That was the Steelers' brand of computerized football: on the big play, their two key blockers had no one to block.
The Steelers gave Bradshaw magnificent protection. He was sacked once, on a safety blitz by Harris, but Dallas' front four didn't get near him. His completion percentage was low, 11 for 25, a credit to the Cowboys' coverage, particularly Benny Barnes on Swann. But one of the crucial pregame issues—how the Steelers would handle Dallas' newfound pass rush—never materialized.
The Cowboys had been on a sacking rampage, with 12 in their previous two games. Some people credited it to the humiliating things that had been said about the previous non-rush, others to the acquisition of former All-Pro Defensive End John Dutton, who cost Dallas first-and second-round draft choices in a trade with Baltimore three weeks ago. "That deal shook up a lot of people," one Cowboys says. "For years we'd lived with the family concept, everything from within the organization. When they go outside and bring someone in, it hits you in your most sensitive area—your job security."
So the sacks came, but they occurred against Los Angeles and St. Louis, two teams with crippled offensive lines. Dutton was activated and used in Pittsburgh as a third-and-long pass rusher at left end. The former designated rusher at that spot, rookie Bruce Thornton, rushed from left tackle. It didn't work. Thornton seemed lost inside, and Dutton was very rusty. Steeler Right Tackle Larry Brown had no trouble with him.
But the Cowboys didn't lose because of their defense; holding a high-powered team like Pittsburgh to 14 points is hardly an embarrassment, and the Steelers were only 3 for 15 on third-down conversions. The story of the game was pretty much the same as it had been in the last three meetings of these teams—Pittsburgh's defense can't be flimflammed by computerized football.
Dennis (Dirt) Winston, Pittsburgh's right linebacker, put it very bluntly. "It's better to hit than to think," he said. "The man who thinks out there is lost."
An oversimplification, perhaps, but Winston is a very elemental person. He was also a target on Sunday. The Cowboys' computer decided Winston would be the focal point of the Dallas attack. He's a young, ferocious hitter whose clothesline shots won him the nickname Dirty Dennis—inevitably shortened to Dirt—at the University of Arkansas. A converted middle linebacker and special-teams hitman who was starting for the injured Robin Cole, Dirt would get the full treatment—Dorsett on sweeps and cutbacks to his side, Dorsett and Preston Pearson on swing passes and screens, the works.
Well, Winston wound up with a game ball, not to mention 10 solo tackles and three assists. Noll called him the best player on the field.
"If they run their plays from a computer, they ought to check that computer out," Winston said. "Coaching's a manmade thing. You can't let a computer coach you. We don't have any computers in Pittsburgh."
That is a rather harsh thing to say about one of the soundest organizations in football and one of history's ablest coaches, Tom Landry, but strangely enough, there were echoes of the same sentiment in the Dallas locker room.