View Full Version : Cowboys hope momentum helps tame December, Steelers

12-02-2008, 08:09 PM
Cowboys hope momentum helps tame December, Steelers
Dec. 2, 2008
By Charley Casserly
CBS Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have reeled off three straight wins to gain some momentum coming into December, a month that has not been kind to them in recent years.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Giants, Ravens and Eagles on the schedule, it is going to be a tough month. The Cowboys' offense certainly has improved with the return of Tony Romo, but I worry about their running game.

Marion Barber is their work-horse running back, and he has already carried the ball more times than he did all of last year. He has an injured foot now, which I have been told will not prevent him from playing against the Steelers. But what bothers me about him coming down the stretch is not only the wear and tear on him to this point but also his physical running style.

The Cowboys have a lot of weapons on offense: Terrell Owens, Roy Williams and Jason Witten to go along with Barber. What I think they must do to be successful is maintain balance. That means running the football more than they tend to do, and that is where Barber's health will be important.

The other concern I have about the Cowboys is their secondary. The key player here is Terence Newman, who has rarely been healthy this season. In fact when he was healthy, against the Redskins, he shut down Santana Moss. The Cowboys need him to be healthy to be successful in December and in the playoffs.

As for the Steelers, I believe a key guy for them is going to Willie Parker, who has battled injuries all season. He gives them a big-play running threat that can make their offense even more dangerous. The Steelers, who have played the best defense in the NFL throughout the season, have the kind of defense that -- in the playoffs with bad weather -- can almost win it by itself. They are a more complete team than the Jets or Tennessee, the other top teams in the AFC.

One factor that will help the Cowboys in this game is some extra rest and preparation after playing on Thanksgiving.

Dallas Offense vs. Pittsburgh Defense

The first thing I am going to look at on every play is the matchups between the Dallas offensive tackles (Flozell Adams, Marc Columbo) against Pittsburgh's OLB (LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison).

Adams really struggled before the Cowboys' bye, but he has played better in the past three games. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this matchup. If Dallas can block Harrison and Woodley without help from their backs and tight ends, they will be able to find holes in the Steelers' secondary. This is important for the Steelers because their secondary will not match up well with the Cowboys receivers.

The next point on offense I am going to watch is Romo's poise and decision making. Romo is a little bit of gunslinger at times. He will not always be careful with the ball and that can be an issue in the face of the Steelers' intense pressure. Romo will be hurried on some of his throws and he cannot turn the ball over.

The Cowboys will probably not have much success running the ball in this game, but they are going to have to try to maintain some balance in their offense and keep the Steelers pass rush honest.

Steelers offense vs. Cowboy defense

The first thing I want to find out is how healthy Newman is, and I do not believe that will take long to determine. If I were the Steelers I would go right after him and find out.

The Cowboys secondary -- even with Newman -- will be tested in this game. Anthony Henry -- their other corner -- will have trouble with either of the Steelers wide receivers: Hines Ward because of his route precision and Santonio Holmes because of his speed and quickness. The other interesting matchup is with the Cowboys safeties and linebackers against Steelers tight end Heath Miller, who will beat the one-on-one coverage of any safety or linebacker of the Cowboys.

The next point I want to watch is the Cowboys' ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. They should do this. I believe the Cowboys will get their share of QB pressures and sacks in this game.

The Steelers offensive line is average, and the Cowboys have some good pass rushers, most notably DeMarcus Ware. The other reason they are going to get their share of pressure and sacks is Ben Roethlisberger will -- at times -- hold the ball. The key will be on those plays where Roethlisberger has time will the Cowboy secondary hold up?


Both teams have a lot to play for in this game. The Cowboys are fighting for the playoffs, and Pittsburgh is trying to stay ahead of the Ravens for first place in their division. I like the Steelers to win this game.

I believe both teams will put pressure on the QB. I believe both teams will struggle to run the ball. I think the difference in this game will be who turns the ball over more at the QB position and which team will make more big plays in the passing game.

I think the Steelers will play better pass defense in this game, and Roethlisberger will turn the ball over less, and that will be the difference in the game.

12-02-2008, 09:41 PM
This year in the NFC, 11-5 may NOT cut it for a WC.