USA Today

Mike Tomlin saw a familiar team when he began watching film of the 2020 Cowboys this week. The team Tomlin saw on tape reminds him of his 2019 Steelers team, a team that lost several key components before and during the early stages of the season. 

Despite the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh overcame a 1-4 start to finish just out of the playoff picture with an 8-8- record. And while he is not predicting a similar bounce back in Dallas, Tomlin does believe that the Cowboys, who have already lost quarterback Dak Prescott and three offensive tackles in Tyron Smith, La'El Collins and Brandon Knight, will be a formidable foe for his undefeated Steelers. 

"As I watch the tape, I got a feeling for what's transpiring there," said Tomlin, whose team off to the franchise's best start since 1978. "Initially, there's probably a period of shock where you're dealing with the reality that you don't have your guy. And then you go about formulating the personality that's going to allow you to develop a winning formula. And when I look at their game specifically against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, that's what I see. 

"I see a defense that got off the bus that was turnover driven, that was focused on getting the ball. Much like we were a year ago, when we were playing with Mason (Rudolph) and Duck (Devlin Hodges), we realized we had to gain a possession, we realized that that was the best way to support a young or an inexperienced quarterback." 

Against the Eagles, the Cowboys forced and recovered a fumble by safety Donovan Wilson on quarterback Carson Wentz. They also had a sack-fumble by Leighton Vander Esch and interceptions by rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs. Tomlin, who said that Diggs caught his attention during film study, expects the Cowboys' defense to be turnover-driven on Sunday. 

"We've got to work with an edge in terms of protection of the football," said Tomlin, who added that that was a point of emphasis during last week's preparation for the Ravens. "We've got to understand that that's going to be a component of their winning formula, so we've got to take care of the ball."

Tomlin also saw similarities between his '19 offense and the offense that currently resides in Dallas. With their franchise quarterback gone, Tomlin knows how the Cowboys' offense will look to attack his defense. 

"We learned to live with our known commodities and really work our tails off to highlight them and learn on them," Tomlin said of his team's offensive philosophy last season. "We're preparing with the understanding that we've got to deal with Ezekiel Elliott this weekend, and we understand what that means. And we're also coming off of a performance where we bled, and bled badly in the run. We better work with some urgency and with an edge in that regard."

Ezekiel Elliott
NE • RB • #15
Elliott is still in search of his first 100-yard rushing performance in 2020.
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Tomlin said the word elite twice when talking about Elliott, who amassed 209 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in his first matchup against the Steelers in 2016. Tomlin, who said that he watched tape of several other elite running backs (the Giants' Saquon Barkley and the Titans' Derrick Henry) that his defense would face over the summer, said that Elliott is as good as any back in the NFL. Tomlin, whose defense is currently fifth against the run, is hoping his defense does a better job on Sunday after Pittsburgh allowed their first 100-yard rusher (rookie J.K. Dobbins) during last week's win in Baltimore. 

While Elliott will likely be the focal point of the Cowboys' offense, Tomlin said his team will not overlook receivers Amari Cooper and rookie CeeDee Lamb, players who, according to Tomlin, consistently create mismatches for opposing defense. Tomlin also has respect for Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, who called the plays when the Packers defeated Tomlin and the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. 

If the Cowboys, who will either start quarterback Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush on Sunday, have any chance at upsetting the Steelers, they will have to do better than they did last week as it relates to capitalizing on turnovers. Dallas scored just three points off of their four turnovers last week, which was one of the reasons why they fell further off the pace in the NFC East race. Creating turnovers, and capitalizing on them, was one of the ways the Steelers turned a lost season into a positive one in 2019, and it could be what turns the Cowboys season around in 2020.