Strippers beware! Hide your tassels and clear plastic shoes ‘cause Pacman and his Dallas Cowboys are coming to town.
Last year, Dallas had a fantastic regular season, going 13-3, churning out 13 Pro Bowlers, and earning postseason home field advantage only to have all their work undone by QB Tony Romo, a large breasted blonde, and an ill-timed trip to Cabo. I can relate.
The Cowboys returned stating emphatically on their nauseating “Hard Knocks” series that this year it’s Super Bowl or Bust. But with Terrell Owens being a black hole of team chemistry, Tony Romo’s lack of intestinal fortitude, Wade Phillips looking over his shoulder at coach-in-waiting Jason Garrett, and Pacman Jones being Pacman Jones, the Cowboys are on the outside looking in as all the adversity may be too much for a good team to reach the zenith of professional football.
STEELER DEFENSE vs. COWBOYS OFFENSE
Under the watchful eye of owner/self-promoting jackass Jerry Jones, the Cowboys built an offense which relies heavily on strong-armed QB Romo getting the ball down the field to their big play WRs. Unfortunately, he didn’t account for injuries (a QB being injured in the NFL? SHOCKING!). When Romo went down with a sissy pinky injury, which man-sized QBs like Bret Favre play through but is evidently too crippling for GQ to tolerate, their offense collapsed.
Luckily, Romo is back and seems to have recovered well enough to return the offense to their previous high scoring ways. The big change in offensive philosophy under Phillips was the team going from the Parcells’ theory of controlling the clock to Garrett’s philosophy of trying to score as much as you can as often as you can. Again, a crucial mistake as had they kept a running back centered attack, perhaps they wouldn’t have been stuck behind the 8 Ball when their QB went down.
They have an excellent back in Marion Barber. Of course, their concern was Barber was never a featured back and that his straight-up running style will lead to injuries. That’s why they drafted Felix Jones to take some of the load off, until he went down with a season-ending injury. The concerns about Barber were unfounded until last week when he left the Thanksgiving game with an injured pinky toe. Yep, we’re dealing with a bunch of badasses here, folks.
He’s supposed to play but how effective he’ll be on a gimpy foot when healthy backs can’t do anything against the Steelers stingy run D is a good question. Barber is similar to Brandon Jacobs and the Steelers did a pretty good job on him so stopping another big bruising back probably isn’t a concern.
If you’re going to stop Dallas, you have to remember ABC: Always Be Covering. Patrick Crayton is more of a #3 WR but was elevated to #2 with the exit of Terry Glenn. Realizing their mistake, Jones rescued Roy Williams from that barren wasteland known as Detroit. Out of the approximately 73 WRs the Lions have drafted in the first round, Williams is actually pretty talented although hasn’t made much impact as of yet. When he gets enough reps with Romo, he will be dangerous. Even their 4th receiver, Miles Austin, is dangerous because he’s got great size (6’3”) and legit 4.3 speed. Not to mention TE Jason Witten had his best year as a pro in 2007, both in pass receiving and blocking.
Can’t See Me Ike Taylor has been the textbook definition of a Shutdown Corner this season, stifling Randy Moss, Braylon Edwards, and T.J. Houshalottaletters among others. T.O. hasn’t really had a T.O.-like season this year but he or any of the Dallas receiving corps can strike at any moment so it’ll be up to our entire secondary to be on their game. I’m pretty sure our 122 pass yards/game average will go up even if everybody plays well but if Ike, Deshea Townshend, and returning Bryant McFadden can prevent the big play, they will have done their job.
Tony Romo takes a lot of crap for his goofy personality and diddling of various blonde bimbos but he’s played very well since taking over the team in 2006. In his 28 starts going into this season, he had 19 games of 90+ QB rating and leads the league in QB rating this year. Of course, the Steelers have faced the 1st, 3rd, and 5th rated passers this season all exited the game broken shells of what they once were. His biggest asset is his pocket presence and accuracy, especially on some of the longer throws. However, he does have a Favreian gunslinger streak which means he tends to gamble and will throw interceptions. He’s also been a bit of a fumbler, especially when he steps up into the pocket, as his ball-handling skills are much like his taste in women; fast and loose. The hellacious Steeler pass rush will need to create havoc in their backfield since the game will turn on whether they can create some turnovers.
STEELER OFFENSE vs. COWBOY DEFENSE
There were much bigger changes on defense being made last year, although most didn’t know it because they kept the 3-4 scheme. The big difference was going from a traditional 2 gap 3-4 scheme to a 1 gap 3-4 scheme that Phillips has used since coaching under his father Bum. The 2 gap scheme is mainly there for stopping the run while the 1 gap scheme is there for attacking the quarterback.
Defensive Coordinator Brian Stewart was under fire during the Cowboys swoon, which led to Wade Phillips allegedly taking over more of the play calling duties. It’s hard to know for sure but the Cowboys went from blitzing 18% of the time under Brian Stewart to 28% of the time in recent weeks so I’m sure there’s some influence by Wade Phillips. While others may get more credit, I think it’s arguable that Wade Phillips may be second to only our legendary Dick Lebeau in terms of being the best D-Coordinator at concocting a pass rush.
His defenses have averaged 45 sacks a season over his 21 year coaching career. Dallas went from 34 sacks in 2006 to 46 in 2007 following his arrival. All of this spells bad news for the Steelers as the one Kryptonite this team has is teams which can get after the QB. The O-line handled a decent San Diego D and totally stymied Belichick’s goon squad so they’ve played better in recent weeks although the pass rushing talent increases exponentially here.
DeMarcus Ware is an absolute beast. He had 14 sacks last year and got screwed on 3 sacks that were called back by calls that the league later apologized for blowing. He struggles a tad in run defense and sometimes over commits trying to get to the passer so one of the Steelers best weapons might be screen passes and draws to Mewelde Moore. He also tweaked something on Thanksgiving, perhaps his big toe, but he is also apparently good to go and it’ll be a huge challenge for either Max Starks or Willie Colon to handle him one-on-one.
Opposite of Ware is Greg Ellis, another accomplished pass rusher. His problem is that he’s horrible in coverage and struggles against the run as an outside linebacker. Miami Dolphin refugee Zach Thomas fills a need because he’s excellent in pass coverage and is a magnet to the ball carrier although he’s getting older and not quite what he once was. This is a very talented LB corps and O-Coordinator Bruce Arians better be coming up with some plans to counteract the pressure they can bring. A good healthy ground game is vital at preventing these guys from pinning their ears back and coming at Ben Roethlisberger full bore.
The greatest defensive weakness on the Cowboys is their secondary. Terence Newman is their best player but he’s been injured for much of the season with groin and abdominal pulls. He’s played recently but the injuries have hampered some of his effectiveness as last year he was one of the best CBs in the league. Mike Jenkins on the other side has been pretty awful. They try to cover for him by rotating coverage but he’s a target anytime he’s one-on-one. Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin are below average in the safety spots. Pacman Jones returns from Last Chance #28 so he should get a good chunk of playing time in the nickel. To be honest, Pacman was an emerging superstar in Tennessee but what I’ve seen of him this year hasn’t impressed me at all. He’s better than your average NFL corner but he’s nowhere near the level he played at before he decided to Make It Rain.
If the line manages to rise up, or the offense can put forth a running attack which forces them to back off, Big Ben could have a very good day throwing the ball against this secondary. Even Arians’ beloved long passes wouldn’t be a bad gamble as anything is possible against this group. I’d look for TE Heath Miller and WR Hines Ward to be the go-to guys early as they work the middle of the field in short possession type throws. But a patented long bomb to Tiffin Thunder Nate Washington would be nice.
Trying to put my bias aside, Dallas is obviously a talented team. Their offense is strong and their defense is solid. They could easily be one of those teams which goes on a hot streak toward the end of the year and then plows through everybody on their way to a Super Bowl victory. But they could just as easily implode as the strong personalities and precarious injury situations have them always on the precipice of disaster. Last week, the Steelers dealt a potentially fatal blow to the Patriots playoff hopes. Nothing would be sweeter than to give Dallas a little taste of that same Black and Gold poison.
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