Dallas Cowboys: Ben Roethlisberger
No. 7 -- Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys QB
No player in the NFC East stirs more emotion than Romo. Many will consider this ranking too high, shouting things like, "One playoff win!" and "I'm surprised his ranking didn't get intercepted!" etc. Others will consider this ranking too low, citing Romo's excellent and consistent regular-season numbers and a justifiable belief that the negatives too strongly outweigh the positives in too many people's minds. Me, I left him right here where he was last year, at No. 7 on the list of best players in the NFC East. I guess you can sit here and say he should be better. And throwing three interceptions in the division title game against Washington in Week 17 last year certainly didn't help his case. But more than two-thirds of the teams in the league would take Romo over their current quarterback situation, and in the end I think he's a bit of an underappreciated player.
He's gone over 4,000 yards passing in three of the past four seasons, the only exception being the 2010 season in which he missed 10 games due to injury. He has a career completion percentage of 64.7 and hasn't been under 63 in a season since 2008. He has a 95.6 career passer rating, which is higher than those of Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, to name a few. And for all of the talk about interceptions, last year's 19 was an anomaly, tying a career high. He's only thrown more than 14 in a season twice in his career.
The issue, of course, is the winning, or lack thereof. The three quarterbacks named in the previous paragraph have a combined five Super Bowl titles. Romo has none, as everyone knows. If that were not the case, I believe he'd be more freely talked about among the great quarterbacks of his era, since the numbers put him there on their own. Romo's own role in the Cowboys' lack of Super Bowl success during his time as their starting quarterback is often exaggerated, but he has surely played one. Until he and they overcome that problem, he has to rank a notch below that elite level.
The rest of the rankings:
8. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
9. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
10. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
11. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo danced around questions regarding changes to the offense and refused to answer who will call plays, saying only: "I'm just the quarterback and I'm trying to get better and help this team."
Romo didn't answer if he asked for more input with the game plan.
"The older you get, you develop that a little bit as a quarterback," Romo said. "If you do some good things in the past, then that allows you to show that you can have a little more of that. That's part of the growth that takes shape."
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger also talked to reporters about changes to the Steelers' offense.
"There's been some changes this offseason in some of the offensive philosophies, playbook and some things that I think are good," Roethlisberger said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's some compromise from all the different position coaches, the running back coaches, the line, and quarterback coaches. I think we've taken a little bit of everything and made it a lot better."
When asked if he requested the changes, Roethlisberger laughed.
"There were some things," he said.
Romo had a chance to take a similar stand Tuesday regarding his role with the team. Romo has always had input with the offense. After all, he's the quarterback. But Jerry Jones put him in a bind by talking about his increased role as if he never had one before.
I've always thought Jones was trying to justify Romo's new $108 million contract by adding these "duties" to Romo's responsibilities. The quarterback's time at Valley Ranch and his input with the offense might increase a little bit, but not much more than it's been in the past.
Romo had a chance to say this Tuesday. He didn't.
|Fitzsimmons & Durrett discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what it says about Jerry Jones. |
How can the Cowboys give Romo a $108 million contract with one playoff victory, three Pro Bowl appearances and a 1-6 mark in win-or-go-home games?
The market dictates so is one reason and another is the Cowboys believe Romo can deliver on a Super Bowl championship. But comparing Romo to the Manning Brothers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger is almost unfair because these men have won Super Bowl titles.
So why not compare Romo's resume to some other good quarterbacks who haven't won a Super Bowl. We picked the following: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers
Below is a statistical comparison:
Is Romo better than Ryan? Better than Schaub? Is Romo worth the money after comparing him to other quarterbacks?
It's the second game in a row in which Carr has come up with a significant turnover. His second-quarter interception of Andy Dalton in Week 14 set up a touchdown drive that tied the game at 10-10 at a point when the Cowboys had not done anything offensively. Carr has been inconsistent in his first season in Dallas after signing a $51 million free-agent contract in the offseason to help stabilize the secondary. He appears to be playing better during this critical time at which the Cowboys have won five of six games to move into a first-place tie in the NFC East.
Carr is the first Cowboys player to win an NFC Defensive or Offensive Player of the Week award this season. Punt returner Dwayne Harris was NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 10, and Bailey won that award a week later.
1. Cornerback Mike Jenkins played a season-high 60 snaps in the game and made four tackles and allowed one touchdown from the slot position. Jenkins played outside and inside corner, not an easy task, but something the Cowboys expect from a former Pro Bowler and first round pick to do given the injury situation at his position. This is an interesting season for Jenkins who is entering the final weeks of his contract with the Cowboys. You can never have enough corners because of injuries, and the Cowboys have endured that the last few years. But should the Cowboys consider bringing Jenkins back for 2013? If the team signs Jenkins to a one-year contract, it could benefit both. The Cowboys will keep intact the four main corners for 2013, add Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick to the list, and Jenkins can build his resume to other teams that he's a good player. It's a similar situation wide receiver Kevin Ogletree found himself in last season. He was a free agent but elected to re-sign with Dallas for one season. Jenkins might do the same.
2. One of the toughest players on the Cowboys' team is safety Gerald Sensabaugh. You can question his deep coverage ability all you want, that 60-yard reception by Mike Wallace with Danny McCray trailing and Sensabaugh coming over for support, was poor coverage. But Sensabaugh has played with a sore hip and just doesn't come off the field. He played 60 defensive snaps on Sunday. Most weeks, Sensabaugh plays every snap or comes off the field maybe one or two plays. Sensabaugh lined up closer to the line of scrimmage and played deep at times in Rob Ryan's defense. He's a trusted member of the defense that doesn't get enough credit for hard hits. He made another one in Sunday's game on Emmanuel Sanders on a reception.
3. It's good the Cowboys want to rotate Doug Free and Jermey Parnell at right tackle. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan said whoever has the hot hand will remain in the game. Free played the last five offensive possessions at the position, four in the fourth quarter and one in overtime, while Parnell came in as a tackle eligible player late in the third quarter. Free was the right tackle for the last two possessions of the Cincinnati game last week as well. It seems the Cowboys will go with the experience in Free over Parnell with the game on the line.
4. The Cowboys defense saved outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware late in the game. He was flagged for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty for hitting Ben Roethlisberger in the back of the head on a pass rush with 1:34 to play. You can't have these penalties late in games. But Sean Lissemore sacked Roethlisberger on the next play and then Anthony Spencer picked up another sack forcing a third and long. Roethlisberger would complete a pass well short of the first down marker and Pittsburgh would punt. Lissemore and Spencer ended the late drive with sacks making sure Ware's penalty wouldn't cost the Cowboys.
5. When you use inexperience players with talent sometimes you need them to make plays late in games. Wide receiver Dwayne Harris dazzled the coaches with a nifty reception where he dodged at least three defenders. But with 2:00 to play in the game, Harris ran his route short of the first down marker and while catching a four yard pass was good, it came on third-and-five from the 17. Harris has to see where the marker is and run to that spot because quarterback Tony Romo is looking to get him the ball there.
Maybe some of it is not entirely fair because of the injuries, but everybody at Valley Ranch has said you cannot use injuries as an excuse.
Despite the call for more blitzes, Ryan has been correct to rely on his four man pressure most of the time. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 15 of 26 against the Cowboys four-man looks. He was sacked once and his interception in overtime came against four-man pressure.
His first touchdown of the game came against a three-man look. He completed two of three passes against three-man pressure, but was sacked once (Marcus Spears).
Against five- and six-man pressures Roethlisberger was seven of 11 with a touchdown (the slot throw to Antonio Brown) but Ryan’s five-man pressure call led to a split sack by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and his only six-man call of the game led to the sack by Sean Lissemore.
The Steelers had to be confused because Lissemore came unblocked between the guard and tackle and was able to smother Roethlisberger. Again, it was the only time Ryan brought six games in the game.
Let’s look at Brandon Carr’s interception that was the signature play of the game. As the Steelers lined up Carr was three yards off Mike Wallace but by the time of the snap Carr backed off to seven yards. All the while his eyes were on Roethlisberger.
At the snap he pedals back and keeps inside leverage. In the fourth quarter Wallace was able to get him on a stop route. This time he ran an out route, but it’s almost as if Roethlisberger might have been thinking Wallace would run another stop because the throw was to the inside, allowing Carr to break on the pass.
Carr made the athletic pick and was able to get down to the Pittsburgh 1 to set up the game-winning field goal.
An interesting note on that play, the Steelers chose to double Spencer with the tight end and the running back on the strong side and leave left tackle Max Starks alone on Ware.
How did the Steelers block Ware during the game?
Starks had him one-on-one on 18 pass plays, according to my count. Ware’s half sack came on a one-on-one battle. They double-teamed Ware eight times, had a tight end block him three times, but two came on quick throws to the outside. He dropped into coverage three times, went unblocked once and three times the Steelers had their guards block him by sliding the tackle down.
On to the offense …
Let’s look at Jason Witten’s touchdown first. What struck me most was Tony Romo’s fake on the play action. He and DeMarco Murray did a great job selling the run, especially with guard Nate Livings pulling. That forced linebacker Lawrence Timmons to suck up toward the line and allowed Witten to get down the field after he was untouched at the line.
It was an easy throw and catch that was set up by the run action. Since Murray’s return the Cowboys have done a lot more running out of 11 personnel with the guard pulling. Film study had them thinking it was a run on first-and-10 from their 17 but the Cowboys were able to take their shot.
On four occasions the Cowboys faced third and 1. It’s not been a kind down and distance in recent years and they were only two of four in those situations vs. the Steelers.
On the first third-and-1, Murray gained eight yards thanks to some solid work from Witten and Tyron Smith, who sealed the weakside edge, and Lawrence Vickers, who took care of the defensive back. Murray was able to fend off Larry Foote to get the extra yards with a stiff arm (or a face mask?).
On the second third-and-1, the Cowboys went with their goal line package with tackle Jermey Parnell as their third tight end. Once again Vickers did a nice job and John Phillips and Witten were able to do enough for Murray to run through Timmons for the first down.
So far so good, but to open the third quarter the Cowboys were stopped on third and 1. Once again they went with Parnell as the extra tight end, but Vickers could not get Keenan Lewis out of the way and it looked as if Mackenzy Bernadeau could not close the back side, which allowed Timmons to come through for the tackle.
The fourth third-and-1 play – a Romo bootleg - was there had Parnell and Smith blocked it correctly. On the first three plays the Steelers crashed down inside on the runs, so the Cowboys figured they would bite again and they did. But Smith and Parnell were unable to keep Harrison under control, and he made the tackle for loss.
In 2010, the Cowboys ran a similar play against Detroit in which Jon Kitna scampered home for a long touchdown.
Overall, however, the offensive line was excellent against a good Steelers front.
The Cowboys' playoff hopes are alive and well thanks to a 27-24 overtime win over the Steelers. With that, we give you our weekly Stock Report of who is up and who is down:
Brandon Carr. For the second consecutive week, Carr had an interception. This time, his pick of a Ben Roethlisberger pass set up Dan Bailey's game-winning field goal from 21-yards. Carr also had two pass breakups, and his solid play forced the Steelers to look toward the other side of the field.
DeMarco Murray. Want to know the value of the Cowboys' starting running back? He rushed for 81 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown in the victory. It seemed like Murray had 20 carries, but he touched the ball just 18 times. Murray continues to show he's getting better after missing six games because of a sprained foot. He's cutting across the grain and showing a burst.
Anthony Spencer. Every time the outside linebacker makes a big play, the cash register rings. Spencer, who could become a free agent after the season, had 1.5 sacks, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries. Overall, Spencer had one solo tackle, but he was a strong force Sunday.
Danny McCray. He led the Cowboys with six tackles, but he was taken off the field in the dime package and struggled at safety in pass coverage. McCray is one of the Cowboys' better special teams players, but on defense, the Steelers targeted passes his way at certain times.
Tyron Smith. The starting left tackle was penalized twice. The offensive line played well as evident by the few times Tony Romo was knocked around and how the running game produced 87 yards. Smith was good in pass coverage, but you have to curtail the penalties.
Brian Moorman. He had a net average of 36.2 yards. Antonio Brown's 29-yard punt return was negated by his fumble (nice play by Victor Butler in forcing it). Late in regulation, Moorman should have sent a punt out of bounds or inside the 20, but he booted it out of bounds for a touchback. It was the second time in the last three weeks in which Moorman didn't have a punt inside the 20.
It finally took hold.
With 1.5 sacks Sunday of Ben Roethlisberger, Spencer has 10 sacks in a season for the first time in his career.
“I’m happy about it, but I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Spencer said “I’m not going to change much. Trying to win games, that’s all that matters to me.”
With DeMarcus Ware’s 11.5 sacks the Cowboys have two players with 10 or more sacks in the same season since Ware (14) and Greg Ellis (12.5) accomplished the feat in 2007. It is the fifth time in franchise history the Cowboys has had two defenders with 10 or more sacks.
Ware’s half sack ups his career total to 111, unofficially tying him for second in team history with Randy White. Harvey Martin is the leader with 114 but Ware is recognized as the franchise leader because sacks weren’t recognized as an official stat until 1982.
DeMarco Murray made a major difference in this game, rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He also lost a fumble in the red zone, but Murray did much more to help the Cowboys' cause than hurt it. His presence opens up a lot of options in the Cowboys' passing game. It's no coincidence that both of Tony Romo's touchdowns came off play-action. A legitimate rushing threat also slows down the opponent's pass rushers. Murray's 3-yard touchdown run came on a beautiful cutback behind left guard Nate Livings and left tackle Tyron Smith, who dominated their men on the play.
Tony Romo became the first quarterback this season to pass for more than 300 yards against the Steelers. Sure, the Steelers' cornerback corps was ravaged by injuries, but Romo's performance (30-of-42 for 341 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers) was still impressive. The Cowboys' passing attack was balanced with five receivers catching at least four passes, led by Miles Austin's seven catches for 79 yards. Jason Witten (five catches for 43 yards) caught a touchdown from Romo for the first time this season. Dez Bryant (four catches, 59 yards, TD) extended his scoring streak to six games. Romo was only sacked once.
All things considered, the Cowboys held up pretty well against the Pittsburgh running game. Without their two starting inside linebackers, their top two nose tackles and their best run-stuffing defensive end, the Cowboys held the Steelers to 69 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Jonathan Dwyer, the Steelers' lead horse with Rashard Mendenhall in the doghouse, had only 22 yards on nine carries. Sean Lissemore, the starting nose tackle with Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent out, more than held his own. He had three tackles, including one for a loss, in addition to his sack and quarterback hurry and clogged up the middle on a consistent basis.
Ben Roethlisberger put up big numbers, completing 24 of 40 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. But the Dallas defense came up with big plays when it mattered most. Three of Cowboys' four sacks came on the Steelers' last two full possessions of the fourth quarter, when the Cowboys forced a pair of punts. Cornerback Brandon Carr picked off Roethlisberger's second pass of overtime, returning it 36 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Anthony Spencer had another dominant performance, recording 1.5 sacks in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys held tight end Heath Miller, who had seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, to only one catch after halftime.
A strange squib kick backfired on the Cowboys, giving the Steelers good field position for their touchdown drive in the third quarter. The Cowboys' punt coverage was shaky, allowing Antonio Brown to average 17.0 yards on three returns. Other than that, it was an outstanding day for the Cowboys' special teams. Victor Butler forced a fumble on a punt return. Brian Moorman averaged 48.0 yards on six punts, including a critical 59-yarder after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. Dwayne Harris had a 39-yard punt return that gave the Cowboys a chance to win the game at the end of regulation. And Dan Bailey was 2-of-2 on field goals, hitting a 50-yarder and the game-winner.
It's time to table the discussion about Jason Garrett's job security. The Cowboys have won five of six games, and he's done a tremendous job holding this team together under adversity in the last two weeks. You can quibble with some play calls -- a third-and-1 bootleg that backfired, for example -- but the mental toughness displayed by the Cowboys while posting their second consecutive comeback win is a testament to their head coach. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did a phenomenal job with his injury-ravaged, patchwork unit, particularly taking Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller out of the game after halftime.
But there is one big similarity: The ability to avoid pressure.
When the Steelers and Cowboys meet Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium, how the two avoid pressure will be interesting to watch. Romo spins away from defenders before they get to him and has the ability to break free of tacklers.
Roethlisberger doesn't do much spinning and is a bigger target at 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, but his strength allows him to get away from defenders who try to bring him down.
"Luck," joked Roethlisberger when asked about how he escapes pressure. "It's a little bit of everything. It's having the vision, just having what you hear quarterbacks talk about that clock. It's a sense in your head, something's got to be breaking down or something has to be going on. It's just something I don't think you can practice. It's something you have."
Even with a loss Sunday, the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot with wins in their final two games against the Bengals (Week 16) and Browns (Week 17), which would put Pittsburgh at 9-7. The Steelers would win a potential tiebreaker for second place in the AFC North if they finish a season sweep of the Bengals next week. The Cowboys’ playoff hopes have been boosted as they have won four of their last five games following a 3-5 start.
Here are three other statistical areas to watch Sunday:
Can the New York Giants' pass rush perk up and help a Big Blue defense that held the Falcons offense scoreless during the playoffs last season repeat that performance Sunday in Atlanta?
Can the two men the Dallas Cowboys brought in to be shutdown cornerbacks keep the Steelers receivers covered while Ben Roethlisberger scrambles to keep plays alive?
Can the Washington Redskins scheme, adjust and work around their defensive personnel shortages for another week, keeping Trent Richardson in check and daring Brandon Weeden to beat them in Cleveland?
These are the key storylines Sunday as the NFC East race spins into its final weeks. Amend them with different opponents, and they are likely to remain the key storylines in this division the rest of the way. Although the quarterbacks get all the attention in this division and statistically there's not a top-10 defense in the bunch, the team that plays the best defense in these final three games is the one most likely to emerge with the division title.
The NFC East race is a jumble. The defending champion Giants hold a one-game lead, but they have road games the next two weeks in Atlanta and Baltimore and are far from assured of winning out. The Falcons and Ravens are a combined 11-1 at home this season and 65-11 the past five. Sure, New York is a defending Super Bowl champion that has shown it can win anywhere, but there's not a team out there that could safely assume it would go 2-0 in those games. The Giants are going to have to play the way they played in January, not the way they've played for most of the past month and a half, if they're going to keep control of the division. To do that, they need to be more ferocious on defense.
The Giants have 31 sacks -- tied for 12th most in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul leads them with 6.5. Osi Umenyiora has six. Justin Tuck has only three.
The numbers are fine, but they're not Giants numbers. This is a pass rush that took out Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady en route to its second Super Bowl title in five years. Unless someone gets more than one sack a game the rest of the way, they're going to finish the regular season without anyone in double figures. That doesn't compute, and it has as much to do with why the Giants haven't already put away this division as anything.
It's possible that seeing Ryan and the Falcons will rekindle memories of how dominant they were up front 11 months ago, and if that's the case, the Giants could be the team that gets on the defensive run that gives them the division title.
The Cowboys sit one game back of the Giants, tied with the Redskins for second place. Statistically fine for much of the season, the defense has endured a brutal rash of injuries. Both starting inside linebackers, a starting safety, a starting defensive lineman and their nickel cornerback are on injured reserve. This week, star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware (elbow) and starting cornerback Morris Claiborne (concussion) have already missed practice. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff remains in doubt, and his backup, Josh Brent, is out because of his well-publicized issues. The Cowboys are running short of players on defense, which could take them right out of this picture if it continues.
But they've made it this far in spite of their deficiencies. They've won four of their past five games. Running back DeMarco Murray is back in the fold, red-hot wide receiver Dez Bryant apparently is determined to play in spite of a broken finger, and the offense is humming.
The defense has to hold it together, and the key is in that secondary. Ware and Anthony Spencer are playing well at outside linebacker, and the defensive line is average and going to stay that way. The defense is counting on Claiborne and fellow corner Brandon Carr to shut down receivers, especially in a game such as this Sunday's against Pittsburgh's receivers. If Claiborne can't go, the responsibility falls to Sterling Moore, who has looked good in his short time in Dallas.
Carr and Claiborne have been occasionally brilliant but generally inconsistent in coverage this season. The price the Cowboys paid for Carr in free-agent money and for Claiborne in draft picks says they're big-time talents who need to play that way. If they can shut down opposing receivers the next three weeks, the Cowboys' chances of coming from behind and stealing this division are a lot better.
In Washington, all eyes are on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has a knee injury and may not play Sunday in Cleveland.
But the Redskins aren't really worried about their offense. They can run the ball with Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon can get open down the field for backup Kirk Cousins, and they can score enough points.
Defense has been the Redskins' issue all season. They rank 28th in total defense and 31st against the pass. A secondary that didn't look all that great to begin with is now missing two starting safeties and a starting cornerback. The defense is also missing its best pass-rusher, Brian Orakpo, and starting defensive lineman Adam Carriker. It has been a struggle.
Yet the Redskins, which have managed to win their past four games to move within a game of the Giants, have a real chance. They have looked bad on defense for long stretches during the streak -- the second half against Dallas on Thanksgiving, the first half against Baltimore last week -- but they've managed to hold on. Coordinator Jim Haslett is doing an excellent job of changing up the game plan from week to week and half to half to maximize any advantage he can find. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson can be a disruptive pass-rusher for a half. DeAngelo Hall can be a decent cover corner for a couple of drives.
They mix, match and patch it together, and so far it's not falling apart. The key will be for the Redskins to keep walking that tightrope, and if they can do it for three more games, they absolutely have a chance.
So if you're trying to make sense of this NFC East race as it hits the home stretch, look not to the big-name quarterbacks and receivers but instead to the defenses. If one of these three teams can do something on defense it hasn't been able to do so far, that could make enough of a difference to decide the division.
Todd Archer - What's the state of the mind of this team after the loss to San Diego?
Ed Bouchette - Don't know because I'm no psychologist. Brett Keisel did say after Sunday's loss to San Diego that the team wasn't ready to play and on Tuesday Mike Tomlin agreed with him.
TA - Is Ben Roethlisberger OK and is it just a matter of him getting used to playing again?
EB - He's fine. If Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown had hung onto a few deep passes, he would have had over 300 yards and 4 or 5 TDs instead of 3. He also was a yard from being their leading rusher with 31 yards on 5 scrambles.
TA - How big of a loss is Rashard Mendenhall? He's been hurt. They have other backs. Is he being phased out?
EB - He's been hurt, rehabbing from ACL for the first three games and then after playing in two, hurt his Achilles. As you know, he's suspended for this game because he did not show up for last Sunday after they told him he would be inactive. He's a big loss but only in the sense they could use the Mendenhall of 2009 or 2010.
TA - The defense is still at the top of the league, but it just seems different this year. Am I wrong? Still feared?
EB - They don't sack anyone or create turnovers, and that's been an issue since the start of 2011. They had just 15 turnovers last season and this one they have 12 (although one fumble came on a muffed punt). Injuries to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley hurt this year and last.
TA - Todd Haley was a Dallas assistant for a few years so we know his, ummm, intensity. How are things going for him as the Steelers OC and how is the relationship with Roethlisberger?
EB - There's been not one hint of trouble and Haley is on the sideline for games. If he did not have that reputation, no one in Pittsburgh would know anything about it based on his behavior and relationships since he's been here.
|The Original 88 Drew Pearson joins Ben and Skin to preview the Cowboys-Steelers game Sunday. |
Roethlisberger told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that if the Cowboys are "America's Team," then the Steelers and their Terrible Towel-waving followers are "The World's Team."
The next chapter in this longtime rivalry between two of the NFL's most decorated franchises will be played out Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Fast-forward a year, and the Cowboys sit at 6-6, one game out of a playoff spot with four games left on the schedule. And as Calvin Watkins writes, the key to whether they can cash in this opportunity is once again the defense:
If things don't improve for the defense, the season could end before New Year's Day. Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals are next, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, quite possibly with Ben Roethlisberger back in action. Then comes Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, and finally Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins help close the season.
You could say these are winnable games for the Cowboys. If the offense continues to produce points, like the 38 it did Sunday against the Eagles, you might believe that group can carry a few games late.But you can't believe in a defense that's given up eight touchdown drives to rookie quarterbacks the last two weeks.
I don't think this year's issues on the Cowboys' defense are the same as last year's. This year's defense has been very good for stretches, but has turned leaky in recent weeks. Because of injuries, it is playing without its two starting inside linebackers, one of its starting safeties, its nickel cornerback and two of its starting defensive linemen. Last year's defense was, for the most part, healthy in December. It just stunk.
The question for the Cowboys all season, to me, has been whether they were deep enough to last. There is big-time talent in certain places on the roster, but there is not, throughout the roster, the sort of depth of talent a team needs to make it through a season as a championship contender. I think the people who run and build the team know that, and that they perceive themselves in the middle of a building project set to continue in the coming offseason.
Yet they do stand a real chance, with four games to go, of reaching this year's playoffs. And so in spite of the injuries and any other issues they may be having, it's on coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to find a way to fire up the defense to maximize what it has in pursuit of that chance. The Cowboys may not have enough to handle that remaining schedule. And if they don't, a third straight season without a playoff game can't be a total surprise. But if they can overcome their problems, play big over the final four games and swipe one of those spots... well, that'd be something on which to build, now wouldn't it?