The Dallas Cowboys are in Pennsylvania ready to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in what a whole generation of Cowboys fans consider to be an NFL-ancient rivalry. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the Cowboys and Steelers fought to best each other year after year, going head-to-head on more than one occasion in the sport's greatest game, the Super Bowl.
A number of you may relate more with Inside The Star Staff Writer, Sean Martin, as he was literally born while the Cowboys beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. He's turned that into a lifelong passion for football and America's Team.
Others still are more like myself (Bryson Treece, in case any were wondering)...
In my house growing up, the Cowboys were the team to root for, for all but one member of my family. I was just a kid then, but hearing my grandmother tell my uncle Johnny (in-law) his Steelers were nothing as the sound of their banter mixed with the aroma of Thanksgiving dinner is a memory I'll never forget.
Today's game is nowhere near as dramatic as some in the past, but these two teams each have something on the line today.
For the Cowboys, it's an eighth win in a row behind the most unexpected quarterback ever to step foot on a football field. Like Jon Favreau's character in the movie Rudy, attending the Fighting Irish's first game with a first-time-dressed Rudy Ruettiger, fans of Dallas have been screaming in glee. Only we're saying "He's so green!" instead of "He's so little!"
After seven straight wins, no one can deny the improbability of Dak Prescott.
He not only out-plays his rookie status, but he's made his way into the starting lineup of a team who had no room for him at the top when training camp started. From being the eighth QB selected in the 2016 NFL Draft to practicing badly all summer, from dazzling in preseason to being thrown into the fire with the first-team Seahawks when Tony Romo went down, from a nail-biter against the New York Giants in week one to being the single most impressive -- and winning -- rookie QB in Cowboys history through eight games...
No one can deny the improbability of Dak Prescott, nor his importance to this team. And once you get past the surprise, you get to the league's best offensive line and best running back, who is also a rookie.
It's so difficult to remain calm about these Cowboys when Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott take to the field each Sunday afternoon. The excitement has the nation -- and not just Cowboys Nation -- buzzing about playoffs and the Super Bowl just barely midway through the season.
The Cowboys are fighting today for legitimacy. They got some against the Bengals, and some more against the Packers, and even managed to earn some against the Browns to the tune of 35-10 in a game they were already supposed to win.
Now it's time for the next hurdle; Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For the Steelers, today's game is just as important. Roethlisberger's return from injury last week was less than stellar, to say the least, but it was what most expected, his first game back. At his age, rust can set in with just a single week off. But he's freshly polished and ready to face the 'Boys.
The Steelers are at home, and they're 4-4 on the season. They need a win today and, in their 32nd meeting together, any sense of rivalry they feel toward the Dallas Cowboys has to take a backseat to the prospect of failing under .500.
It's the home-stretch, and Coach Tomlinson isn't going to be happy settling for dropping to 4-5 at home.
The last time the Cowboys were in Pittsburgh was in 2008, in the snow, with Tony Romo under center. It was a thriller for us all to watch the still fresh -- at the time -- Romo take on the Steelers, regardless of the outcome.
And now, let's take a look at what our team at Inside The Star is looking for from this latest dive into the land of Terrible Towels.
Brian Martin | @Bmart0204
The historic rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be talked about at length, and because of that, a lot of people are predicting a close, hard-fought game. I, however, think the Cowboys can once again dominate in all three phases the game.
That's due in large to the fact the Steelers are decimated by injuries, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
I predict the Cowboys will continue to run the ball and control the time of possession. It's worked so far, so why change things up?
Cowboys 28 – Steelers 17
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John Williams | @John9williams
The Dallas Cowboys are playing as well as anyone on both sides of the football. They compliment each other quite well.
The offense goes on long drives that eat up a lot of clock and keep the defense rested on the sideline. The defense doesn't give up big plays and holds teams to field goals.
This week will be decided on the health of Ben Roethlisberger and the Dallas defense's ability to contain Antonio Brown. Le'Veon Bell is going to get his yards, but as long as he doesn't gash them for big plays, the Dallas Cowboys do enough to win.
Cowboys 27 – Steelers 21
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Kevin Brady | @Kevinbrady88
They have to lose again at some point, right? This is a tough matchup for a Cowboys team missing their best corner and starting strong safety as the Steelers have a hungry Antonio Brown and Big Ben back healthy.
This will be a tight game throughout, especially since the Cowboys will be able to run the ball effectively. In the end, however, the Cowboys give Ben too much time for a game winning drive, and lose for the first time in seven games.
Cowboys 23 – Steelers 27
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Justin Grohowski | @Grohowknowhow
The Pittsburgh Steelers need this game a lot more than the Cowboys do. Add in the fact that they're home and coming off a bad performance by Big Ben, and this will be a tough one to get for Dallas.
With a banged up secondary, I expect the Steelers' explosive offense to hit its stride through the air. The Dallas offense will hang tough, and this game will live up to the hype.
Dallas falls on a Pittsburgh field goal as time expires.
Cowboys 28 – Steelers 31
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Jess Haynie | @CowboysAddicts
Pittsburgh's big-play offense could wreak havoc on a Dallas secondary missing Morris Claiborne and Barry Church. The Cowboys could win time-of-possession but still lose this game, if Ben Roethlisberger gets hot.
At home and desperate to stay above .500, I think the Steelers win a close one.
Cowboys 27 – Steelers 31
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Ian Koplowitz | @BleedingTheStar
This game has the makings of a shootout. I fear that losing Morris Claiborne and Barry Church will really hurt our ability to contain Pittsburgh's aerial attack.
Having said that, I like our odds running the ball, and the Steelers secondary is very suspect. I look for Dan Bailey to come through at the end of a nail-biter.
Cowboys 24 – Steelers 23
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Sean Martin | @ShoreSportsNJ
If there were still any Ezekiel Elliott doubters following the Cowboys during this seven game winning streak, there won't be after today - as he carries this team to their eighth win in a row. In what will be a wild high-scoring affair, the Steelers will fail to shut down Elliott, opening up Dak Prescott and the passing game to out-score Pittsburgh on the road.
Cowboys 35 – Steelers 33
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Bryson Treece | @BrysonTreece
The Steelers have a knack for upsetting the Cowboys. It goes back generations and continues to this day. A few of my colleagues are predicting that the inevitability of a second loss will bite the 'Boys but I have my doubts.
The Cowboys are hungry. Even at 7-1, they're playing like it's 1-7. They're young and energized behind some awfully impressive leadership from Dak Prescott, and no, not just for a rookie. Seasoned vets rarely lead a team the way Prescott has led your Dallas Cowboys, and it's resulting in check after check in the win column.
Even still, I believe the Cowboys will struggle today. I believe last week's route of the Browns will be a distant memory by halftime with a pick from Prescott. But, I think the Cowboys have too much momentum to let the Steelers ruin their fun for long.
Cowboys 30 – Steelers 23
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It seems every additional win brings about an equally increasing mixture of worry and pride. A few of the guys have touched on it already, and it warrants repeating, every win brings that second loss one game closer. We fear the collapse we know all too well, and we're in disbelief that this team can keep it going for much longer.
If history is any indicator, and it always is, then the very thing pinning our ears back will surely be the thing that brings us to a crashing halt... the performance of our rookies. Or so we fear, at least.
However it goes today in Pittsburgh, keep your friends close and remain positive. Be safe and GO COWBOYS!!!
Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks: Inside The Numbers
The Dallas Cowboys will travel to the Pacific Northwest this weekend to face the Seattle Seahawks in an important game for both teams in the NFC race.
The Seattle Seahawks are 0-2 and risk being buried in an NFC West that has seen the Los Angeles Rams become the divisional power. With the San Francisco 49ers trending up, the Seahawks might find themselves left behind. On Monday Night Football, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks had little answers for a Chicago Bears team that has one of the more underrated defenses in the NFL. Well, maybe not so underrated now. They battered Wilson and the Seahawks offensive line for six sacks and were able to pressure him into an interception they were able to return for a touchdown.
The Dallas Cowboys rebounded from a week one disappointment to take care of business against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. It wasn't a pretty win on offense, save for the first and last drives of the game, but it was a solid win. The defense dominated the New York Giants' offensive line and left them searching for answers at 0-2.
As we get ready for week three let's go Inside The Numbers for yet another important matchup for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys lead the all-time series 10-8, but have dropped the last two matchups and are 2-3 over the last five games. They've split the last two meetings that played in Seattle, winning the most recent showdown in 2014, 30-23.
If you'll remember, that was the game that had us all believing that Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray led Cowboys team was for real. Sadly the 2014 season ended with the typical heartbreak that we've grown accustomed to in the last 23 years.
Let's take a look at how the matchup breaks down on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks offenses are eerily similar statistically as both rank near the bottom in most offensive categories.
As you can see from the chart above, there aren't many categories where either team ranks inside the top 20 in total offense.
- The Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage along the offensive line. They rank inside the top 15 in rush yards, rush TDs, first downs on the ground, and have allowed fewer sacks than the Seattle Seahawks offensive line.
- The Dallas Cowboys have been excellent through two games at protecting the ball, having only turned it over one time; a fumble by Dak Prescott in the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers.
- Through two games, the Seahawks haven't rushed for a touchdown. They haven't run it often and haven't run it very well either. They only average 3.6 yards per attempt on the ground. Advantage Cowboys.
- While the Seahawks have thrown for more yards this season, Dak Prescott has a better completion percentage. For the year, Russell Wilson has completed only 59.4% of his passes. Dak Prescott is at 64.8%.
It's on the defensive side of the ball where the Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage, particularly with their pass rush.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys have the statistical edge in nearly every category.
- The Dallas Cowboys rank in the top five in several defensive categories including points allowed, yards allowed, yards per play, passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns, net yards per attempt, first downs achieved through the air, and sacks.
- Where the Dallas Cowboys have struggled in the first two games, particularly against the Carolina Panthers was against the run. Though they're around the middle of the pack through two games, the Panthers were able to find a lot of success on the ground. The New York Giants, not so much.
- The Cowboys are going to have to continue to be careful with the football as the Seattle Seahawks continue to be one of the best at creating turnovers, especially in the secondary. They're tied for first in the NFL in interceptions with five. Through two games, Prescott hasn't thrown one, but he's had a couple potential interceptions dropped. This week he won't be so lucky.
What it All Means
The Dallas Cowboys are going to have a pretty difficult challenge corralling Seahawks' Quarterback Russell Wilson, but the numbers seem to point to it being a long afternoon for Wilson.
The Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage when the Seahawks drop back to pass. The Seattle offensive line has allowed the most sacks in the NFL. Coming off allowing six sacks to the Chicago Bears, Wilson could be in for another long day against a Dallas Cowboys defense that is second in the NFL -- to the Chicago Bears -- in sacks with nine.
The Seattle Seahawks won't be able to rely on their running game to keep the Dallas Cowboys defense off balance as they only average 3.4 yards per carry through the first two weeks of the season. If the Cowboys can get an early lead this Sunday, it will present a really favorable opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.
Dallas Cowboys vs Seattle Seahawks Stat Notes
Dak Prescott hasn't thrown an interception this season. If we can make any observations through two games, it's that he seems to be back to his ball protection ways. As a rookie, Prescott only through four interceptions, before doubling that in 2017 with eight.
Cole Beasley and Deonte Thompson are tied for 27th in the NFL in yards per route run. That number is better than Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings, Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions, Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers, and Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Seattle Seahawks have had a hard time getting to opposing passers and have collected only three sacks through the NFL's first two weeks. Prescott was sacked six times in week one, but the Dallas Cowboys offensive line rebounded to keep the New York Giants from collecting a sack in week two.
Tyler Lockett has played 53 of his 79 offensive snaps from the slot, but has only been targeted four times, catching four passes for 85 yards. His 1.60 yards per route run out of the slot is tied for 11th in the NFL among players who have played at least 50% of their snaps from the slot.
Seattle Defensive Lineman Jarran Reed has been the best run defender for the Seahawks, earning a run stop on 13.5% of his run snaps. Overall he sits eighth in the NFL. Among defensive lineman with at least 50% of their team's run snaps, only Da'Shawn Hand and Linval Joseph have a better run stop percentage.
The amount of snaps per reception allowed by Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Anthony Brown. No player who has played at least 50% of his coverage snaps in the slot has a higher snap per reception rate in the NFL than Brown's 19.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson's been sacked on 36.4% of his drop backs this season. Only Ryan Tannehill and Nathan Peterman have a worse percentage of players who have dropped back to pass a minimum of 22 times this season.
Wilson's been under pressure on 38.8% of his drop backs, which is sixth in the NFL.
Dak Prescott's adjusted completion percentage, which "accounts for factors that hurt the passer's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are," per Pro Football Focus and "It accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the QB was hit while they threw the ball."
Prescott's adjusted completion percentage is ninth in the NFL. Better than notable names such as Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ben Roethlisberger, DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford, and Andrew Luck.
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As I look at the run down for this game and after watching these two teams in week two, I see this as a very favorable matchup for the Dallas Cowboys. Obviously, statistics don't tell the whole story, but the Dallas Cowboys biggest strength, it's pass rush, will be facing a Seattle team that is very weak along the offensive line.
This looks to be a Dallas Cowboys win that will improve them to 2-1.
Snap Judgments: Cowboys’ Linebacker Depth Stands Out in Win
The Dallas Cowboys evened their record at 1-1 with their 20-13 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night. The Cowboys linebackers had a huge impact on the outcome of the game and it wasn't just the guys at the top of the depth chart either. America's Team got contributions from guys at the bottom of the depth chart.
What a difference a year makes.
The Dallas Cowboys worked hard this offseason to fix the linebacker depth that failed them in the 2017 season. When Sean Lee or Anthony Hitchens -- or both -- were sidelined with injuries, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, and the rest of the linebacker group struggled to keep up with opposing offenses. Specifically, in games against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers the major depth inadequacy was revealed.
One year later, the Dallas Cowboys have a linebacker corp that allows them to go five deep with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, and Damien Wilson all making considerable contributions for the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday nights victory.
Here are the final snap counts for the five linebackers that played a defensive snap against the Giants.
- Jaylon Smith - 57 (84%)
- Sean Lee - 41 (60)
- Leighton Vander Esch - 28 (48%)
- Damien Wilson - 17 (25%)
- Joe Thomas - 14 (21%)
Jaylon Smith led the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night with 10 tackles (seven solo) and played really well roaming sideline to sideline and making plays. He was tasked with the difficult assignment of containing New York Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley and allowed four catches for 41 yards in his coverage area. Smith was credited with three stops or plays that result in a "loss" for the offense (per Pro Football Focus). Smith led the team in snaps for the second straight week.
Sean Lee had a better game on Sunday night than he did in week one. PFF credited him with four stops, four tackles and an assist. Lee allowed two catches for 24 yards on two targets to Wayne Gallman and Evan Engram. Lee pulled his hamstring at the end of the game and was held out the rest of the way for precautionary reasons. He'll be an interesting name to watch on this week's injury report. Age catches up with everyone, but hopefully Sean Lee can stave it off for at least another season.
Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch saw a big bump in his snap count from week one (17) to week two (28). The rookie played well too. As many players seemed to struggle with tackling Saquon Barkley, Vander Esch was able to bring down the number two overall pick on several occasions. Vander Esch had seven solo tackles in his second career game.
Damien Wilson was the surprise player of the night. He had three tackles on the night, including one on special teams, a sack, and a forced fumble. Though his time on the field might have been short, his impact was certainly felt. His forced fumble led to a field goal that gave the Dallas Cowboys a 13-0 nothing lead. Wilson was also credited with two stops on the night.
Joe Thomas has been a good player for the team off the bench as well. Though he only had one tackle, it was good enough to be credited with a stop. He's a player that can play both the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots. As the fourth or fifth linebacker on the depth chart, Thomas is a great role player.
Other Snap Count Notes
- Taco Charlton may not have started, but he played 84% of the team's defensive snaps. That number is up from 73% in week one. Charlton had a sack, a hit, and a hurry as well as three stops on the night.
- Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns led the wide receiver group in snap percentage from week one to week two. The big difference at wide receiver was seeing Michael Gallup take the third most snaps on offense instead of Deonte Thompson. Thompson still had the bigger impact with four catches for 33 yards on five targets including two for first downs.
- Geoff Swaim was the far and away leader at tight end in snaps with a 94% snap count. Only the offensive line and Dak Prescott had more snaps on the night than Swaim. He's the TE1 for the team, though he didn't have an impact in the passing game.
- Rico Gathers only played five snaps, but there was concerted effort to get him the ball as he had two targets in his five snaps. He may not have come away with a catch, but it's a start.
- Jourdan Lewis continues to be the odd man out on defense. He only played one snap.
- Dorance Armstrong saw a snap jump from week one to week two going from 28% of the defensive snaps to 40% of the snaps. He had two hurries and an assisted tackle.
Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark
When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.
Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR
If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.
None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.
Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.
Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder
With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.
Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark
One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.
We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.
Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.
Rico Gathers Will Be Used
The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.
He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.
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