By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) will face an equally struggling Dallas Cowboys (7-6) when they travel to Arlington, Texas, on Sunday. The Cowboys are coming off of a one point win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14 while the Steelers are reeling from an unexpected loss to the San Diego Chargers. With injuries on both teams adding up, the Cowboys are looking for ways they can beat their ‘underdog’ status against Pittsburgh.
Offensively, the Cowboys are relying heavily on quarterback Tony Romo. Romo is leading Dallas’s third-best passing attack in the league with 292 yards per game. Through week 14, Romo has completed 349-of-562 passes for 3928 yards and 20 touchdowns. Romo has also been susceptible to interceptions (with 16) and sacks (31). They will face a Pittsburgh defense that is at the top of the league in stopping the pass, allowing only 169 yards per game. The Steelers also have a full compliment in their defensive front seven. Romo will most likely target young cornerbacks Josh Victorian, Curtis Brown and DeMarcus Van Dyke if Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen are unable to play on Sunday. Romo has been able to make tough throws when necessary this season, and if the Cowboys can’t get things going on the ground, it will force Romo to take matters into his own hands. Victorian reacted to his position by saying, “I’m excited. This is a big game for us, not only because of the playoff implications but because it’s our next game, and we need it.”
Romo may be without his favorite receiving target Sunday. Wide receiver Dez Bryant insists that despite doctors recommending surgery on a fractured left index finger, he will be on the field against Pittsburgh. That remains to be seen despite Bryant saying, “Only thing ya’ll need to know is I’m playing.” Although Bryant was able to catch some passes in practice on Thursday, none of the throws came from Romo. This season, Romo has been able to complete nearly 70 percent of his throws to Bryant. Bryant has a completion percentage of 69.4 compared to 58.2 by all other Cowboys receivers. Bryant has successfully received 30 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns in the past four weeks. His numbers have him listed as 10th in the NFL in receiving yards (1,028) and is tied for third in the league with nine touchdowns. “He loves to play the game,” Romo said. “I love him as a teammate just because of his passion for the game.”
Kelvin Ogletree has disappointed, but Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley may make a difference, even if Bryant is on the field. The Steelers will be primed to let linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote, who leads the team with 91 tackles and four sacks, get to Romo. The Steelers will have to keep themselves in the hunt by refusing to be distracted by Bryant and focusing on the overall picture. Running back DeMarco Murray has not played a lot this season due to injuries, but his play makes the Cowboys less than one-dimensional.
Ben Roethlisberger says he’s ready to air the ball out against a weakened Cowboys defense. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff has missed the past three games with a groin injury only to have surgery to repair and sports hernia Thursday. Backup Josh Brent will be unavailable due to his drunk driving accident that killed teammate Jerry Brown last weekend. The Cowboys have lost five defensive starters already this season to the IR list; safety Barry Church, inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Regardless of the personnel changes to their defensive roster, the unit still has good speed and Roethlisberger will be scrambling if his offensive line can’t keep Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware blocked. Ware leads the Cowboys will 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. He is joined by Anthony Spencer, who has 8.5 sacks and leads Dallas with 76 tackles.
When asked about Ware and Spencer, Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks responded to questions about the two Dallas players being the best in the league at what they do. “I think they’re one of the better tandems in the NFL,” said Starks. “They do a good job of squeezing guys and they have a very athletic defensive line that really causes a lot of pressure.”
Dallas Coach Jason Garrett said, “There seems to be a lot of new faces on our defense. But like a lot of teams around the league, you just have to battle through the injuries.” Garrett said that preparations for the game against the Steelers have been challenging. “[Romo] has really improved…he is very comfortable throwing in the pocket.”
These two teams have competed in one of the most historic rivalries in the NFL. Pittsburgh and Dallas met for the first time on September 24, 1960. The last meeting between these rivals was on December 7, 2008. Dallas and Pittsburgh are tied 15-15 in the all-time series with the Steelers having won the last two meetings. The Steelers are also 2-1 in the post-season series. With a combined NFL Championships of 11, this Sunday’s game is sure to be one to watch.
Kickoff between these two teams in scheduled for Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 4:25 pm (EST)
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.