If the Pittsburgh Steelers can put a rush on Troy Aikman, they've got a shot in Super Bowl XXX. If the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback has time to throw, forget it. It's another blowout.
There are plenty of peripheral elements in this game—the steady water-torture running of Dallas's Emmitt Smith; Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O'Donnell and his four-and five-receiver packages; the prospective meeting of Steelers passer/runner/receiver Kordell Stewart and Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders—but the game will turn on Aikman, the pulse of the Dallas offense.
The Steelers must make that pulse beat faster. They must make Aikman throw before he's ready, or get him moving around in the pocket on the sore knees that have severely limited his mobility. On Dec. 10 the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Cowboys with a coverage scheme that took away Aikman's primary and secondary receivers. But a fancy coverage package isn't the Steelers' style. Their game is the blitz, mainly because they have so many people who are good at it.
"We've got new blitzes they haven't seen," says outside linebacker Kevin Greene, who led Pittsburgh with nine sacks this year. "We're going to be coming after them with everything we've got. We're not going to just sit back and react in some kind of lay-back zone. We'll leave our DBs in man-to-man, we'll put them on an island if we have to. We've got to get to Aikman."
That job will be more difficult for the Steelers if linebacker Chad Brown, another terrific pass rusher, is still hobbling around on his sore right ankle. And the Steelers are being coy about whether All-Pro cornerback Rod Woodson, who tore a knee ligament in the season opener, will play on Sunday. Deep coverage would be iffy for Woodson, but the Steelers could really use him as a blitzer. None of the Cowboys' 335-plus-pound offensive linemen are nimble enough to slide outside to pick him up. Woodson is that rarity among pass-rushing defensive backs—a guy with a mean streak, a punisher.
If Pittsburgh hopes to keep pace with Dallas, it's going to have to turn its aggression level way up, because when the Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers for the NFC championship on Jan. 14, they were a nasty, anything-goes offensive team. The defense was driven by speed and finesse, but the offense was ferocious. "It was the most physical game I've ever seen the Cowboys play," says Cliff Harris, the free safety on Dallas's five Super Bowl teams of the '70s.
The Cowboys' second-longest play in that game, a 35-yard crossing pattern to Sanders that set up a first-quarter touchdown, was made possible by an illegal moving pick by tight end Jay Novacek on Packers corner-back Doug Evans. It was no run-of-the-mill pick, either. It was a teeth-rattler, a head shot under full steam that knocked Evans momentarily senseless.
"It was the most significant play of the game," says Green Bay defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur. "It got the Cowboys going. They hadn't done anything on offense up to then. It was as blatant a foul as I've ever seen, a horrible foul."
In the second quarter 329-pound Dallas right tackle Erik Williams trailed Packers nosetackle John Jurkovic and came down on the back of Jurkovic's left knee with a block that was technically legal but still vicious, a maneuver that many offensive linemen simply refuse to execute. Jurkovic left the game for good with a torn ligament. "That removed our most athletic defensive lineman, the guy who drops off for underneath coverage," Shurmur says. "When we lost him, all we had left were 300-pounders.
"There was a lot more," Shurmur continues. "[Defensive end] Reggie White got so frustrated from having hands in his face all the time—somehow I just didn't expect that from Dallas."