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Scouting Report: Cowboys in Flux, Trying to Find Identity

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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?

Cowboys’ Schemes

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.

 

 

Steelers

Steelers Estimated $3.6m Under Salary Cap after New Contract for Ben Roethlisberger

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The Steelers have are salary cap compliant and have an estimated $3.6 million in breathing room after renegotiating the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday, according to contract figures reported by NFL Network, salary cap data from OverTheCap.com and Steelers Now analysis.

Roethlisberger’s contract, which is technically a five-year deal, but will last only through the 2021 season before being voided will save the team $15.3 million under the 2021 salary cap.

Though the Steelers are finally in the black with regards to the 2021 salary cap, they will still likely need to make additional moves to shore up extra salary cap space. The team will need over $8 million in space to sign its 2021 NFL Draft class, the final two players for the 53-man roster and a practice squad. Only the top 51 contracts count toward the cap in the offseason.

The Steelers’ estimated $3.6 million in cap space is based on a $180 million salary cap, which is based on Steelers Now sources on several national reports. The final salary cap figure for 2021 has not yet been made official.

The team has a three contracts that can be restructured, those of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, kicker Chris Boswell and fullback Derek Watt, that could save the team around another $6 million.

The contracts of guard David DeCastro and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson could also be extended or re-negotiated. All are entering the final season of their contract.

The Steelers have two dozen pending free agents, including starters Tyson Alualu, Zach Banner, Jordan Berry, James Conner, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alejandro Villanueva and key reserves Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton. 

Starting center J.C. Hassenauer and backup inside linebackers Marcus Allen and Robert Spillane are exclusive rights free agents. Backup outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi and wide receiver and kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud are restricted free agents.

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Steelers

Report: Ben Roethlisberger Took $5m Pay Cut, Lowers Cap Hit by $15m

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The Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger agreed to a new contract for the 2021 season on Thursday and details of the deal are now being reported.

Roethlisberger agreed to a $5 million pay cut as part of a new contract that will technically run through 2025, with the final four seasons becoming void after 2021. 

Roethlisberger was set to earn $4 million in salary and a $15 million roster bonus for 2021, none of which was guaranteed. Instead, he will earn $1.075 million in salary, with $12.925 million converted to guaranteed signing bonus. That signing bonus will be spread over the initial five years of the contract.

That means that Roethlisberger will count for a total of $25.91 million against the Steelers’ 2021 salary cap, a savings of $15.3 million. The details of Roethlisberger’s contract were first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

After the final four years of Roethlisberger’s contract are voided, the Steelers will have $10.3 million of dead money, which will count against the team’s salary cap in 2022 or will be spread out between 2022 and 2023.

Roethlisberger, 39, had a strong season statistically in 2020, passing for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions, but saw his play slide as the team dropped five of its final six games.

A two-time Super Bowl champion, Roethlisberger is the Steelers’ all-time leader in passing yards (60,349), touchdowns (396), completions (5,050) and wins (156).

Steelers Now’s Alan Saunders contributed salary cap information and graphic to this report.

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Steelers Sign Ben Roethlisberger to New Contract for 2021

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The Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have agreed on a new contract for the 2021 season, the club announced Thursday.

“We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021,” General Manager and Vice President Kevin Colbert said. “We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. Our goal remains the same – to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.”

While exact details of the new deal have yet to be reported, it can be assumed that the two sides came to terms on a significant restructuring to have Roethlisberger’s contract fit under the team’s bloated salary cap for 2021.

Roethlisberger was set to count over $41 million towards the Steelers’ 2021 salary cap obligations prior to Thursday’s announcement.

It is also important to note that the contract is not an extension, but simply a one-year deal to keep Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh for the upcoming 2021 campaign.

“It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization,” Roethlisberger said. “I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success. I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go.”

Roethlisberger had a fine season statistically in 2020, passing for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions, but saw his play dip as the team dropped five of six games to close the year.

A two-time Super Bowl champion, Roethlisberger is the Steelers’ all-time leader in passing yards (60,349), touchdowns (396), completions (5,050) and wins (156).

Roethlisberger turned 39 years old on Tuesday, March 2.

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