FRISCO, Texas – If you follow the NFL, then you know who the Steelers bring to the table and how they manage so much success.
It is interesting, though, that while Pittsburgh boasts household names like Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, they don't face the Cowboys all too often. The last time the Steelers and Cowboys faced off was all the way back in 2012 – so plenty has changed, even while the big names have stayed the same.
With that in mind, here's a closer look at the guys I've got my eye on for the Steelers:
Weapon:WR Antonio Brown
The most noticeable thing about Brown is that he plays faster than recorded 40 time. He shows a rare ability to separate in routes due to his quickness. Tremendous acceleration and burst.
He can work anywhere on the field that you need him. Hitches, bubble screens are all part of the package with him. He will catch the ball and go. He has developed as a route runner because he didn't have that ability in college – his route tree was very limited.
Adding to his route knowledge is that he knows how to set up defensive backs and move them up the field. Brown can cut on a dime to change direction. You have to respect his ability to get open. He has soft, consistent hands to pluck the ball and put it away. The Steelers do a great job of working to get him in space where he wins battles with quickness and elusiveness. This guy is a nightmare to have to deal with in the open field. Good field vision and awareness.
Brown played in college as a punt and kickoff returner, so you see those traits and skills with the ball in his hands. He has been durable over his career. There were some questions about his ability to play on the outside due to his size – viewed more as a slot option, but he has really become a complete player.
He gets off the line with quickness and into routes in a hurry. Big-time, clutch player. Difference-maker in every sense of the word. Despite his lack of size, he is a rugged player.
In six of his eight games this season, he has had double digit targets. He is going to make receptions so you have to get bodies to him quickly.
Nemesis:QB Ben Roethlisberger
As you probably know, "Big Ben" doesn't look athletic as a quarterback, but he will surprise you with his mobility. He has outstanding size and strength in the pocket. Tall and sturdy. Hard to bring down in the pocket. He will make accurate throws with defenders hanging on his body, which has to be scary for this Dallas pass rush. He is most effective when he can play out of the shotgun -- takes the snap, makes his read, then lets it fly.
Roethlisberger is a master at hitting the receiver on the move. He can be deliberate at times in allowing his man to work open but can unload quickly when needed. Poised under a rush. Has good arm strength. Throws the ball well at all levels. Will drop arm angle down to fit the ball into receiver. He has a good feel for touch. Does a nice job of laying the ball over defenders downfield. As big as he is, he is not sudden in his escape, but he slides away from pressure well. He as an uncanny feel for how to work in the pocket, and he is efficient on the move. He does an outstanding job of keeping his eye level up and down the field.
Given his arm strength, he is not afraid to make the tight throw in coverage. He wills his teammates to make plays, and he brings out the best in them. This is a clutch performer with clutch production.
He plays with a never-say-die attitude, and he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to the two-minute drill.
Roethlisberger has been compromised with a knee injury, and in the Ravens game you could tell that it bothered him. Offensive line has been a problem for him and their lack of protection.
Under the Radar:NT Javon Hargrave
Hargrave lines up as the nose tackle for the Steelers. He can hold the point, and he has initial quickness off the snap. He will attack the gap.
When he was in college, I thought he didn't play with much balance, but he has been better. He is not on the ground much at all. He can stay square and make himself hard to move. He can also work down the line. He has the power to play off the block.
You can tell Hargrave has worked on his technique, because he was very raw in college. He wasn't always sure that he knew what he is doing, but that just shows you what coaching can do for a player. He can change direction well for a big man. His arm-over is his best pass rush move. This is a disruptive and athletic interior lineman with a relentless motor who works to finish plays. He is flexible in his lower body and has good short area quickness. He gums up the inside running lane with his powerful lower body.
Hargrave can anchor and stack a double-team. Plays low with leverage. Plays with a low pad level and has first-step explosiveness. Works from snap to whistle. Gets hands up in the throwing lane. A powerful leverage bull rush as well as up field quickness to get into the backfield as a gap player.
This is another big body that Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Ronald Leary will have to work to handle. The Steelers took him much higher than I would have, but he is perfect for their scheme in this 3-4.