SERIES: 9th meeting. Dallas leads the series 15-13. The Steelers beat the Cowboys in two out of three Super Bowls, but they haven't won in Dallas since 1982 and they haven't beaten them since 1988, losing their past four meetings.
*2004 rankings: Steelers: offense 18th (7th rush, 25th pass); defense 5th (13th rush, 6th pass). Cowboys: offense 9th (20th rush, 7th pass); defense 19th (21st rush, 17th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger has shown poise, but the Steelers' fast start is due to running the ball almost twice as much as they throw it. Before they can come after Roethlisberger, the Cowboys have to slow down RB Deuce Staley, who has rushed for 100 yards in a career-high three consecutive games. With their offensive approach, the Steelers should control the clock because the Cowboys rely so heavily on their passing game. Pittsburgh has the league's No. 6 pass defense, but it hasn't faced a receiving corps as deep as Dallas'. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells has been frustrated by mental errors and penalties his team needs to cut down on to avoid another costly home loss.
FAST FACTS: Steelers: RB Jerome Bettis has 56 yards rushing and a 1.8-yard average, but he has six rushing touchdowns. ... Are 83-1-1 under coach Bill Cowher when they have a lead of at least 11 points in a game. Cowboys: RB Eddie George is on pace for 720 yards rushing this season. ... Lead the series 15-13 and have won the past four meetings.
-- RB Duce Staley practiced for the first time this week on Wednesday and is ready to pursue his fourth-straight 100-yard rushing game on Sunday. He has three in a row for the first time in his career.
-- CB Deshea Townsend returned to the practice field on Wednesday. He's become a key component of the Steelers' secondary since he replaced Dewayne Washington midway through last season. He is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, has two sacks and leads with seven passes defensed.
-- CB Ike Taylor, who has just one assisted tackle on special teams, will replace injured S Mike Logan in the dime passing defense on Sunday. Taylor was demoted from that job before the season began.
-- NT Casey Hampton has seven quarterback pressures, which equals his entire totals combined from the previous two seasons.
-- LB Joey Porter has only one sack, but he leads the defense with 11 quarterback hurries, two more than he had all of last season.
--RB ReShard Lee has served as a change-of-pace back for the Cowboys so far, rushing 17 times for 88 yards. But it has been more from happenstance than by design. The Cowboys want to get him more carries than the four per game he is getting. That bigger work load could come Sunday against the Steelers.
--CB Jacques Reeves started in place of Pete Hunter (out for the season with a torn knee ligament) against the New York Giants and did all right, but he might split time with veteran Tyrone Williams on Sunday. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said he is hopeful Williams, who was signed last week but inactive against the Giants, will be able to contribute. Not strictly in the nickel coverage against the slot receiver, either.
"No, corner," Parcells said. "No. Outside. Corner. That's where corners play."
That is also where Reeves plays. No decision is going to be made until Parcells watches practice this week.
--PK Billy Cundiff appears to at least be in the lobby of Bill Parcells' dog hotel. About his missed 52-yard field-goal attempt against the Giants, Parcells said: "He should be able to make those or come close to making them."
--OG/OC Tyson Walter has not practice this week because of the flu. Coach Bill Parcells has not had a player miss a game due to the flu before and thinks Walter will be ready to go by Sunday. However, he said he must get on the practice field either Friday or Saturday to be eligible to play on Sunday.
--LB Dat Nguyen recorded 13 tackles against the Giants to move back atop the team leader board in tackles with 36, just ahead of safety Roy Williams who has 29.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has played only 3 1/2 games and he's already being compared to Dan Marino?
"He is the best prospect I have seen in 10 or 15 years," Dallas coach Bill Parcells said this week. "I have not seen anybody come in the league like that. The only guy that I can say came in and in the first year started playing like he is playing is Dan Marino."
Marino threw 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions as a rookie for Miami in 1983 when he finished with a 96.0 passer rating. Roethlisberger ranks sixth in the AFC with a 91.3 passer rating. However, since his first pass in his first start for Miami was intercepted, he has a 102.1 passer rating.
He also gets better when the going gets tough. Roethlisberger ranks third in the AFC with a 108.3 passer rating on third downs, and his 118.1 rating in the fourth quarter ranks third in the AFC.
The Steelers, 3-0 with the rookie as their starting quarterback, play Parcells' Cowboys on Sunday but the Dallas coach said that had nothing to do with his praise of Roethlisberger.
"That's quite a compliment, especially coming from someone like him," Roethlisberger said. "If I could be half as good as Marino or some of those guys, I'd be extremely happy."
Yes, things are bad at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters these days.
Following the loss to the Giants, the team is being second-guessed, nitpicked and left for dead. The offense is having trouble scoring points. The penalties are piling up. The team is not playing to its potential as the coach sees it.
Yet, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells is not ready to buy into all the doom and gloom. Not yet, anyway, because he says it's still early and there's a lot of football left to play.
"We're 2-2. We're .500. We're not 0-5. We could be 0-5. That's a different story," Parcells said. "When you get to 0-6, 7 and 8, 1-8, and we're out of it, then it's a different story. Then I think differently. I'd be using younger players. I'd be doing things differently, but that's not where we are. I'm just trying to do a better job with what's going on."
None of which is meant to imply that the Cowboys' problems do not bother Parcells. Quite the contrary.
What frustrates Parcells most is that he has seen the Cowboys handle every facet of the game well at some point this season. What he has yet to see is the team do everything well in a game. And he is not confident that time is right around the corner, either.
"No, not yet," Parcells said. "As I said, we've been pretty much the same, other than the Tennessee game in preseason, which I thought we were on pretty much on all cylinders, particularly early in the game. We've been erratic, inconsistent, and it's manifested itself in every area, except special teams coverage has been consistently good."
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