Steelers-Cowboys a five-star showdown

Whenever the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Dallas Cowboys, it's a five-star showdown. But there's another showdown looming among NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware. Read below for the breakdown:

PITTSBURGH – A linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers approached his offensive line this week and asked for help in deciding the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year showdown on Sunday.

That linebacker was not James Harrison.

"Nope," said Harrison. "There's no matchup between me and DeMarcus Ware; just my team against his team. That's all that really matters."

The Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys are two of the NFL's elite teams, so it's no surprise that both teams are led by the league's top Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Harrison and Ware.

The Steelers have two more sacks than the Cowboys to lead the league, while Ware leads Harrison by one sack at the top of the NFL leader board. Ware has 15 sacks and needs one to tie Randy White's team record set in 1978. Harrison has 14 sacks and needs one to tie Mike Merriweather's team record set in 1984. Of course, the record's meaningless to Harrison.

"I don't think about it at all," he said. "If I don't get another sack the rest of the year and we win all four games, I'll be very happy."

It was an obvious answer, considering Harrison's disdain for discussing the "showdown" with Ware. But it has taken on a modicum of importance to his Steelers teammates.

"Mike Tomlin always says we have five-star matchups with these good teams, but this is a five-star matchup with two individuals," said James Farrior. "Man, those are two guys that are just wreaking havoc in the NFL right now. It'll be fun watching those two guys. I already told our offensive line we need help trying to get ‘Deebo' on top of that sack list."

Max Starks is the Steelers' left tackle. It'll be his job to block Ware and help Harrison, who's known as "Deebo" to teammates because of a menacing countenance similar to the so-named villain in the "Friday" movie.

"I can definitely help my fellow teammate gain a leg up on the competition," Starks said. "There are still four games left, but this is a major game, one I'm sure a lot of voters are going to be watching." Starks has watched enough of Ware to make a comparison between the two players.

"From what I've seen of Ware thus far, he's a good, agile player," Starks said. "Even though they're similar in their style, the striking difference is DeMarcus uses his size to his advantage because he's a taller, lankier player than James, whereas James is more compact and that makes it tougher to block James."

Starks stands 6-feet-8 while Harrison is listed at 6-feet. Starks has commented several times over the last five years that it's difficult for him to get low enough to block Harrison in practice.

Flozell Adams, the Cowboys' left tackle who'll attempt to block Harrison, is 6-feet-7. Does Adams know what he's in for on Sunday?

"He has no idea," Starks said. "I don't care how many times you go against DeMarcus Ware (6-4, 262) in practice, you can't prepare for a James Harrison-type of player because he's an outlier. If you're looking at norms on a graph, he's definitely an outlier. You're not used to seeing that size, that power, that agility all compacted in there. He's definitely going to be a test for him because for taller players he is a nightmare since you're forced to get in an uncomfortable position to block him."

Both teams play 3-4 base defenses, so it's no surprise that both blind-side pass-rushers lead their teams in sacks. But Harrison forces more turnovers than Ware. The Steelers' ROLB has forced six fumbles and intercepted a pass this season. Ware hasn't intercepted a pass, and according to NFL.com he's forced only two fumbles. The site also lists Harrison with 18 more tackles than Ware. Harrison also has a safety.

"They're both amazing athletes," said Farrior. "It's going to be fun. Hopefully it'll be more fun for us."

(Jim Wexell's new book "Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon" is available for the holidays at pittsburghsportspublishing.com.)


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