Report Card: Tony Romo impressive
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.