The Steelers are coming off their biggest win of the season against the Baltimore Ravens. After coming out of the gauntlet of their schedule 3-0, they now head to Dallas to face the Cowboys. The entire NFC East is in flux, but the Cowboys seemingly have no idea since losing Dak Prescott for the year. What are the Steelers facing when they face the struggling Cowboys on Sunday?
On offense, the Cowboys still run a West Coast offense similar to the one Mike McCarthy ran during his time in Green Bay. A key point of his entire offense is to move the chains through quick concepts. That often means he will pass early and often, although that could change with their quarterback issues right now. All of it coalesces in trying to keep the defense off guard to try and open up the running game and deep passing attack.
This is a standard part of the Cowboys playbook. They want to spread defenses out and attack them at the sticks or just behind the sticks. Most importantly, they want to attack with their concepts all over the field to utilize the spacing of their route concepts. On the front side of this play, the Cowboys run double slants while on the backside they have a double curl concept. This is all about either beating the cornerback or finding the soft spot in those underneath zones. CeeDee Lamb finds that soft spot and gets open for the first down. The receivers have to feel leverage and spacing in the McCarthy scheme
On the ground, ever since Prescott was injured, the Cowboys have to utilize trickeration and misdirection. They always try to spread defenses out which is standard for the West Coast offense. The running backs get used in the passing game too. However, motion and reverses have become the norm for the Dallas offense over the last few weeks. They send Tony Pollard in motion here, give it to him on a pop pass, and when it looks like he will throw it back to Lamb, Pollard just keeps it through the alley. For a linebacker, this is hard to process through the normal keys. The Steelers will have to be mindful of this misdirection.
As for the running game, McCarthy’s scheme calls for a lot of zone runs. Outside zone, in particular, is a staple in the Cowboys offensive attack. However, split zone, midzone, and inside zone all show up along with some gap runs including duo. The Cowboys almost always run to the strong side of their formation and like to get into 12 personnel for these outside zone runs to create extra gaps for the edge defender to guard.
The Cowboys, even with Mike Nolan coming on board, stuck to their guns and run a 4-3 defense. The key to this defense is that it tries to get flexible on the back end in a pattern-matching scheme that will allow them to disguise coverages and blitzes to the quarterback pre-snap. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they simply do not have the personnel to run such a complicated scheme on the back end of the defense. Regardless, this is a defense that will get aggressive and try to force turnovers with their schematics.
Players to Watch
WRs Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson Jr
With Garrett Gilbert set to start, the Cowboys are hoping he is able to take advantage of this talented wide receiver group. There is no question that this quartet of receivers is one of the best in the entire league. Cooper is a ridiculously talented route runner who creates easy separation. Lamb is a tough football player who makes all the tough catches look easy. He is dangerous after the catch. Gallup has phenomenal body control and acts as a pseudo-deep threat on the boundary. Out of the slot, Wilson Jr is quick and shifty. That leaves him as a big-play threat. The Steelers need to shut these four players down.
OG Zack Martin
Arguably the best guard in football, Zack Martin is the one constant for the Cowboys on a truly battered and bruised offensive line. Without La’el Collins or Tyron Smith, it will be an uphill climb. Ezekiel Elliott is dealing with a hamstring injury as well, but Martin could provide some sort of spark as a pulling guard. Against Stephon Tuitt, it will be a battle of elite players on the interior in pass protection. Martin is the one guy the Cowboys can run behind with lots of confidence, however.
DE Aldon Smith
Dealing with a knee injury, Smith may not be fully up to health, but he has been a weapon for the Cowboys this season. Smith can have been a difference-maker as a pass rusher. Just like during his time in San Francisco, it is Smith’s burst and bend that is so rare for the position. His talent has to be neutralized by the Steelers front if they want to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright today.
Matchups to Watch
TJ Watt and Bud Dupree vs Terrence Steele and Cam Erving
Make no mistake, the Cowboys are overmatched across the line, but especially on the outside here with their tackles. There should be no reason Watt and Dupree can not eat on Sunday. Both players have had their numerous struggles over this year against less impressive players, and even with chips, Dupree and Watt still got to Lamar Jackson last week. If the Cowboys can not figure out a way to at least slow down these two, it is going to be a long day for them offensively.
Steelers Receivers vs Cowboys Secondary
The Cowboys secondary has not been good this year at all. They have been exploited deep and in man coverage. Meanwhile, the Steelers receiving corps has yet to be shut down for an entire game. With such a deep group of pass-catchers and mismatches across the board, it is hard to see how the Cowboys can slow the Steelers offense as long as they take care of the football.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Delivers Meals to Seniors on Thanksgiving
With his team suddenly off, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster spent his Thanksgiving morning giving back to the Pittsburgh community.
Smith-Schuster — along with his dog, Boujee — helped deliver meals to less fortunate seniors in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“It’s always been a passion in my heart,” Smith-Schuster said. “I think it’s huge when people give back.”
Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster delivers meals to seniors on Thanksgiving pic.twitter.com/bEClYxPvrO
— JoAnne Harrop (@joannescoop) November 26, 2020
The Steelers aren’t playing on Thursday because their scheduled game with the Baltimore Ravens was pushed back to Sunday due to a COVID-19 outbreak with the Ravens.
After the team practiced Tuesday and Wednesday in anticipation of a Thursday kickoff, head coach Mike Tomlin gave the team the day off on Thursday.
Steelers President Art Rooney II Extends Thanks, Appreciation to Fans
On the heels of such an unpleasant day for many Steelers fans, and even a day that left several players filled with bitterness and animosity because their game was postponed, Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement on Thanksgiving morning.
In the spirit of giving thanks and moving on, Rooney expressed his disappointment about the current situation and his appreciation for the support of all of Steelers Nation.
“Though we are disappointed that we will not get to play for our fans on Thanksgiving night this year, we look forward to many more exciting times during the 2020 season,” Rooney said. “Today gives us all a time to reflect and appreciate what we can be thankful for on this holiday. And I want to add a special note of thanks to all our frontline workers for all your tireless efforts in these difficult times.”
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 26, 2020
Barring no more issues, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are now scheduled to kickoff at 1:15 pm EST. Just as the game would’ve been Thursday night, it will be broadcast on NBC.
Steelers Tops Among All Teams in Pro Bowl Votes; T.J. Watt Leads OLBs
The Pittsburgh Steelers lead all NFL clubs in votes cast for the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl, the league announced on Wednesday, with outside linebacker T.J. Watt the top vote-getter at his position.
The Steelers led all teams in votes, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills, and did so despite not having any players in the top five overall vote-getters and just two players leading at their position.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has the most votes of any individual player, with 143,355 votes, followed by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
For the Steelers, Watt leads all vote-getters at outside linebacker with 69,924 votes. Watt is a two-time Pro Bowler and is coming off a first-team All-Pro season in 2019. He’s currently tied for third in the NFL with nine sacks, one-half behind leaders Trey Hendrickson of New Orleans and Myles Garrett of Cleveland. Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears paced the NFC’s outside linebackers with 47,689 votes.
The Steelers’ other top vote-getter comes at an unusual position. Long snapper Kameron Canaday leads all AFC long snappers with 48,869 votes. Canaday, in his fifth NFL season and fourth with the Steelers, has never made the Pro Bowl.
While the teams will still be selected, the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl will not be played. Instead the Pro Bowl events will be led virtually and the game will be streamed via Madden NFL 21. The game had been scheduled to be played at Allegiant Stadium in las Vegas on Jan. 31. Voting will continue through Dec. 17.