Football returns with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers making the neutral ground trip to Canton for the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night. Whether you’re rolling with the black and gold, “America’s Team” or you’re simply watching without a dog in the fight—this is officially the preseason kick-starter we’ve all been waiting for. The Steelers are still hopeful for a final Super Bowl run with 39-year-old gunslinger Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, while the Cowboys are eager to get a sneak peek at the team after signing Dak Prescott to a four-year, $160 million deal back in March.
Line Movements - The game opened up as a pick but has been since bet to Pittsburgh 0-1.5 to -2 at most sportsbooks. 64% of the bets have come in on the Steelers.
The Over/Under bets have been split down the middle and still the line has gone from 34 down to 32.5 in some spots
Defense is the focal point for the CowboysMy grandfather loved his toast burnt, and he was also an avid Dallas Cowboys fan. If he could see them now, he’d see his favorite team is getting burnt more often than his toast these days—God rest his soul.
Dallas had the fifth-worst scoring defense with a group that was allowing an average 29.6 points and 386.4 yards per game. There were leaks everywhere with the team lacking the talent to plug the holes in the ship. And it was even more glaring without Dak Prescott at quarterback.
Their leading man missed most of the season with a serious ankle injury. So don’t expect to see him trotting out there for Thursday’s game. The Cowboys aren’t about to risk their $160 million quarterback in the first preseason game. No, that work will be spread out between Ben DiNucci, Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush.
I hope they have their track shoes on because the Steelers had the No. 1-ranked rushing defense last season. And then they went out and grabbed veteran pass rusher and three-time Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram in a one-year deal.
Yeah, good luck with that.
But the focal point with this game should be on the Cowboys’ defense. They can’t depend on Prescott and the offense to consistently carry the load without any balance. The defensive unit has to step up and get stops at some point.
And there are clearly reasons to be optimistic this time out.
The team sacked Mike Nolan and hired a former Super Bowl champion defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn. They also pulled from the defensive pool in the 2021 NFL Draft six consecutive times for guys like linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Kelvin Joseph. Oh, and they even brought in Quinn’s guy from the Atlanta Falcons, Keanu Neal.
With a name like Keanu on the roster, the Cowboys should be seeking John Wick levels of retribution for last season’s disaster. It’s important to note that former Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper and two-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence are both still on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
Questionable - K Greg Zuerlein... DT Trysten Hill... WR Amari Cooper
Out - QB Dak Prescott... WR T.J. Vasher
Experience edge belongs to the SteelersDon’t expect to see Ben Roethlisberger stepping in behind center on the field. His football-worn body already resembles someone that has been in multiple car wrecks over the course of his illustrious career. I can’t envision the Steelers risking him in the preseason kick-starter.
They already know what they have in Roethlisberger, and this game should be more about learning about what they could potentially have in guys like Dwayne Haskins, Joshua Dobbs and even Mason Rudolph.
Haskins is the most interesting quarterback on the list considering he was taken two years ago with the No. 15 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Washington Football Team. But conduct issues and struggles on the football field led to his early release from the roster. There is still hope that the right team and coach could tap into his potential to help him turn his career around. What better timing with Roethlisberger potentially nearing the end of his rope?
Dobbs is also interesting for the mere fact of seeing if there have been any progressions in his game. Meanwhile, Rudolph has plenty of experience in the Steelers system and even stepped in as a starter for eight games when Roethlisberger got hurt in 2019. He would instantly cause problems for Dallas’ defensive reconstruction project. Of course, that’s assuming the offensive line holds up. There’s no Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro formulating a human shield these days.
So whoever is behind center could be in for some punishment on Thursday night.
But the Steelers will be ready to give it back on defense. The team made a living off pancaking quarterbacks last season. That Energizer Bunny motor from a guy like first-team All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt has to be contagious. He’s still not actually participating in training camp until he signs his extension with the team, but coach Mike Tomlin won’t hesitate to call the hounds against the Cowboys.
Out - TE Dax Raymond
Questionable - QB Dwayne Haskins Jr.
The top supporting trends for this game, found on Covers.com, are:
- Cowboys are 5-11 ATS in their last 16 games overall.
- Cowboys are 4-11 ATS in their last 15 Thursday games.
- Steelers are 4-1-1 ATS in their last 6 Thursday games.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
The offensive line for the Steelers is definitely something to keep an eye on throughout this game. It could raise the stakes of the quarterback competition behind Ben Roethlisberger. The longtime Steelers quarterback’s broken body is basically held together by his sheer will to continue playing.
But there are viable candidates with starting experience behind center to take the wheel if needed. Mason Rudolph is already a proven backup in the league considering he started for half of a season in 2019. And Dwayne Haskins’ journey in Washington was an absolute flop, but he still had 13 games of starting experience as well.
It’s hard to go against the team with that sort of experience at the quarterback position. Not to mention they’ll be facing a Cowboys defense that’s still testing things out with new players and a completely new defensive coordinator.
Unlike Dallas, Pittsburgh had one of the best defensive teams in the league last season. Their defensive front feasted on the fears of opposing quarterbacks like Pennywise the Dancing Clown. That energy runs down the roster, and it’ll continue to show up big against an inexperienced quarterback room for the Cowboys.
I’m taking the Steelers in the preseason opener.
Full-Game Total Pick
The Hall of Fame Game isn’t a high-scoring affair regardless of who’s playing. Teams don’t typically trot their best players, especially starting quarterbacks, onto the field for a preseason opener. And it’s also the very first game of the regular season at a neutral site. There’s just a different overall feel to this game with coaches more interested in test play-calling than actual play-calling. The Steelers will have their work cut out for them in holding together their newly-formed offensive line, while the Cowboys try to keep their young, inexperienced quarterbacks upright. Give me the under in this one.