Unbeaten Steelers pose stiff challenge for Cowboys QBs
It’s a tale of two quarterbacks Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. The question is, which two?
For Pittsburgh (7-0), the answer is ironclad. Veteran Ben Roethlisberger will be trying to guide the Steelers, the last remaining unbeaten team, to an 8-0 start for the first time in franchise history.
For Dallas (2-6), it will come down to a decision between Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush to step in for Andy Dalton, and not rookie Ben DiNucci, a Pittsburgh native who made his first start last week.
DiNucci struggled in a 23-9 loss to Philadelphia, completing 21 of 40 pases for 180 yards with two lost fumbles.
Dalton this week was transferred from concussion protocol to the reserve/COVID-19 list. He was elevated last month after franchise quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending broken ankle.
DiNucci doesn’t have the backing of his coach, at least not yet, not against the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense.
“I’m excited about his future,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, a fellow Pittsburgh native, said. “He has unique talent and he’s a talented young man. But he’s raw. With the opponent we’re playing, we need some more experience at the (quarterback) position.”
McCarthy said the practice performance of Gilbert and Rush will determine who will start. Running back Ezekiel Elliott said the two split first-team duties at practice Wednesday.
“Whoever goes out there and plays for us Sunday, we’re going to rally behind them. We’re going to try to win a football game,” said Elliott, who was limited Wednesday because of a hamstring issue but is expected to play Sunday.
Rush, a former Dallas third-stringer, began the season on the New York Giants’ practice squad. In his career, he is 1 of 3 passing for 2 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Gilbert, who started the season on the Cleveland practice squad, has a career line of 2 of 6 for 40 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Either of those stat lines could be numbers from one middling possession for Roethlisberger, a future Hall of Famer who has bounced back strongly from season-ending elbow surgery in 2019.
He has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 232.6 yards a game, with 15 touchdowns against four picks. He will be facing a Cowboys club giving up an average of 384.9 yards and 33.3 points a game.
There was a wrinkle in the Steelers’ preparation after Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey, who played against Pittsburgh last week, tweeted a day after the game that he tested positive for COVID-19.
“Things got pushed back an hour,” Roethlisberger said of Wednesday’s schedule. “We met in the indoor facility, so it was really spread out. That is where some of the meetings are going to have to be. We were told we can’t do individual meetings in person, so those will be virtual.”
The Steelers hope to have All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward (quad) available after he got hurt late in the game against Baltimore. “Leg’s fine, getting better every day,” he said.
Pittsburgh defensive lineman Tyson Alualu (knee) and guard Stefan Wisniewski (pectoral) did not practice Wednesday. Wisniewski was activated from the reserve/injured list.
For Dallas, Hunter Niswander will be the new punter after it was determined this week that Chris Jones will need abdominal surgery.
–Field Level Media