You've heard this all before. Leading up to another Dallas Cowboys game day, we've all flipped on national NFL coverage at some point, only to be bogged down by the arbitrary talk of a game being a great example of “strength vs strength” or “dominant offense vs weak defense, equally strong offense”.
It is rare that these games can be so simply classified, but there is an interesting thread to explore when it comes to the Cowboys' week 10 visit to the Steelers. Literally the entire universe at this point knows that the Cowboys have won games in 2016 with their punishing offensive line and ground game sparked by Ezekiel Elliott. Jason Garrett's squad grinds out long drives that result in touchdowns, run their fresh defense onto the field to get stops and limit teams to field goals (which they often do quickly either way, handing the ball right back to the offense), and have continued this cycle on a ride to the top of the NFC at 7-1.
With a depleted defense, the Cowboys will be on the road with the tough task of slowing down a high-octane Steelers offense. Ezekiel Elliott will have to be Rod Marinelli's best friend, and the Steelers know that.
What challenge does Pittsburgh present to the Dallas running game? Let's take a closer look:
The Steelers are 8th in the league in plays allowed per drive defensively at 5.9.
The only team the Cowboys have seen that has gotten off the field faster and more efficiently than the Steelers is the Eagles, who gave the Cowboys the most trouble in continuing their winning streak 2 weeks ago at home.
Pittsburgh will give up (and make) their big plays, but they have only allowed 46 rushing first downs, good for 12th in the league – just seven first downs away from the fifth spot, currently owned by the Cowboys.
The Cowboys lead the league in plays per drive and rushing first downs.
Ezekiel Elliott running the rock behind the best offensive line ever formed has been nothing short of undeniable this season, and the Cowboys are getting their rushing yards against any defense.
The expectation should absolutely be that Elliott will have another big game, especially considering these numbers against 3-4 fronts.
Ezekiel Elliott vs 4-3 and 3-4 defenses
4-3: 3 games, 57 carries, 281 yds, 4.9 avg, 3 TD
3-4: 5 games, 120 carries, 610 yds, 5.1 avg, 4 TD
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 8, 2016
In order for the Cowboys to win their eighth straight game, they will need Zeke to run like the veteran back that he has looked like through just eight regular season games. Timely runs are going to have to be made, as Scott Linehan's offense must move the chains.
The team that scores more points wins the football game. Let's play.
A classic NFL rivalry is being renewed on Sunday, and one that the Cowboys have some destiny coming in to. What makes it even more exciting is that any outcome seems possible, and either team can win this game in all three phases.