Dolphins vs. Steelers NFL Week 14: 5 Must-Watch Matchups
Dolphins vs. Steelers: 5 Must-Watch Matchups
The Miami Dolphins are undoubtedly feeling great after a 20-point beat down of their division rival New York Jets this past Sunday. But beating up on the Jets won't mean much if Miami can't complete its regular season with a playoff berth. With a loss on Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins' playoff hopes would drop from possible to unlikely.
It's a must-win game for Joe Philbin's team. It's also a must-win game for Mike Tomlin's 5-7 club, which is filled with veterans who are proven winners. If the Steelers come out as the more desperate team it could be a long day for the Dolphins. Miami must match Pittsburgh's urgency and intensity. If it can it certainly has the talent to win on the road at Heinz Field.
The Dolphins haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1990, but a victory on Sunday would give them a winning record in the month of December for the first time since 2010. With a loss, the Dolphins would need a considerable amount of help during the final three weeks to qualify for the postseason. If they can keep winning, though, all they would need is one loss by the Baltimore Ravens or two losses by the Cincinnati Bengals to control their own destiny.
A victory on Sunday could also be a huge breakthrough for the Dolphins. Miami hasn't won back-to-back games since it began the season 3-0, and although it has been improving in the second half of the season the team hasn't shown much consistency.
The Dolphins began 2013 with three consecutive wins, but thanks to poor pass protection and no running game their success was far from sustainable. Now the Dolphins are playing a brand of football that is capable of inducing some sustained success. Will some consistency be established on Sunday in Pittsburgh?
Let's continue previewing the matchup by breaking down five must-watch matchups.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Cameron Wake vs. Marcus Gilbert
Olivier Vernon is the Dolphins' leading sack man this year with 10.5 quarterback takedowns. His growth has been huge for Miami's defense, but make no mistake about it: The Dolphins' most explosive pass rusher is still No. 91. Cameron Wake is going through somewhat of a down year considering his sack total only stands at 6.5, but now that the knee injury which slowed him down for over a month is in the rear view mirror there's hope he'll return to his old, consistent form down the stretch. Wake will have the opportunity to make his mark against right tackle Marcus Gilbert on Sunday afternoon.
Gilbert has been inconsistent at times in pass protection. The seven sacks he's given up are tied for the eighth most in the league, but he owns a +5.1 pass-blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus. It's clear that when Gilbert is beat he's beaten badly. Wake is more than capable of beating him badly on Sunday, and if Gilbert can't provide some stability for the Steelers' offensive line while matched up against Miami's best pass rusher there might not be much hope for the unit with injuries at left tackle and right guard.
4. Mike Wallace vs. Ike Taylor
Being that wide receiver Mike Wallace is returning to the stadium he called home for four years, many fans will focus on his play throughout. And this actually could be the Dolphins' most opportunistic matchup of the game. Wallace is beginning to come into his own in Miami, having gone for over 200 yards and two touchdowns over the past two weeks. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has yet to consistently hit the deep ball, but Wallace is developing the ability to have an impact in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Encouragingly for the Dolphins, he'll likely be covered by a struggling cornerback.
Ike Taylor isn't the same player he used to be. At least, if he is, he hasn't played like it. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 854 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions with a 116.9 passer rating passing to his coverage area. No defender in the entire NFL has given up as many yards in coverage as Taylor has. Now, maybe he's just in the midst of a slump and will cover well against a receiver he faced time and time again at practice in years past. Still, the Dolphins would be foolish not to test Taylor early and often, especially considering how well Wallace has played over the past two weeks.
3. Tyson Clabo vs. Jason Worilds
It truly has been remarkable the way right tackle Tyson Clabo has resurrected his season. Clabo appeared to be a washed up veteran during the first six games and was benched as a result. But in the aftermath of Jonathan Martin leaving the team, Clabo was given his starting gig back. After giving up six sacks during the first six games, Clabo has only allowed two sacks over the past five. Clabo had his best effort of the year this past Sunday, allowing zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and only one pressure.
Meanwhile, the Steelers don't possess a very intimidating pass rush with only 25 sacks to their name, but outside linebacker Jason Worilds is still more than capable of impacting the outcome of this game. Worilds recorded two sacks and forced a fumble on Thanksgiving night bringing his sack total to six in 2013. He's currently ranked 16th for overall efficiency among eligible 3-4 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus.
For the Dolphins, Tannehill has been an effective passer when he's had time in the pocket. In order to continue that trend on Sunday, Clabo will need to keep Worilds at bay.
2. Olivier Vernon vs. Mike Adams
A stat correction has given Vernon an extra 0.5 sack for Week 13 bringing his sack total to five over the past two games. Whether he benefits from double-teams elsewhere, great coverage in the secondary or quarterbacks scrambling into sacks, he's still one of the hottest pass rushers in the NFL at the moment. In fact, Vernon was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 13. He'll have an excellent opportunity to continue rolling on Sunday at Heinz Field.
There is a strong chance left tackle Kevin Beachum will be unable to play with a knee injury. If he's a no-go, Mike Adams is expected to replace him. Adams was a starter earlier in the season for the Steelers before he was pulled out of the lineup for struggling in pass protection. In 263 pass-blocking snaps, Adams has surrendered four sacks, eight quarterback hits and 22 pressures. He's currently graded as the No. 67 of 79 eligible tackles by Pro Football Focus.
1. Brent Grimes vs. Antonio Brown
Nothing says a prime-time matchup like two of the league's best going at it for 60 minutes. Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes has emerged as one of the top cover corners in the entire NFL and has the ball-hawking skills that make him the complete package. The 62.6 quarterback rating Grimes has allowed in coverage is a league-best for those who have played at least 700 snaps. His matchup on Sunday in Pittsburgh will put his ability to the test.
Antonio Brown is the Steelers' top offensive weapon. Brown leads the NFL in receptions with 85 and his 1,013 receiving yards rank sixth. If Grimes can blanket Brown throughout this game, the Dolphins' defense could be in store for another dominant effort.