All they’ll see this weekend, however, are a pair of defenses intent on taking them down.
Romo and Roethlisberger square off on Sunday in Pittsburgh, as Dallas pays its first visit to Heinz Field in a matchup of teams riding three-game winning streaks - and two of the NFL’s most sack-happy defenses.
Romo’s broken right pinkie and Roethlisberger’s separated right shoulder have received a lot of attention this season, and with good reason as the duo have two of the highest winning percentages among active starting quarterbacks.
Romo is 26-9 (74.3 percent) as a starter for Dallas (8-4) while Roethlisberger is 47-19 (71.2 percent) under center for the Steelers (9-3) since his rookie season in 2004.
Roethlisberger hasn’t missed any time despite injuring his throwing shoulder in Pittsburgh’s season opener, but Romo’s pinkie cost him three games. Considering Brad Johnson went 1-2 and threw five interceptions as a starter, the Cowboys couldn’t wait to get him back, and Romo has delivered.
Since his return on Nov. 16, Romo has guided the Cowboys to three straight wins. He was 22-of-34 for 331 yards on Thanksgiving Day in a 34-9 rout of Seattle that now has Dallas tied with Atlanta for the NFC’s second wild-card spot.
“We had a rough patch and we’re still not out of it,” Romo said. “We’ve still got to go forward and keep putting together wins to get in the playoffs. Our confidence level is that on any given Sunday we can compete with the best of anybody.”
Pittsburgh has also won three straight, and while its top-ranked defense has been largely responsible, so has some improved decision-making from Roethlisberger. He threw seven interceptions in three games from Oct. 26-Nov. 9 - with the Steelers losing twice - but he’s had only one in the last three weeks.
He tossed two touchdowns for the first time since Oct. 19 on Sunday at New England, and Pittsburgh’s defense forced five second-half turnovers to blow out the Patriots 33-10 and remain a game up on Baltimore in the AFC North.
“It was unbelievable,” Roethlisberger said of the Steelers’ defense, which let New England convert one of its 13 third-downs. “You get to the sidelines, put your coat on, your hat on and, all of a sudden, you’re ready to go back on the field.”
The Steelers sacked New England’s Matt Cassel five times, giving them a league-leading 42 this season. With four games remaining, Pittsburgh is on pace to break the franchise-record of 55 sacks, set in 1994 and matched in 2001.
Linebacker James Harrison has been the leading force for Pittsburgh’s pass rush, registering 14 sacks. He also leads the NFL with six forced fumbles, including two in less than five minutes of the third quarter last Sunday.
“Not to take it for granted, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from him because that’s what he’s capable of,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Pittsburgh leads the NFL in scoring defense (14.2 points per game), total defense (238.0 yards per game), and is No. 1 individually against the run (71.2 ypg) and the pass (166.8).
The Cowboys have the NFL’s ninth-best total defense (296.8 ypg), but they’re just two sacks behind the Steelers’ league-high total. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware had three sacks against the Seahawks, and leads the NFL with 15.
Roethlisberger, meanwhile, has been sacked 33 times, tied for second-most in the league, but it’s not certain Ware will get the opportunity to add to that total. He sprained his left knee late against Seattle, and wasn’t expected to practice most of the week.
Dallas coach Wade Phillips said Wednesday he was “hopeful” Ware could go on Sunday.
Even if Ware can play, the Cowboys could have a difficult time with their footing. Snow is expected on Sunday on the notoriously shoddy grass playing surface at Heinz Field.
One Cowboy who will be on the field for the first time since Oct. 12 is cornerback Adam Jones, who missed six games for violating the league’s player conduct policy. Jones should give a boost to a thin Dallas secondary, and he’s also expected to return punts.
“He can do all the things on the football field that you ask a man to do,” defensive tackle Tank Johnson said. “We’re just excited about him coming back and continuing to do better.”
Barber dislocated his right little toe in the first half against Seattle, and did not practice all week. Choice, from Georgia Tech, replaced Barber and rushed for a career-high 57 yards on 11 carries.
Pittsburgh is also expected to get a boost in its secondary. Cornerback Bryant McFadden hasn’t played since breaking his forearm on Oct. 19, but he should return on Sunday.
Running back Willie Parker, meanwhile, has been battling a knee injury throughout the season, and though he’s carried the ball 30 times in the past two weeks, backup Mewelde Moore has seen plenty of time as well. Tomlin expects that to continue against the Cowboys, who haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown during their three-game winning streak.
“Mewelde is a good player, and he’s proved that he’s capable of helping us win,” Tomlin said. “We all know what Willie’s capable of doing.”
The Steelers and Cowboys last played in Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium in 1997, and their only meeting since came in Dallas in 2004 during Roethlisberger’s rookie season. He went 21-of-25 for 193 yards with two touchdowns in the Steelers’ 24-20 win.