The Cowboys are now faced with their most difficult portion of the 2008 schedule. If you have been listening to the national and local media I am sure you have heard that Dallas has no chance of winning this game! Most claim that Pittsburgh is just far too superior of a team to lose at home in December to the Cowboys. I must admit that Pittsburgh has an excellent team, but they are by no means unbeatable! I can even show you that they may be the Dallas of the north.
I keep hearing about how good Pittsburgh is! I believe and the numbers will show that Pittsburgh has the best defense in the league, but after that they have not shown much. When I began my research on this game I wanted to be as unbiased as possible. So I decided to look at the last five games from both teams, comparing opponent win/loss records, rush/pass yards both for and against, turnovers both for and against, sacks for and against. I then looked at scoring averages over the year, splitting them up into wins versus losses. I also looked at their season total numbers. I did all of these things to see if I could figure out exactly what happens to cause these teams to lose, and if there is a difference between the two teams. What I found was that I no longer am as concerned as I was about being able to win this game. This is a very winnable game!
First of all the notion that Dallas is winning because they have not played anyone is absolutely ridiculous. In the last 5 games Dallas went 4-1; Pittsburgh also went 4-1. Dallas played two teams below .500 records (49ers, Seattle), Pittsburgh played two as well (Chargers, Bengals). Pittsburgh’s loss came to a 5-4 Colts team, while Dallas fell to a 7-1 Giants team. I might add the only Dallas loss was without Tony Romo! The combined records of the Steelers last 5 opponents was 23-27, while the Cowboys opponents were 23-26. As far as this blogger is concerned these two teams are dead equal when it comes to strength of schedule! If we were the BCS Dallas would be ranked ahead of Pittsburgh as their one loss was to the #1 team on the road, while Pittsburgh lost at home to a lesser team.
Now let’s look at each team’s defense over the last five. Dallas has given up on an average 89.2 yards per game on the ground, while Pittsburgh has given up 70.6. Edge Pittsburgh
Dallas has given up on an average 225.4 passing yards per game, while Pittsburgh has given up 189.4.
In the creating pressure (sacks) category Dallas has averaged 3.8 sacks per game, while Pittsburgh has averaged 3.4 sacks per game.
Edge slightly towards Dallas but really close to even
In the turnover Category Dallas has averaged 1.8 turnovers per game, while Pittsburgh has averaged 2.0 per game.
Edge slightly towards Pitt but really close to even
Now in these five games what was the scoring difference you ask? Well in these 5 games the Cowboys allowed 17 points per game average, Pittsburgh allowed 13.2 points per game average.
Edge Pittsburgh but much closer than anyone thought!
The third quarter though is where Pittsburgh’s defense really clamps down, over the last 5 games they have averaged allowing only 0.6 points in that quarter! WOW! Through all the other quarters Dallas’s defense holds their opponents at the same rate the Steelers do. This will be a key area to keep an eye on come Sunday.
On the offensive side of the ball the Cowboys have been running it on average of 91.6 yards per game, while Pitt averages 105 yards per game ( I would like to note that they rushed for only 55 yards against the worst rush defense in the league in the Colts).
Edge slightly to Pitt only because they have two quality running backs and Dallas does not know what it has yet with Tashard Choice
Dallas has averaged 225.2 yards per game passing (2 of these games was with Captain Ass Bag, since Romo has returned this ave. is now 290 ypg) while Pitt has averaged 238.6 per game.
Edge Dallas and it is not even close since the return of Romo, without Romo it is Pitt all the way. Fortunately Romo will be playing Sunday!
In the turnover category Dallas has averaged 1.6 per game (once again half of their turnovers were without Romo this average drops to 1.3 with Romo) Pitt has averaged 1.2 per game.
Sacks allowed Dallas has averaged 1.6 per game (have only allowed 1 sack since the return of Romo for an avg. of .3 per game) Pitt has allowed 2.4 per game (5 in the last 3 weeks for an average of 1.66 per game) on the year Dallas has allowed only 18 with Pitt allowing 36. Watch this very closely Sunday!
Edge Heavily in Dallas’s favor
Scoring over the last 5 Dallas is averaging 22.0 points per game (27.6 since Romo’s return) Pitt is averaging 22.8 over the last 5 (23.6 over the last 3).
Edge Dallas too much Romo
To take this scoring thing a little bit further lets look at what each team has done in their wins versus their losses:
- Dallas, in the 8 wins they have avg. 27.9 ppg while allowing 16.9 ppg
- Dallas in their 4 losses has avg. 19.0 ppg while allowing 31.5 ppg
- Pitt in their 9 wins has avg. 25.4 ppg while allowing 12.2 ppg
- Pitt in their 3 losses has avg. 13.3 ppg while allowing 20.0 ppg
I could go on and on with this all day long but I am sure you are all tired of looking at all of this. The point I am trying to make here is that Pittsburgh and Dallas are two of the most evenly matched teams. Dallas’s strength lies with the Big O and Pittsburgh’s strength lies with the Defense. At no point during my research have I seen anything that tells me Dallas cannot win and that Pittsburgh is superior. The keys of the game will be the following not necessarily in this order:
- Protect Romo
- Force their LB’s to cover
- Score early and often
- Limit stupid Turnovers
- Spread them out create mismatches
- Contain Parker and Moore
- Pressure, Pressure, and more Pressure
- Put Big Ben in 3rd and long situations
- Mix up coverage’s
- Enjoy the moment and have fun
I hope I have proven to all you Cowboy fans that this team is good enough to win on Sunday, and that Pittsburgh is nothing to be scared of! Also keep an eye out over the next day or so as there will be another installment of the 5 question preview coming!