It was once a storied rivalry in the NFL, going as far back to when there was an only an NFL and the AFL was starting out. A rivalry that would end up providing a true “hatred” against the others team and spark passion with their fans each time they meet up. It would lead Sports Illustrated to declare the quarterback rivalry of Bradshaw and Staubach as the top quarterback rivalry in the history of the NFL. No doubt, when you talk about rivalries, this one will top all rivalries to come.
Not to diminish the division rivalries or conference rivalries because these, for the most part are seen year in and year out on the way to the big game. But, this one would go as far as the final game of the year, the Superbowl. In fact, if you go through the history of the Superbowl era teams that have faced each other for the Lombardi Trophy, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers will have faced each other more then any other teams. Three times, in fact. In those three meetings, the Steelers would hold the advantage 2-1.
The younger ones may only remember only the Aikmann/O’Neill game, but those of us old enough to remember, those of us that are now sipping geritol and getting around on our walkers remember the true spirit of this rivalry.
But, this isn’t the Superbowl and as much as I would love to muse on the possibilities of two 5 time superbowl champions meeting under the lights in February, I should focus on the now and present.
The meetings between the Cowboys and the Steelers have become few and far between now. In fact, the last time these two teams met was in week 6 of 2004 at Texas Stadium. In that matchup, the Steelers won 24-20. Now, four years later, the Cowboys will be going to Heinz Field. It will be the first time that Tony Romo and this Cowboy team as a team has played here (though one or two of their players can remember losing there).
For the Cowboys, this game could very well be a must win, to stay alive in the race for the playoffs, for the Steelers, well, a win would continue to give them breathing room to stay on top of the AFC North and not have them rely on another team, ironically, the Cowboys in their last game at Baltimore.
What can we analyze about this game that would give us an accurate barometer. We can go on common opponents, both teams having won their respective games against Cincinnati, Cleveland and Washington. Defensive stats, well both defenses are extremely good in the pass-rush and getting to the quarterback. Dallas is a close second in leading the league in sacks at 40, the Steelers have registered only 2 more sacks. Sacks allowed, well, it’s no secret that the Steelers oline has had it’s problems. Of course, the Cowboys oline has, in itself, done a good job at protecting their quarterback with allowing only 18 sacks. Each respective defense have registered 9 forced fumbles and in passing defense and interceptions the Steelers have the edge with 13 interceptions to the Cowboys six.
I can dwell on stats all day, but this game will be based on the intangibles. Both quarterbacks are getting healthy from injuries. Ben Roethlisberger plagues by a shoulder injury and Tony Romo having just come back from a finger fracture. Though Romo has only been sacked an average of 1 per game, what’s not shown in those stats is that he was sacked 3 times by the Packers defense and 3 by the Cardinals defense. And though Romo may not have been sacked 4 times against the Giants defense, the Dallas oline did give up those sacks. So when faced with formidable pass rush, yes, the Cowboys quarterback can be gotten to. Of course the same can be said about the Steelers oline.
But again, back to the intangibles. They are calling for snow in Pittsburgh in the 10-day forecast. It will be cold, it will be windy and it’s this time of year that is not good for the long deep balls. Don’t let the scores on the Steelers offense fool you. The best way to handle a high powered offense is to keep them on the bench. In the last three games, the Steelers offense had maintained control of the ball for 35 minutes or more. In the last two games, the offense had found away, not only to get it in the endzone on 3d and shorts. Had the receivers caught the balls that were placed in their hands, Ben’s numbers would be just a wee bit better. In fact, the Steelers offense is starting to click at the right time, when it counts.
The play on the oline has begun to improve, not only on pass protection but also on opening up the holes. How well will the oline do now against the Cowboys defense, well hard to say, they haven’t faced a formidable pass rushing team since their improvement, but should be at least a little better then in the past given that we’re seeing more mixup in plays, Ben getting out of the pocket and/or releasing the ball more quickly. It will also depend on the status of Cowboys DeMarcus Ware and his status.
This game may more then likely come down to who has more mistakes. The turnover ratio could be an indicator with Pittsburgh with a plus 4 to the Cowboys minus 5.
No, the Steelers offense is not a high powered offense and this game is an NFL game in December, not BCS football. Given that the Steelers haven’t allowed one team all season to go 300 yds total on them, this won’t be a high powered shootout but will be dependent on the run, and the quarterback who makes the least mistakes.
Historical Reference : Due to the thought there may have been a reference to the Steelers being in the AFL, I should clarify. The reference to the NFL and AFL was to establish a timeline. It would be 1960 when the Dallas Cowboys would enter the NFL and play their first professional football game against...the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams were part of the original NFL. That same year, the American Football League had been formed. .