worth a lot of bonus points.)

Last week: We’ve got it going now, although our streak of correction predictions is largely opposing the Steelers streak of stinking up football games. Last week’s second consecutive double win has us at 5-3 straight up and 6-2 against the spread.


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