As the Sunday kick off approached, I was filled with a sense of vague dread and the dull certainty that more bad things were to come. The news of Jerry Brown’s death, and Josh Brent’s involvement, had begun leaking out the day before, and I was certain that more bad news must surely be coming. Something bigger than the loss of a football game – which I felt was probable even before this bad news, but it escalated my suspicions to a near certainty in my mind.
On Friday, I had received news that two people very important to me had lost their father suddenly during a routine operation. I wasn’t ever very close to him, but seeing the hurt in my love one’s faces and knowing the torment that was inside of them was absolutely gut wrenching. I wonder if some of the Cowboys’ players had a similar indirect grief to the news of Jerry Brown’s passing. I am guessing that not everyone knew him very well – he had only been on the practice squad for a few weeks. Josh Brent knew him well, and all of the players on the team certainly knew Josh Brent well. Jerry Brown is dead and Josh Brent’s life as he knew it is gone forever. They both made a very stupid decision that night, and now one of them gets to live the rest of their life with that guilt.
It was with this heavy heart that the Dallas Cowboys went into Sunday’s game, giving them every excuse to feel sorry for themselves and mail in the game. Not many were expecting them to win anyway, and with their defensive line now rivaling their linebacker corps for the most injured unit award, the common narrative was that the Bengals were going to run all over the Cowboys and blow them out.
The Cowboys had a decision to make, just like every person has to face in their life – do you let the everyday tragedies of life weigh you down or do you use them as the fuel that sustains you?
The passing of your parents isn’t easy at any age, I don’t imagine. I’m fortunate not to have had to endure that loss yet in my life, though there was a very close call with my father. I imagine this loss is even more profound when you are trying to find your way as a parent yourself – as is the case of the two aforementioned people who are very close to me. You suddenly regret every time that you dismissed their advice or skipped out on an opportunity to spend time with them – it’s busy being an adult and parent after all. Then that person is gone and you have to find your way forward, suddenly with a void in your life that you never knew had been filled with something before. But you have to make that choice – do I let the inevitable tragedy of life burden or build me?
I can’t imagine the sorrow that Jerry Brown’s mother must feel. Outliving your children is life’s greatest tragedy – the mere thought of having to bury one of my children fills me with unspeakable terror and sadness. Nobody would have blamed her for condemning Josh Brent for his role in her son’s death. Nobody would have blamed her for being angry and spiteful that she would never see her son again. Instead, she embraced Brent and forgave him for his dumb and reckless youth. She knew that it was an accident – no matter how dumb and preventable it was – and that Jerry Brown had been part of the mistake that night. She took all that grief and loss and she tried to turn it into something positive.
I can only hope that Josh Brent follows that example and takes the shreds of his life and someday makes something positive out of all this too. I hope that the people I love take the grief of their loss and turn it into something positive that enriches their lives and the lives of their children.
And as trivial and out of scale as it is with these other situations, I hope that the Cowboys turn this dark chapter into a happy ending.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
Like many teams of Steelers’ past, this team is about excellent defensive play, and middle of the pack offense. This dynamic has been particularly polarized with the recent injury of Ben Roethlisberger, who is now back on the field, but clearly at less than full strength. The offensive unit has been inconsistent in their offensive approach leading them to a 21st in the league 21.4 PPG.
This is particularly true since Roethlisberger’s injury against the Chiefs in Week 10. Prior to his injury, the Steelers were riding a hot steak, with 4 straight wins. Despite his return to action against the Chargers, the Steelers have lost 3 out of their last games, including losses against the Browns and underperforming Chargers. Though Big Ben had a strong statistical showing (285 yard, 3 TD, 1 INT), this offense still needs to regain balance to their attack to keep their QB healthy.
Prior to their game against the Chiefs, the Steelers had over 100 yards rushing 4 out of 5 weeks. Since the game with the Chiefs, they have rushed for over 100 yards once in 4 games. Roethlisberger had a significant shoulder and rib injury and his health might be tested if the Cowboys are able to get consistent pressure on him.
- The Steelers have only scored more than 30 points once this season – in a loss against the Raiders.
- They have scored 23 or more points 8 times, earning a 5-3 record during these games.
- They have scored less than 20 points 5 times this season, earning them a 2-3 record during these games. In their two wins, the Steelers defense held the opposing offense to 14 points or less.
- In games where the Steelers threw for over 300 yards, they are 0-2.
- The Steelers are 4-1 in games where they’ve rushed for over 100 yards. They are 6-1 in games where they rushed for over 90.
- The Steelers defense has not given up a 300 yard passing day all season.
- They have given up over 200 yards passing only 4 times this season. They are 0-4 in those games.
- The Steelers defense has given up 100 yard rushing days 4 times this season. They are 2-2 in those games.
- They are 3-5 in games where the opposing offense rushes for 90 or more yards.
Steelers vs. Opponents Average
The above table tracks how the Steelers perform against their opponent’s Points For/Against average. In summary, their offense scores 2.4 points less than their opponents give up on average, but their defense allows 2.3 points less than the opposing offense normally scores. Basically they break even because their defense makes up for any lost production from the offense. It also should be noted that during the 3 game absence of Roethlisberger due to injury, the Steelers averaged 15.6 points scored, which affects their season-to-date offensive numbers negatively. Still, this offense hasn’t been very good all year.
The Cowboys vs. Opponents Average
· After 2 straight weeks of the defense giving up 10 or more points than their opponents’ scores on average, the Cowboys defense unit had a strong outing against the Bengals, allowing 5.7 points less than their average.
· The offense also came back down to earth after strong showings in 3 of the last 4 outings. They scored 1.5 points less than the Bengals normally allow.
Steelers VS. Cowboys Shared Opponents
When looking at how each of these teams performs against Shared Opponents, the difference between these teams is fairly stark. The Cowboys offense is superior in all but one case (against the Bengals) and the Steelers defense was superior in every game. Overall, their records are very similar against these teams, with the Steelers getting the slight edge at 5-2 over the Cowboys’ 5-3.
Steelers VS. Cowboys Schedule Strength
The Cowboys and Steelers are both at 7-6, so I wanted to analyze the teams they each won and lost against to see if I could glean any insight from it.
· The Cowboys have won only 2 games against teams who currently have a winning record – The Giants and the Bengals.
· The Steelers have 4 wins against teams with winning records – The Bengals, Redskins, Giants, and Ravens. 3 of those teams have beaten the Cowboys head-to-head.
· The average record of Dallas’ defeated opponents rounds to 5-8. The Steelers: 6-7.
· All 6 of the Cowboys’ losses have come at the hands of a team with a winning record. The Cowboys have beaten the teams that are under .500, but usually lose to a team with a winning record.
· The Steelers have lost only two games to teams with winning records. The other 4 are losses to teams with losing records – none of them within 3 games of .500. The pattern of winning or losing to good/bad teams isn’t as clear as it is with the Cowboys.
· The average opponent who has beaten the Cowboys is approximately 9-4, compared to the 6-7 record of teams who have beaten the Steelers.
Keys to the game
· Balanced offense. I don’t think the Cowboys must to have a huge rushing day, but they need to at least keep the pass rush honest and punish the defense for sending too many rushers with draws and quick passes.
· Tony Romo. The Steelers defense is very good, but they’re banged up a little bit at the corner position. The Steelers are 0-4 in games where they give up 200 or more yards passing. This would be an opportune time for Romo to deliver the first 300 yard passing game against the Steelers defense this season. The Cowboys go as far as the Romo takes them.
· Miles Austin. Though Dez Bryant is saying he’s going to play on Sunday, and the fact that he caught a TD pass after he had already broken his finger, I can’t help but think that his streak of monster performances is in jeopardy. To that end, Austin needs to show up big against the Steelers and make plays. My hope is that Dez is effective enough to draw coverage away from the other receivers and they’re able to capitalize on it.
· Run Defense. The Steelers are 1-5 in games where they rush for less than 90 yards. The Cowboys front-7 is absolutely devastated with injury, particularly in the middle. The Steelers have been using an assortment of tough and physical backs, usually led by Jonathan Dwyer. These guys are tough to bring down and could cause some real problems for the Cowboys, who at times exhibit poor tackling technique. Last week, the Bengals inexplicably abandoned the run after averaging 7.3 yards per carry, which probably cost them the win. I don’t think the Steelers will be quite as helpful.
The Cowboys are 4-1 in their last 5 games and have managed to keep their playoff hopes alive, despite having to overcome a heartbreaking tragedy and a seemingly endless string of injuries. They are now in a part of the season where every game is a must-win situation if they wish to keep their destiny in their hands. If the Cowboys offense can find balance, they have a real shot at winning this game and set themselves up for a meaningful December push.
Cowboys 24, Steelers 21