The Pittsburgh Steelers got out of Dallas with a nail biting win to the tune of 24-19. With the win, it marks the first time in franchise history that the Steelers have started 8-0. In all honesty, this was the trap game many predicted it would be. They came out incredibly stagnant and unfocused on both sides of the ball, but luckily enough, breaks went their way to escape with the win.
Starting on offense, the Steelers game plan appeared just as weak as it was to start last week’s game. Once again the formula seemed to be running the ball and taking deep shots down the field. While running the ball in theory should have been a good strategy due to the Cowboys piss poor run defense, it wasn’t because of the offensive line. They played by far their worst game of the season as a unit even when the Steelers were playing well.
When it came to the passing game early, Ben corked quite a few deep balls even though that hasn’t been their bread and butter all year. When the offense has played well it’s been because they’ve been efficient in the short and intermediate passing game and let James Conner support Ben so he doesn’t have to throw the ball over 40 times. It wasn’t one particular issue in the first half for the Steelers, as everything became an issue until Ben went down at the end of the first half.
After Ben’s knee scare, he went 4/4 and threw a touchdown to James Washington to finally get the Steelers on the board. Passing on early downs allowed the Steelers to finally put together that scoring drive. Despite playing severely down to an inferior team, the Steelers found themselves down just four at halftime. Ben was cleared to play the rest of the game, and like he has for his entire career, sometimes going down just makes Big Ben better. He finished with his first 300 yard plus game with 3 TDs and no picks.
Again, it took a while for the Steelers offense to get going, but eventually it did. Opportunities in the third were few and far between as Dallas controlled most of the clock in the third quarter. Even though Juju Smith-Schuster was third in targets this game, he left no doubt that he’s still the best and most consistent wideout they have. Ben rifled three straight passes his way and he came up with all of them including one for a 31 yard touchdown. He caught 6 out of 7 targets for 93 yards and the previously mentioned score. Juju will never put up eye popping stats but the timeliness of his production is what makes him so valuable.
Washington and Ebron made their catches count with two of their four receptions being for touchdowns. Chase Claypool was a mixed bag in this game. He made some key catches but also had three drops and one that could have been a touchdown if he had adjusted to the deep ball better.
One area that underperformed all game long was up front for the Steelers. The entire offensive line got pushed around by the worst run defense in the NFL. While Ben was technically sacked zero times all game long, he still was under pressure on a consistent basis mostly in the first half. Specifically on the edge where tackles Villanueva and Okorafor were beaten by Aldon and Jaylon Smith all game long.
Another lackadaisical start of offense begs the question, when will the Steelers stick with what’s worked consistently? For the past three games it’s been terrible in one half and very effective and efficient the other half. Ben being in control of the offense and the team passing short or intermediate on early downs while letting the run game balance the offense out is the key to finding more consistency.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense may not be the best in the NFL but it still may be the most opportunistic. Even though they can give up all the yards in the world, they will at the very least commit to not breaking with a turnover or key sack. The story here is no different as the Dallas Cowboys were able to amass more total yards than the Steelers with 364.
Garrett Gilbert, newly brought up from the practice squad, threw for 243 yards, one TD and one interception. Once again, the Steelers rush defense was gashed for 144 total yards on the ground. Dallas didn’t get too many huge yardage plays on offense but instead constantly drove down the field into field goal range making it all the more concerning. Credit must be given to Gilbert, as he was able to avoid the Steelers pass rush more than any other quarterback has this year.
The defense registered two sacks but was able to fluster Gilbert plenty throughout the game. This was evident based on the fact that the Steelers hit Gilbert 9 times on Sunday. The pressure didn’t get home as much as normal but it still impacted the game. Cause for concern is certainly present for the Steelers run defense. Not being able to stop the Ravens attack is one thing but the Cowboys have a bad offensive line and a declining running back. Yet they bent over at the line of scrimmage and let Zeke get to the second level.
Injury could be a factor in this kind of a result as Tyson Alualu and Mike Hilton were both out and have been key cogs in the Steelers elite rushing defense in weeks 1-7. Avery Williamson didn’t play in this game despite being active for the game, and he will have to step up to help the Steelers improve their recent struggle against the run.
Additionally, the Steelers defense just let Mike McCarthy look like a half decent play caller. A head coach that has been ridiculed all season for his weak play calling was able to have a moderate level of success throughout the game. But once again, the word opportunistic loomed large to save the day on this side of the ball.
Two turnovers were forced in critical moments of this football game. One courtesy of a Cameron Sutton forced fumble which was picked up by Minkah Fitzpatrick. The other being a redzone pick by Minkah Fitzpatrick to prevent the Cowboys from scoring. Fitzpatrick was the player of the game on defense, finishing with a fumble recovery, one interception, and the game saving pass deflection on the last play of the game.
Cameron Heyward had his first big statistical game of the season. He’s been stellar all year but receives a lot of attention which allows others to get the numbers sometimes. Heyward got himself 3 QB hits, half a sack, and a TFL, most coming late in the game when the Steelers needed a play.
Watt was excellent as always, with the other half of Heyward’s sack, 3 total QB hits and 3 passes deflected. His all around impact on a football game continues to shine week in and week out.
Normally, special teams aren’t talked about in these recaps but today it must be addressed. The Steelers special teams unit was all around awful today excluding Boswell’s 59 yard field goal which set a franchise record. Return coverage allowed two big run backs and netted none of their own. Boswell also missed two extra points, one was blocked and the other was shanked.
A win is a win but unfortunately they proved that the habit of playing down to competition still exists even on this year’s version of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Next week they’ll have to come out much sharper against the Joe Burrow led Bengals team coming off of a bye week.