Dolphins vs. Steelers NFL Week 14: Who Has The Edge?
Dolphins vs. Steelers: Who Has The Edge?
The Dolphins and Steelers are both alive in the race for the conference's sixth seed, but Miami's odds of claiming it are stronger with a 6-6 record compared to Pittsburgh's 5-7 standing. With a win the Dolphins' playoff prospects would continue to strengthen while a victory for the Steelers would allow them to cling to life.
Even if both teams prove to be pretenders at year's end they certainly aren't going down without a fight. The Dolphins have arguably been playing their best football of the season over the past three weeks despite a loss in Week 12 to the Carolina Panthers. Meanwhile, the Steelers are 5-3 after an 0-4 start.
Still, Pittsburgh is a beatable team for Miami and will present an excellent opportunity for Joe Philbin's club to move above .500 for the first time since it sat at 3-2 after five games.
The Steelers don't excel in the running game, which won't make exposing the Dolphins' flaws an easy task. But winning at Heinz Field is never any easy task either, especially in December.
The forecast is calling for a possibility of snow on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, so the Dolphins must adapt to the conditions after practicing all week in beautiful South Florida.
Throw in Mike Wallace's return to the team he spent his first four seasons with and this should be one of the NFL's most intriguing matchups of Week 14. Let's see which team has the edge.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
Dolphins' Pass Defense vs. Steelers' Passing Attack
For the first time in 2013, a Dolphins' game will feature a top 10 clash in one aspect of the matchup. Only seven teams have thrown the ball for more yardage this season than the Steelers while only eight teams have allowed fewer yardage in coverage than the Dolphins.
Thanks to a poor rushing attack, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had to carry the Pittsburgh offense in 2013. Through 13 weeks, Roethlisberger ranks sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 3,375, eighth in touchdowns with 21 and ninth in quarterback rating at 92.4.
Facing this aerial assault will be night and day compared to the laughable passing game the Dolphins faced this past Sunday against the New York Jets. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Health Miller all have more receiving yards for the Steelers in 2013 than any Jets' receiver has mustered. Brown and his 1,103 yards, in particular, will be a difficult cover for Brent Grimes, even though he is the No. 6 overall cornerback in the entire league according to Pro Football Focus.
Aside from the stellar play of Grimes, the Dolphins' secondary as a whole has provided solid coverage all season and now ranks 9th in the NFL defending the pass, but this will be one of its toughest matchups of the year. The key for Miami will be getting to Roethlisberger quickly and not allowing him to extend plays with his feet. The Steelers' offensive line is banged up at the moment, which suggests Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and company need to have a productive afternoon getting after the quarterback.
Also for the Dolphins, cornerback Dimitri Patterson could return to the lineup. Patterson has struggled to stay healthy all year, but he's picked off four passes and has only allowed 16 completions in the five games he's played. If Patterson is a go and can stay healthy for 60 minutes, this matchup could swing in Miami's favor. For now, it's a slight edge for Pittsburgh.
Dolphins' Rushing Attack vs. Steelers' Run Defense
If the conditions make it difficult for either team to pass with any consistency, the onus could fall on the Dolphins' rushing attack to win this game. Without Daniel Thomas and facing the league's top run defense, Miami had one of its most impressive showings on the ground all season against the Jets.
Although the Dolphins only managed 3.5 yards per carry, they stay committed to pounding the rock and avoided negative, drive-killing runs to the tune of 125 rushing yards. And that was against a dominant defensive line that had only surrendered 2.9 yards per carry going into Week 13. The Steelers' defense is much less stingy.
Pittsburgh is currently allowing 4.1 yards per carry, which is 17th in the NFL. Lamar Miller must show some consistency on Sunday afternoon, hitting the hole with urgency and burst. Marcus Thigpen and Mike Gillislee must be productive when they're called upon. A solution for Miami's short-yardage woes must also be found. The Dolphins resorted to throwing on two fourth-and-short situations against the Jets and failed to convert either.
The Steelers get the slight edge again, but if the Dolphins stay committed to running the football on Sunday there's no reason why they can't be balanced and productive offensively.
Dolphins' Run Defense vs. Steelers' Rushing Attack
Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is practicing this week for the Steelers after suffering a concussion on Thanksgiving. Even if he plays on Sunday against the Dolphins, it's unlikely that he'll lead a formidable rushing attack. Bell has only averaged 3.3 yards per carry in nine games this season, and only one other team averages fewer rushing yards per game than the Steelers.
Even for the Dolphins, who have been leaky against the run at times this year, Pittsburgh doesn't project to get much of a running game going. Linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe are vulnerable defending the run, but there's no reason to believe the Steelers will be able to block and run into the second-level of defense on a consistent basis.
The Dolphins' front, led by defensive tackles Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick, should dominate in the trenches on Sunday against the Steelers' injury-depleted offensive line. If they do, even more pressure will be placed on Roethlisberger's shoulders to carry Pittsburgh's offense versus a stout pass defense.
Dolphins' Passing Attack vs. Steelers' Pass Defense
The Steelers have allowed the 11th fewest passing yards per game in the NFL this season, but that doesn't mean they aren't susceptible through the air. Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith made that apparent on Thanksgiving night for the Baltimore Ravens.
Cornerback Ike Taylor against Wallace is one matchup the Dolphins can exploit. Taylor has given up more yards in coverage than any other defender in the entire league this season with 854. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill should test him throughout by taking deep shots to Wallace and allowing the speedster to run Taylor off in order to come back to the football. There's no excuse as to why Wallace's return to Pittsburgh can't be a prolific one.
Another aspect working in the Dolphins' favor is the Steelers' weak pass rush. The Steelers have only produced 25 sacks thus far, which ranks 27th in the NFL. When Tannehill has had time to scan the field and step into throws he's been a very efficient passer for the Dolphins. He could be in store for another big day.
Kickers have historically struggled at Heinz Field, which should be worrisome for Dolphins fans. Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis is now tied for the league-lead with seven missed field goals. Meanwhile, Shaun Suisham is 24-of-26 on field-goal tries this season for the Steelers.
Punter Brandon Fields has the highest punting average in the NFL with 48.9 per boot for Miami. The Steelers' current punter, Matt McBriar ranks 33rd in the NFL with only 41.7 yards per punt. The Dolphins could be able to swing field position in their favor in the punting game.
In the return game, Marcus Thigpen and Antonio Brown each have big-play ability. The Dolphins have been leaky in punt coverage and the Steelers have struggled to cover kickoffs.