Pittsburgh’s defense ranks first in the NFL in adjusted sack rate. Dallas has surrendered 13 sacks over the past three weeks, more than 11 teams have allowed all season.
Things have gone from bad to worse for the Cowboys, who have now scored just 22 points over their past three games combined. In their quest to replace Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton first did not work, then suffered a concussion and later tested positive for COVID-19, so he’s out. Rookie seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci didn’t have it either. So Dallas will now turn to Garrett Gilbert, a star in spring 2019 as the quarterback of the Orlando Apollos of the AAF, the predecessor to 2020’s XFL as a professional spring football league.
The key to this game is whether the Cowboys can get anything going on offense. The AAF only made it eight games, but in that time Gilbert did put up numbers. Less mobile and more of a pocket passer, Gilbert threw for 500 more yards than any other QB in that league, averaging 269 yards per game and throwing for 13 touchdowns against three interceptions.
The problem is Gilbert did a lot of that due to a willingness to go down the field, and the Cowboys don’t have the offensive line to protect him against the league’s best pass rush. The Steelers also have a strong secondary, so it’s not like Dallas can just scheme to get the ball out quick. Pittsburgh is perhaps the most difficult matchup Gilbert could face out of the gate, and it’s hard to imagine he makes good on any theoretical upside in an offense that still has one of the league’s best wide receiver units.
Ezekiel Elliott is questionable for Dallas, and it sounds like he’s on the wrong side of that designation with Tony Pollard likely to get the start. I’m not sure that makes much of an impact — the Steelers are without run-stuffing Tyson Alualu but are still better on the inside, so Pollard’s quickness and ability to attack the edge might prove valuable in the running game, as it did for J.K. Dobbins and the Ravens against Pittsburgh last week.
On the other side, Pittsburgh should have little trouble moving the ball against a Cowboys defense that has struggled all season, and I expect them to get out to an early lead. So again, whether the Steelers cover the 14.5 points or the total goes over 42.5 is a matter of whether Dallas can get anything going offensively. One thing we do know is that even over the past three weeks without Dak Prescott, Dallas has still been the fourth-fastest offense in terms of seconds per snap and used the no-huddle at the league’s fifth-highest rate. That’s in large part because they’ve trailed often in that stretch, but they’ll likely trail again here, and more plays is always good for more points late. I’m on the over.
NFL Expert Picks
Over 43.5 @ -110
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