Dallas Cowboys Prepare for the Final Exam

Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) reacts during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) reacts during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi /

The Dallas Cowboys are preparing for the biggest exam of the season, facing a Pittsburgh Steelers team coming off of a lackluster performance.

First, the good news is the Dallas Cowboys are hot coming into their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. At 7-1, the Cowboys are the top team in the NFC and are riding a seven game winning streak. Right now, they have the look of a special team.

On the flip side, the Steelers are just 4-4 and are fighting for their playoff lives. They are coming off a game in which they punted or turned the ball over on 11 straight possessions. That’s bad.

However, we’ve seen this movie before. The Steelers have not played consistent football on the season, looking bad in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens.

There’s a common theme to each of those defeats, they were all on the road. Pittsburgh is 3-1 at home and their only loss occurred while playing the New England Patriots without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The loss to the Eagles is significant because they followed that game up by trouncing the Kansas City Chiefs at home. That’s what the Cowboys are facing this week; an angry Steelers team who got embarrassed the week before and are coming home a focused group. Under head coach Mike Tomlin, they tend to rebound well after stinking up the joint the week before.

Pittsburgh also had a game to knock off the rust from Big Ben and to get him in shape for this week’s contest. Make no mistake, the Cowboys will get the best the Steelers have to offer.

That’s the bad news.

Still, this is a game the Cowboys can win. It’s yet another opportunity for rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to prove they are for real. It won’t be easy.

The Steelers are one of the teams that can really challenge Dallas’ defense by spreading them out and throwing down the field. The New York Giants were successful at doing it, so were the Washington Redskins the following week, so it’s going to take a solid game from the secondary if the Cowboys are going to pull this win off. It’s a tough task compounded by safety Barry Church’s and cornerback Morris Claiborne’s injuries. If Dallas doesn’t pressure the quarterback in this game, it will spell disaster.

However, this is why the Cowboys built up the offensive line and drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott, to play keep away from the opposing offense. It’s been a successful plan so far this season and the rookie rusher got some extra rest when the team put the Cleveland Browns away early last week.

Despite allowing under 100 rushing per game, Pittsburgh’s run defense has been spotty all year. When the Steelers have given up over 100 yards on the ground this season, they are 0-3. The group gave up over 200 yards to running back Jay Ajayi and 127 to the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount a few weeks ago, but have also held three teams to under 60 yards on the ground.

If the Cowboys can run the ball well, they should win. If they don’t, they may struggle to come home with an eighth straight victory. Then again, that’s always the path to wins for Dallas.

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Games don’t get tougher than this. The Dallas Cowboys will get the best the Pittsburgh Steelers have to offer. It feels like the final exam for the Cowboys, the last one before true belief sets in.

Belief in Dak Prescott, belief in Jason Garrett, belief in the defense and belief in the entire team. Do the Cowboys have the answers?

You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi