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Steelers looking to end 3-game skid

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Cowboys-Steelers game day preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Steelers 20, Cowboys 13

Dec. 7, 2008 at Heinz Field

It was a day that shall live famously in Pittsburgh Steelers lore. The 8-4 Cowboys met the 9-3 Steelers with current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett coordinating an offense featuring Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Tony Romo. It was a stellar day instead for the Cowboys defense, which finished with 5 sacks of Ben Roethlisberger and allowed only 238 yards total offense. Leading 13-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys stuffed the Steelers four times inside the 5-yard line, but the Steelers regained good field possession thanks to a 35-yard punt return by Santonio Holmes to set up a Jeff Reed field goal with 7:15 left. A three-and-out gave Roethlisberger the ball back and he threw twice for 37 yards to Nate Washington to set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller that tied the game with 2:04 left. The Steelers defense won the game two plays later when Deshea Townsend returned Romo's third interception 25 yards for a touchdown. It sent the Steelers to a 12-4 finish and the championship, while the Cowboys spiraled to 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"The thing that jumps out at you about the Dallas Cowboys is the offensive line. Best offensive line I've seen since covering the Steelers as a broadcaster. They are that good. Tyron Smith, the left tackle, is the best offensive tackle I've seen in the game in the last maybe 20 years. He is good. He is fast. His hands are quick. Most guys are either strikers or wrestlers. He does both. He's a great striker with his hands, he'll punch you in the chest and if you get in a bull-rush he wrestles you like Carlton Haselrig used to. He's a terrific run blocker, a terrific pass blocker. He is fun to watch. I really like Zack Martin, the right guard, also. Great with his hands. These guys are really good with their hands, and they're physical. They'll maul you, they'll throw you on the ground and then they'll gore you, and that's why they're so good. I know a lot of people are saying 'Wow, Ezekiel Elliott is great.' And he is. But he is good because that offensive line's so good. Now, Ezekiel Elliott has great vision, great quicks, and if there's no hole there he'll jump-cut, beat you to the edge and get around the corner. He does a great job cutting it back. He's very physical. He lowers his shoulder. It's almost like he's trying to let everyone know how tough he is." -- Steelers Radio analyst Tunch Ilkin.

TOP QUESTION

Can the Steelers offense keep pace?

Let's assume the Cowboys are going to score their points. Can the Steelers keep pace? Well, Ben Roethlisberger is playing at home, and if his practice week is any indication he's just about completely healed from last month's knee surgery. At home, Roethlisberger has a passer rating of 122.2 and has directed the Steelers to a 3-0 record by averaging 33 points per game. Once again, it's up to him.

THREE QUESTIONS: With DL STEPHON TUITT

Q: How good is the Dallas offensive line?

ST: "We're going to see this Sunday."

Q: What are you seeing on tape?

ST: "I know the person who I'm going against, Zack Martin. I already know that matchup. I was with Zack Martin for three years (at Notre Dame). I know him and he knows me. He's probably out there in Dallas saying the same thing I'm saying: 'It's going to be a physical football game and my neck's going to hurt afterward.'"

Q: Is there an advantage either one of you will have?

ST: "He probably learned a lot in the NFL and being with his teammates, and I learned too being over here. It's going to be a battle of what we've learned."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 4:25 p.m. today at Heinz Field:

ON OFFENSE:

With safety and Penn Hills native Barry Church out with a broken forearm and cornerback Morris Claiborne out with a sports hernia, the Cowboys lose three of their four interceptions this season. The Cowboys have veteran replacements but their only other cornerback (aside from recently promoted practice-squad player Leon McFadden) is rookie Anthony Brown, a sixth-round pick out of Purdue. Brown plays outside in the nickel and forces Orlando Scandrick inside. This group last week allowed Cleveland QB Cody Kessler to complete 70 percent of his passes for 203 yards and a passer rating of 104.4. Roethlisberger should chew them up, but he'll be without Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey to line up opposite Antonio Brown. It's imperative that Sammie Coates hold on to the ball and slot receiver Eli Rogers builds off last week's impressive second half.

ON DEFENSE:

Stopping RB Ezekiel Elliott (177-891-7) will be difficult. He plays with a very low pad level and has plenty of shiftiness. Dak Prescott is a good rookie quarterback, but he's certainly not Roethlisberger c. 2004. TE Jason Witten (38-424-2) doesn't run anywhere close to his old level but he still gets open and uses his body well. The key WR for the Cowboys isn't Dez Bryant (16-282-2) but Cole Beasley (43-499-4). He's the chain-mover and the guy they try to get the ball to in the flat, on bubble screens and as the underneath guy when in tandem with Bryant.

PREDICTION

The Steelers, by virtue of their three-game losing streak, are in a virtual three-way tie for first place in the AFC North and are desperate for a win. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have a two-game lead in their division and a 1.5-game lead for the top seed in the NFC. I look for the healthy Steelers to want this more and to find a way to take advantage of a Cowboys defense that has as questionable a secondary as the Steelers do. Steelers, 34-27.

BY THE NUMBERS

1: Number of sacks needed by James Harrison to become the Steelers' all-time leader with 77.5. Jason Gildon has 77.

9: Number of punts last week by Jordan Berry, a career-high for the second-year Steeler.

12: Number of catches needed by Antonio Brown to pass Heath Miller's 592 for second-most in Steelers history.

93: Consecutive starts by Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the longest active streak among current Steelers and the longest active streak among NFL linebackers.

104.2: QB rating of Dallas rookie Dak Prescott after becoming the first rookie in NFL history with a 100+ rating in six of his first eight career games. Roethlisberger had six in his first eight career starts.

111.4: Average rushing yards per game by Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott. He's averaging 117.5 in each of his four road games.

DOWNLOADS

* The Steelers activated tight end Ladarius Green and released ILB L.J. Fort. Green joins the lineup in time to face a Cowboys defense that allows an 89 percent completion rate to tight ends, the worst in the league.

* The Steelers not only attended the pro day of rookie sensation Dak Prescott a month before the last draft, they also dined with the Mississippi State QB. The next day Prescott was charged with DUI and, according to a source, fell out of favor with the Steelers, who drafted OT Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round. Prescott was taken by the Cowboys 12 picks later, or about a half-round lower than the Steelers had expected. In July, Prescott was found not guilty of the DUI charge.

* Trivia question: Which Baltimore Raven, back in Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season of 2004, injured QB Tommy Maddox in the second game of the season to give Roethlisberger his chance, and then injured Roethlisberger in the penultimate game of the season to get Maddox back in the lineup?

* The Steelers will honor a veteran from each of the wars going back to World War II in a Salute to Service today. The U.S. Air Force Parachute team, Wings of Blue, will jump the game ball into the stadium. Former Steeler and Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier will meet fans in the Ford Fan Zone. Andy Russell will lead a Terrible Towel twirl of local military personnel. Several other activities are planned.

* Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL in rushing with 891 yards and Dak Prescott is fourth in the NFL in passer rating at 104.2. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked if he's ever seen two such rookies in the same backfield. "I don’t know who you would compare them to. I really don’t. It would be hard to. Usually, you have one guy. You don’t have two guys. ... You control the ball, you run play-action pass, you get chunks off of some of your play-action pass and you have the ball the majority of the time. That’s an old-school plan for wining ball games."

* Trivia answer: Terrell Suggs.

PARTING SHOT

"We need to go out and play at a high level. We didn’t do that here the last quarter [of the season]. It’s time for us to get out there and play the way we are capable of playing." -- Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.


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