Steelers-Cowboys game plan
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When the Cowboys have the ball: Injuries have affected the offense, especially at running back. DeMarco Murray (foot) has missed six games and Felix Jones four. Together, they have 834 of the team's 1,038 yards rushing. Overall, the Cowboys are 31st in rushing (79.8 ypg). Still, the offense revolves around Tony Romo, who is second in the NFC in completions (349), third in attempts (526), fourth in yards (3,928) and fifth in TDs (20). But he has also thrown more INTs (16) than any NFC quarterback other than Drew Brees (18). Jason Witten leads all NFL tight ends with 92 catches, but he has just one TD. The Cowboys will use a lot of multiple-receiver formations with Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree that will attack a Steelers secondary that is ranked No. 1 in the league but will be without injured CBs Ike Taylor (ankle fracture) and replacement Cortez Allen (hip flexor). That will force Josh Victorian, Robert Golden and Curtis Brown into more prominent roles. Bryant (finger), who had 72 catches and a team-high nine TDs, might not play.
When the Steelers have the ball: The biggest concern for QB Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line will be Pro Bowl OLB DeMarcus Ware, who leads the Cowboys with 11 sacks and often requires double-team attention. After missing three games and getting off to a slow start, Roethlisberger had three TD passes vs. the Chargers to reach 20 for the season -- the first time in his career he has had back-to-back seasons with at least 20 TD passes. This will be the fifth game in a row the Steelers will start a different offensive line. Rookie No. 1 David DeCastro will make his first NFL start at right guard and Ramon Foster will move to left guard to replace injured Willie Colon. The Steelers want Maurkice Pouncey at center because of four-time Pro Bowl NT Jay Ratliff, though Ratliff (ankle) has missed the past three games. The Steelers have not rushed for more than 96 yards in four of the past five games.Their per-carry average in that span is 3.4 yards. The Cowboys rank 16th in the league in rush defense and allow an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
K Dan Bailey ... He has converted 17 of his past 18 field-goal attempts, including the winning 40-yarder with no time remaining last week against Cincinnati. For the season, Bailey has converted 25 of 27 attempts and is tied for fifth in the NFC with 104 points. He has made all five attempts from between 40-49 yards and is 2 for 4 beyond 50 yards.
The Cowboys have won two in a row and four of their past five to move a game behind the New York Giants for first in the NFC East. ...The series is tied, 15-15, but the Steelers have the edge in Super Bowl meetings (2-1) and have won the past two games overall -- 20-13 at Heinz Field in 2008 and 24-20 at Texas Stadium in 2004 -- in Roethlisberger's rookie season. ... Of the 30 games in series, 16 have been decided by seven points or less. ... This will be only the fourth time the Steelers have visited the Cowboys in the past 27 years. ...The Steelers haven't defeated a Cowboys team with a winning record in Dallas since 1982. Their 2004 win came against a team that went 6-10.
To win, the Cowboys must ...
1 Send men at Ben. Roethlisberger was under a lot of pressure against the Chargers because his receivers had problems getting open.
2 Be smitten with Witten. The Cowboys tight end set a team record earlier this season with 18 catches against the Giants.
3 Get Miles of yards. Austin needs to be more productive after catching just 14 passes for 182 yards in the past five games.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1 Cut 'em off at the pass. Romo has thrown for 1,855 yards, 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the past six games.
2 Be-Ware of DeMarcus. He is second fastest in league to record 100 career sacks (113 games) and needs five more for most in team history.
3 Be keen on Bryant. With Ike Taylor out, Steelers will use Keenan Lewis to cover Bryant, a physical receiver who has at least one TD in each of the past five games.
Game: Steelers (7-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6), Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas.
When: 4:25 p.m.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network.
Favored: Steelers by 11/2.
First Published December 16, 2012 12:20 am