Today’s game between the Dolphins and Steelers is the first of four must-win games for the Steelers. The loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving night dropped their record to 5-7, so if they want a shot at the playoffs, the Steelers are going to have to win out and hope for some help elsewhere. It can be done; but it’s not going to be an easy task. Rya
This game is important for two reasons: 1.) The Steelers will essentially be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose. 2.) The Dolphins currently hold a 6-6 record, one game better than the Steelers. A Steelers’ win would give them the same record as Miami, and they’d hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them. (That Titans loss is really looming over the Steelers right now….)
The Dolphins have obviously had their fair share of distraction and upheaval this year, with the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito debacle. Since then, they’ve gone 2-2, with one loss coming to the abysmal Tampa Bay Bucs and one loss coming against a pretty good Panthers team. I think the Steelers should win this game, on what is supposed to be a snowy afternoon in Heinz. Of course, with this team, that’s not necessarily the case.
Keys to a Steelers victory:
- Force Ryan Tannehill into mistakes. (I think this always one of my keys to win, but whatever.) Tannehill has put up a good amount of yardage this year, but he’s thrown 13 interceptions to his 17 touchdowns.
- Own the Miami offensive line. Their O-line was a mess even when Incognito and Martin were still playing. They’ve allowed 45 sacks for a loss for 316 yards. By comparison, the seemingly-always-decimated Steelers O-line has given up 36 sacks for 242 yards. See, Steelers fans? Things can always be worse.
- Limit Mike Wallace. Wallace has not had a terrific season and he isn’t the Dolphins leading receiver. But he has big play ability (as every Steelers fan knows) and big plays have killed the Steelers this year. Big plays killed them against Minnesota, killed them against Oakland, and almost killed them against Detroit. The secondary really needs to step up big time. (Maybe this can be a rebound game for Ike Taylor?)
- Establish a running game. I still don’t want to see Le’Veon Bell play in this game, but it sounds like he will, barring any sudden pre-game setback. Regardless of who starts at running back, the Steelers need to get the ground game going. Miami’s rush defense is ranked 25th in the league, giving up an average of 121.8 yards per game (Miami’s passing defense is much better—they’ve allowed just 12 touchdowns this year and have forced 16 interceptions.) Plus the weather today could affect the passing games of both teams.
Keys to a Steelers loss…
- The offensive line playing poorly. As has been widely reported, today will mark the 26th O-line combination the Steelers have started since 2010. Neat. Fernando Velasco is out for the year, so Cody Wallace gets the start at center today. Mike Adams will start in place of an Kelvin Beachum at left tackle. Hooo boy.
- The secondary breaking instead of bending. I mentioned Mike Wallace earlier, and they secondary is going to have to do work to contain him. The secondary did not have a good game against the Ravens. The Ravens settled for a lot of field goals, yes, but the Steelers played off of receivers way too much and Troy Polamalu was invisible just four days after receiving AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
- Starting slow. It has been a pretty unreal to watch the Steelers when they trail early in games. The difference of how they play with a lead compared to how they play when trailing is pretty staggering.
- More injuries to either line. Both the offensive and defensive lines are pretty decimated at this point. Losing anyone else on either line to injury could have disastrous effects.
- Le’Veon Bell plays and has a big game. 100 yards and a touchdown.
- A tight end winds up playing tackle for the Steelers in this game.
- Tannehill throws two picks and is sacked three times.
- Wallace has one big play against this suspect secondary. I’m calling a 70+-yard touchdown.
- Mike Tomlin playfully trips someone on the Steelers sideline.
- I fight someone in my section that boos Tomlin when he runs onto the field.
- This isn’t a prediction, but I’m interested to see how the defense is changed with LaMarr Woodley returning today. I imagine he’ll be playing his normal position of left outside linebacker, which moves Jason Worilds back to the right side. Worilds has played extremely well on the left side and had the best game of his career against the Ravens last week. Woodley is a great player, but he doesn’t play so well when coming off of an injury. This could get interesting.
It’s December. Let’s get it.