The Cowboys' best pass rush should come from 6'9", 270-pound End Ed (Too Tall) Jones, who ought to simply overpower 6'4", 240-pound Steeler Tackle Ray Pinney. Dallas also can count on Tackle Randy White to harass Bradshaw sooner or later. Against the Rams in the NFC championship game, White personally sidelined Running Back John Cappelletti and Quarterback Pat Haden with clean but vicious tackles; the week before, though, White was rudely manhandled by Atlanta's Mike Kenn and Dave Scott for three quarters before he asserted himself. White will wear a light cast to protect the left thumb he fractured in the game against Los Angeles. "It mustn't be too bad," observed a Cowboy official at the time. "Otherwise, he'd have just gnawed it off so it wouldn't bother his playing." Bad or not, when news of White's injury—and cast—was made public, Pittsburgh went from a three- to 3½-point favorite.
On the surface, Dallas' defensive strategy—keep Harris and running mate Rocky Bleier in check, and don't give Bradshaw all day to get his passes away—seems sound, particularly in light of the fact that Pittsburgh ranked 23rd in the 28-team NFL with an average rushing gain of just 3.58 yards. By contrast, the Cowboys led their conference in this department, gaining 4.45 yards per rush. The only type of runner that enjoyed any success against Dallas this season was a speedster who could get outside. Unfortunately, the Steelers don't have an outside speedster. Harris is a truck, and Bleier, who had a 1,000-yard season in 1976, is really just a guard playing running back.
"Teams have geared themselves to stop our running all year long because they know our backs don't have great speed," says Center Mike Webster, the first Steeler offensive lineman since 1965 to start in the Pro Bowl. "The 3-4 is particularly tough for us to run against because of the speed of the linebackers, but the Cowboys don't play a 3-4."
Maybe not, but Landry's Flex Defense presents other problems. Traditionally, Pittsburgh has taken advantage of the opposition's defensive speed by using more trap plays than any team in football. "The Steelers trap you getting off the bus," says one NFL coach. Traps are designed to lure defensive linemen into the backfield, where they can be blind-sided by a pulling guard or tackle. In the Flex Defense, however, the Cowboy linemen do a lot more reading—or delaying—than charging, so the Steelers often may find themselves with no Cowboys to trap.
Pittsburgh should have optimum success on the ground when Harris runs to his weak side. Most of the time, Bradshaw prefers to run these weakside plays to his left, behind the lead blocks of muscular 262-pound Tackle Jon Kolb. Dallas is more susceptible to attack here because Right End Harvey Martin, who has been playing on knees so rickety that Landry replaces him with rookie Larry Bethea on short-yardage situations, doesn't handle the run as well as Jones, his counterpart on the other side, and because the Cowboys' right linebacker, D.D. Lewis, is small at 215 pounds.
It is impossible to overestimate the worth of Franco Harris to the Pittsburgh franchise. Before 1972, when Harris was the No. 1 draft choice, the Steelers had never qualified for the playoffs. With Harris, they have been in the playoffs ever since. Harris averaged just 3.5 yards a carry this year but still had his sixth 1,000-yards-plus season, gaining 1,082. And in 310 carries, Franco—who once was labeled the Designated Fumbler—lost only one fumble; in 1977 he lost nine. If there is such a thing as a money ballplayer in Super Bowl XIII, Harris is it. He holds five career postseason records, including yards rushing and touchdowns. He also has the Super Bowl single-game rushing record of 158 yards, which he accomplished against Minnesota in 1975. Incidentally, Harris' best day as a pro came against Dallas in 1977 when he ran for 179 yards and two touchdowns as Pittsburgh romped 28-13.
While the Steelers' running game may have been relatively unproductive this year—at least statistically—Pittsburgh still ran the ball 40 times a game, ranking third in the NFL in total rushes. The ground game kept defenses so occupied that the Steelers were able to maintain ball control by passing—a real trick. One obscure statistic is very revealing: Pittsburgh led the NFL in first downs gained passing per pass attempt. Almost 40% of Bradshaw's passes, and 70% of his completions, produced Steeler first downs.
Unlike Staubach, Bradshaw calls his own plays, and he does a thinking man's job of mixing running and passing to keep defenses off-balance. Against Dallas, Bradshaw will undoubtedly go to the air on first down to take advantage of the Cowboys' concentration on stopping the run. When he does, Bradshaw will be exposing the biggest mismatch in the Super Bowl—the Steelers' magnificent wide receivers, Swann and John Stallworth, vs. the Cowboy cornerbacks, Aaron Kyle and Bennie Barnes. On obvious running downs, Kyle and Barnes are a risk at the sort of man-to-man coverage that the Steelers have come to expect from Cornerback Mel Blount, and now the rookie Johnson, too. When teams were beating Dallas in midseason (the Cowboys were 6-4 at one time), they isolated on the Cowboy cornerbacks with excellent results. Kyle was victim No. 1, but he improved considerably as the season progressed. Barnes has had foot problems, and he will be the one Bradshaw will try to take advantage of.
As a result, Barnes and Kyle will need help from Dallas' two All-Pro safeties. Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters, or the linebackers—Bob Breunig, Tom Henderson and Lewis.
"The Cowboys are going to have to make a choice," says an NFL coach. "If they keep their linebackers in to stop Harris on obvious running downs, they'll have to play Swann and Stallworth one-on-one with their corners. But if they drop their linebackers into the pass coverage, the Steelers will run on them all day. Any team that runs the ball 40 times a game has a strong enough running attack to do that. The Cowboys are damned if they do and damned if they don't."