Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers Standouts Notes and Observations

Nov 13, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers defenders during the first half of their game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers defenders during the first half of their game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports /

On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys faced off against the high-powered offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are the game’s standouts, notes, and observations….

  • The Cowboys started getting creative with zone blitzing (which isn’t always blitzing since it often only rushes four total). Rod Marinelli did his homework and dropped interior linemen like Terrell McClain back to take away the inside pass to the TE. He very nearly created a fumble/interception. This is the kind of creativity the Cowboys will need in the playoffs when opponents inevitably have better offensive lines.
  • It’s clear Le’Veon Bell is a versatile, smart, and savvy player, scoring the Steelers first TD from the receiver position. The Cowboys should take notice of all the ways the Steelers use him because Ezekiel Elliott has the ability to do all of that and more.
  • The speed in which Bell operates (or lack thereof) is especially noteworthy. It looks like Bell is running in mud. He makes

    Alfred Morris

    look like a speed-demon, proving you don’t need speed to be successful in a zone blocking scheme. Bell was clocked at the Combine at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash but doesn’t seem to play up to that speed. Regardless, it’s working for him because he’s an exceptional runner and the Dallas Cowboys should be proud they limited him the way they did.

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  • Here’s a thought: If a QB falls into you causing a blow to the head that wouldn’t happen to an otherwise upright QB, it shouldn’t be a personal foul. Those flags seem to come out a lot more often for Tom Brady and Ben Roethisberger than they do for a player like Cam Newton. We’ll see in coming years if the NFL decides to protect Dak Prescott like the former or allows him to be abused, more like the latter.
  • This was set to be significant test for the Cowboys’ secondary from the start. The Dallas Cowboys were without two of their top three (OUT: Morris Claiborne and Barry Church) and faced an accurate QB for the first time this season. Not to poo-poo what they’ve accomplished this season, but it’s important to remember the Cowboys have faced an uncharacteristically inaccurate Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning. There would be no more celebrating poor throws. On Sunday the Cowboys had to force them.
  • DB Byron Jones is one of those secondary players who stepped up to the challenge. Jones botched the fumble recovery at the top of the second quarter but given the game situation, advancing the ball (rather than just falling on it) wasn’t a bad idea. Sure, in retrospect we’d like to have seen him fall on the football, but no opposing players were around and the sideline wasn’t extraordinarily close so it was worth a gamble since a punt was coming anyway. Very underrated player for the Cowboys this season.
  • CB Orlando Scandrick is one of the most ineffective DB blitzers on the roster yet the Cowboys continue to use him in that capacity. For years it’s been clear that Scandrick goes low and “survives” when a blocker steps up to take him. He makes absolutely no effort to get to the QB. The Cowboys have multiple players who have shown the ability to do better, yet, #32 gets the call because of the position he lines up at on defense.  Marinelli blitzes rarely but loves using his DBs when he does. He just needs to use another DB.
  • CB Brandon Carr wasn’t terrible but he wasn’t good either and played to avoid tackling on multiple occasions. CB Anthony Brown was targeted but stood up to the pressure well, all things considered. J.J. Wilcox had arguably his best game of the season making the loss of Barry Church a little more tolerable. But this defense needs Morris Claiborne back in a big way.
  • OG Ronald Leary was excellent once again despite a first down stealing holding call (Of course, it’s easy to forgive when the next play is a 50-yard TD pass to Dez Bryant). The Cowboys need to make every effort to re-sign Leary this offseason, even if it means not retaining La’el Collins in two years. Leary can’t break the bank but he’s a top-10 guard in the NFL and wants to get paid.
  • Related Story: Why the Cowboys Need To Re-Sign Ronald Leary

    • Speaking of the 50-yard TD pass – that’s a perfect example of Dak Prescott stopping blitz-happy defensive coordinators. The NFL thought the Philadelphia Eagles exposed something when they hurried Prescott into some poor passes. Teams will try to mimic that hoping for the same result. Pittsburgh tried it, blitzing three on that play, and Dak made them pay with a big play for six.
    • I mentioned last week that DeMarcus Lawrence was playing really well and the big plays were soon to come and I’m happy to report that showed up on Sunday. Even without the splash plays, Lawrence played a great game. But it can’t be denied his strip, third down sack, and the end-around stop for a 10-yard loss were great to see.
    • Cole Beasley had a rough day. He was open (but not targeted) multiple times during the game and when he was targeted he fell short. I’m calling it a fluke.

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    Even without the last two TD drives this was Ezekiel Elliott’s best performance this season. Pro Football Focus has been tough on Elliott because most of yards come BEFORE contact (thus giving credit to the O-line) but on Sunday Zeke earned every yard and those were far from easy the first 3 ½ quarters of the game.