Sunday 8th January, 6:05pm. This is the moment the 11-5 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 10-6 Miami Dolphins will go face-to-face in the first round of the AFC playoffs, each team hoping a win will deliver them one step closer to holding a Lombardi trophy.
These two teams met earlier in the season in a game that the Steelers were supposed to dominate, the result was a shocking 30-15 rout by the Dolphins. It was a breakout performance for running back Jay Ajayi who ran for a career high 204-yards against a bewildered Steelers defense that could do nothing to contain the British runner.
So what will happen this week? Will Pittsburgh get its revenge? Or will the Dolphins run wild over the Steelers once more? Let’s discuss.
The Steelers hold the 3rd seed in the playoffs, the Dolphins hold the 6th seed, meaning that the Dolphins will have to travel from the lovely hot beaches of Miami up to the cold, brittle north of upper Pennsylvania. Heinz Field is bound to be rocking as the Steelers never have any trouble selling out home playoff games.
The Steelers come into this game with both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown healthy – something that could not have been said in years prior. Big Ben heads into the playoffs healthy, as does his offensive line. Receiver Sammie Coates is still nursing broken fingers, and tight end Ladarius Green is in the concussion protocol, so look for newly promoted receiver DeMarcus Ayers, and the recipient of the game winning catch in Cleveland – Cobi Hamilton – to be involved a lot more in this weeks offense.
A notable Steelers player returning from injury this week is defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt who when healthy is arguably their best pass rusher and run stuffer. He will rejoin a defensive line that is dangerously thin in depth.
The Dolphins head into this game very banged up, they are still without the services of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and judging from Adam Gases recent comments “I’d need to feel really good about Ryan Tannehill to play him” that most likely won’t change.
Along with their quarterback, stud running back Jay Ajayi is nursing a shoulder injury which, if it prevents him from playing on Sunday, would be a huge hit to the Fins offense.
On the defensive side of the ball exceptional pass rusher Mario Williams has an ankle injury, as does starting cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Matt Moore has been captaining the ship for the Dolphins ever since Ryan Tannehills’ injury four weeks ago, and I must say he has been a pleasant surprise – throwing at a 63% completion rate, for 8 TD’s and only 3 INT’s he has played well enough to help the Fins capture the final spot in the playoffs. I don’t want too say they are better without Tannehill, but I think Miami has just as much a chance to beat Pittsburgh with Matt Moore as they did with Tannehill playing quarterback.
The Steelers are obviously being led by Ben Roethlisberger who has had an up and down year for his standards. Early on in the season he was looking like an MVP candidate, as the season progressed and the losses pilled up he didn’t, but now that the Steelers offense revolves around Le’Veon Bell and the run game Ben has taken a backseat statistically. He has still has a decent 2016 season throwing for 29 TD’s to 13 INT’s at a 64% completion rate, but the comeback against Baltimore in week 16 was proof that you should never sleep on Big Ben’s ability, no matter the stats.
The Difference Makers:
For Pittsburgh the difference maker this week is going to be the defensive line because if Jay Ajayi is playing then as a Steelers fan I want him tackled ASAP! It was a horrific sight to watch the Steelers defense get trampled over time and time again by Ajayi, if Pittsburgh is to advance in the playoffs they need to stop the run and let Matt Moore beat them.
For Miami the difference makers are going to need to be the receivers. If Pittsburgh packs the box and works to shut down your running attack then you have to get the passing game going to expose Pittsburgh shaky secondary. Matt Moore can’t be asked to dissect coverage time and time again so quick slants, screens, and out passes to receivers need to be on the menu, from then on the receivers need to be physical and fight for yardage. YAC will be their biggest friend as Pittsburgh has shown a tendency to be sloppy tacklers in the secondary.
Food For Thought:
In the past three games Adam Gase has coached against Pittsburgh (both Dolphins & Broncos) his teams have dropped 29, 30 & 31 points in those games and his offense has averaged 7-yards per play. This Sundays game will mark the 5th year anniversary of Tim Tebows overtime win vs the Steelers in the 2011 playoffs – a game where Adam Gase was the QB coach and the Broncos put up nearly 450-yards of offense. Maybe Gase has Pittsburgh’s number?
Roethlisberger – 1 TD, 1 INT, 240-yards.
Moore – 2 TD’s, 1 INT, 220-yards.
Brown – 11 catches, 90-yards, 1 TD.
Stills – 3 catches, 100+ yards, 2 TD’s.
Bell – 130+ total scrimmage yards, 3 TD’s.
Ajayi – 55-yards, 0 TD’s.
Steelers defense – 4 sacks, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery.
Dolphins defense – 1 sack, 1 INT.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 35 – Miami 25