Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) -14 @ Dallas Cowboys (2-6)
Time and place: 11/8 at 4:25 p.m. EST @ AT&T Stadium
Tidbit: Dallas will start either Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush against Pittsburgh. Gilbert and Rush have combined for 9 career NFL pass attempts.
KEY #1: B.Y.O.J. (Bring Your Own Juice)
Coming off three significant victories against the Browns, Titans, and Ravens, this matchup against the lowly Cowboys is a spot where many teams might come out flat. This is an excellent opportunity for the Steelers to reinforce their status atop the league by putting together a complete performance against a team in the midst of what appears to be a lost season. First and foremost, the Steelers need to bring their own juice to Dallas and play the same fast, physical style of football that has gotten them to this point. Should they play with the energy they're capable of in this trap game, we're sure to see plenty of celebrations like we did on the last play of the game against Baltimore.
(BTW- how great is Minkah Fitzpatrick?)
KEY #2: Pressure the quarterback
This one is simple. The Steelers are the only team averaging more than 4 sacks per game and have three players in the top 10 in the league for sacks. Dallas has a banged up offensive line and will be down to their fourth quarterback of the season.
The easiest way to turn this game into a boat race is for the pass rushers to impose their will early and often. Pittsburgh touts the most menacing edge rushing duo in the league in Watt and Dupree- expect them to wreak havoc as usual.
A bonus would be to take the ball away via the strip sack. Watt and Dupree have done an excellent job of swiping at the football when they get pressure and it came to fruition against the Ravens, with Dupree forcing a massive fumble in the red zone.
KEY #3: Pound the rock
The Cowboys' rush defense has been abysmal thus far. They've allowed a staggering 170.9 yards per game on the ground. They've been especially susceptible to runs on the edges and jets, where their linebackers have simply not been effective in chasing down athletes in open space. While we're likely to see a heavy dose of James Conner, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers make use of Anthony McFarland's explosiveness in spots. McFarland *just* missed an opportunity to bust open a huge run against the Ravens on his lone attempt. The Steelers are excited about him because he possesses a burst that the other runners on the roster don't have and this seems like the perfect opportunity to get the rookie some work. Look at how much green grass McFarland had in front of him before slipping on the play.
Additionally, the Steelers will probably utilize motion and jet sweeps to take advantage of an underperforming Cowboys linebacker unit. On this play Eagles running back Boston Scott easily scampers for 19 yards, largely because of a bad angle by Jaylon Smith and what looks like a lack of interest in tackling in the secondary.
KEY #4: Possess the ball
An underrated reason the Steelers have been so successful is their ability to possess the ball. The Steelers are 4th in the NFL in Time of Possession per game while the Cowboys are 27th. This is supported by Pittsburgh's ability to convert on 3rd down. Another way for the Steelers to impose their will is to move the chains and suck the life out of the Cowboys defense, who could be on the field a bunch given the current state of their offense.
Watch JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has been excellent doing the dirty work, fight for 2 yards on this 3rd and 1. JuJu has been so good this season at shrugging off initial contact and making defenders earn the tackle.
KEY #5: Pack the box and tackle
Again, this one is pretty simple. The Cowboys offense is very predictable with where they are with the quarterback situation. Ezekiel Elliott is the focus of the offense and Dallas needs him to run well in order to move the ball. On this play, the Cowboys come out in 12 personnel and the Eagles respond by packing 8 men in the box. The Cowboys run to the strong side, but the Eagles, especially Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, do a good job of winning their assignments and forcing Elliott to make a decisive cut where Philly's linebackers are waiting to make the play.