The 8-4 Dallas Cowboys head into Heinz Field to face the 9-3 Steelers in Week 14’s NFL Game of the Week.
There are serious playoff implications in this one as Pittsburgh is looking to distance itself from the stubborn 8-4 Ravens while the Cowboys are caught in a tie with the Atlanta Falcons for the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
Dallas, who typically suffers from the late season meltdown—Romo’s Cowboys are 2-6 in the past two Decembers respectively and this December’s schedule is brutal once again—can ill-afford to be without starting RB Marion Barber and stud DE/LB DeMarcus Ware in this football game.
But as of Friday, it appears that will be just the case for Barber. Ware’s expected to go although his effectiveness remains to be seen.
When the Cowboys have the ball, we see OC Jason Garrett exhausting all options in order to keep his offense balanced. With fourth-round pick Tashard Choice as his likely tailback, he can not abandon the running game and make this offense one dimensional even though the Steelers have one of the top rushing defenses in the NFL.
If he does, game over.
Pittsburgh has the speed rushers off the end (and blitz package in general) to kill Romo if he’s forced to drop 35 times in the game and the secondary will force turnovers on errant throws.
Also, Romo’s main receiving threat (TE Jason Witten) will be guarded by one of the best in the business, S Troy Palumalu, so we see him having to spread the ball around elsewhere and that might present opportunities for No. 2 wideout Roy Williams and back-up TE Martellus Bennett.
T.O. will be a non-factor as the Steelers are notorious for taking top opposing receivers out of the game and their physical nature will frustrate and disrupt Owens’ routes.
When the Steelers have the ball, they’ll have more options. Built for the cold weather game, the Steelers will lean heavily on their running game and use that to open up things for Big Ben and the outside play makers.
Dallas has gotten solid play of late from their line—DT Jay Ratliff and DE/LB DeMarcus Ware in particular—but Pittsburgh’s offensive line is only now beginning to gel (off-season departure of G Alan Faneca and a few guys now healthy) and their physical nature will be able to get a push against this Dallas front seven.
If Dallas then chooses to creep up a safety to help out vs. the run, it’ll provide Roethlisberger opportunities to locate his top three receiving threats (Ward, Holmes and Washington) and even TE Heath Miller who should have a LB trying to cover him.
With weather expected to be in the 20s and potential for snow flurries during the game, look for the Steelers to win by at least seven points although I wouldn’t be surprised to see the final margin of victory up in double digits.
Pittsburgh’s toughness will be too much in the end and the Cowboys inability to generate anything from the ground game will force Romo into many three-and-outs as it’s incredibly difficult to execute in the passing game in freezing weather.
So Pittsburgh will move to 10-3 and inch one step closer to a first-round bye while the Cowboys will fall back to 8-5 and to the brink. And while the odds to win the sixth seed are not insurmountable, it’s not too likely considering their brutal schedule for the rest of December.