Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 14
Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys to Victory in Week 14
Over the past two weeks, the Miami Dolphins have played their best football of the season. Even with a loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 12, Miami is beginning to show improvement on both sides of the ball.
If there's one thing the 2013 Dolphins have struggled with, though, it's consistency. They've showed promise in the past only to disappoint shortly after. Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday would go a long way in finally establishing some sustained success. It would also go a long way in legitimately competing for the AFC's final playoff spot.
The Dolphins don't control their own destiny, but if they win the rest of their games they are almost guaranteed to make it to their first postseason since 2008. However, it may only take one slip up to assure that Miami will be watching the playoffs from the couch come January. Every matchup should be treated like a playoff game from this point on.
Can the Dolphins run the table? It will certainly be difficult, but every one of their remaining games is winnable. Sunday's showdown in Pittsburgh is certainly a potential pitfall, though. The Steelers are a desperate 5-7 team that will be looking to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They've also played a much improved brand of football since an 0-4 start to the season and will get the benefit of a true home-field advantage on Sunday as the forecast is calling for freezing temperatures and the possibility of snow.
Improving to 7-6 will be an uphill climb for the Dolphins. Here are Miami's five keys to victory in Week 14.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Establish Consistency On Ground
The Dolphins produced one of their most impressive showings on the ground in Week 13, rushing for 125 yards against the No. 1 run defense in football. The 3.5 yards-per-carry average Miami managed appears rather modest, but considering the New York Jets had only allowed 2.9 yards per carry heading into the matchup it was a solid effort.
Most importantly, Lamar Miller and company avoided getting tackled in the backfield, which can derail any drive, and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman stayed committed to pounding the rock. However, there's no reason to believe the Dolphins will build off of the success they had last Sunday.
Miami followed a 115-yard effort on the ground in Week 4 with a grand total of 22 rushing yards in Week 5, a 157-yard display in Week 9 with the lowest rushing output in franchise history in Week 10 and a 5.5 yards-per-carry average in Week 11 with a measly 3.1 yards per carry in Week 12. Needless to say, the Dolphins' running game has been anything but consistent in 2013.
It's time for Miami to sustain some success on the ground and continue aiding quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the passing game in the final quarter of the year. The Steelers rank 18th against the run so a productive ground game should be expected.
4. Make Steelers One-Dimensional Offensively
The Steelers only average 76.8 rushing yards per game, which is higher than only one other team. Starting running back Le'Veon Bell only produces 3.3 yards per carry, but the rookie has had a few productive outings this season and is capable of another if the Dolphins struggle to fill running lanes and make tackles from the second line of defense.
Linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe are both liabilities against the run, so if Pittsburgh can handle Miami up front it could be poised for a balanced offensive attack. The Steelers' offensive line is banged up, though, and could be missing its starting left tackle and right guard having already been without Mike Pouncey's twin brother Maurkice Pouncey at center for the whole season.
If the Dolphins' talented defensive line can own the line of scrimmage on Sunday, it should force Pittsburgh to become one-dimensional offensively. The 72.7 quarterback rating the Dolphins have allowed in 2013 is the second lowest in the entire league. A pass-happy approach versus Miami isn't a formula for success.
3. Pick On Ike Taylor
Last week, the Dolphins did a great job of exposing two poor cornerbacks when Tannehill frequently targeted Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner in coverage. As a result, receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline combined for 209 receiving yards.
Miami is set to face another susceptible corner on Sunday in Pittsburgh when Ike Taylor attempts to lockup Wallace in the latter's return to Heinz Field. Taylor has conceded more yards in coverage than any other defender in the entire NFL this season, and he's only the fifth cornerback to have given up at least five touchdowns with no interceptions.
With only 25 sacks on the season the Steelers don't possess a dominant pass rush. If the Dolphins can give Tannehill time in the pocket he should be able to pick on Taylor throughout.
2. Don't Allow Ben Roethlisberger Extend Plays
Led by solid coverage in the secondary, the Dolphins' pass defense has improved from 27th in the league in 2012 to 9th this year. And the previously mentioned quarterback rating they've allowed has given them one of the stingiest pass defenses in football.
Brent Grimes, Dimitri Patterson (if he plays) and company can only cover for so long, though. If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can make a living keeping plays alive on his feet like he is able to do week in and week out, the Dolphins could be susceptible to giving up some big plays.
The onus will fall on Miami's pass rush, most namely defensive ends Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan, to wrap up Roethlisberger when pressure is established. Back in Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts, the Dolphins struggled to bring down the big, athletic Andrew Luck. They must do a better job against an even tougher to tackle Roethlisberger.
1. Finish Promising Drives With Touchdowns
The first half of the Dolphins' 23-3 blowout victory over the Jets had to be one of the most frustrating halves of football Miami fans have ever witnessed. Tannehill and the offense moved the ball up and down the field for the first 30 minutes but turned the ball over on downs twice and were intercepted once in Jets' territory. At halftime, the Dolphins had out-gained the Jets by over 200 yards but only had six points to show for it.
A similar effort in Pittsburgh simply will not suffice. The Steelers' offense is much more capable than the Geno Smith-led attack Miami faced in Week 13. Roethlisberger is bound to lead multiple scoring drives. To win this game, the Dolphins will need to finish all of their promising drives with points, preferably touchdowns.