For Miami, rookie cornerback Jamar Taylor is listed as “out” with a hamstring injury, while cornerback Dimitri Patterson and running back Daniel Thomas are considered “questionable” with groin and ankle injuries, respectively.
The loss of Taylor shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Dolphins. As a second-round pick in April, Taylor was projected to be a significant contributor as a rookie, but has only seen the field for 100 snaps through 12 games. His inability to stay healthy is a bit puzzling given his lack of playing time.
The potential return of Patterson at cornerback would come at an opportune time for the Dolphins. The Steelers possess one of the top passing attacks in the NFL, and although Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson have been decent in coverage at times filling in, Patterson has been a true difference maker when he’s been on the field.
In the five games Patterson has played, he’s only allowed four receptions (16 in total) for every one pass he’s intercepted (four in total) — an impressive ratio to say the least. A starting corerback duo of Patterson and Brent Grimes has the potential to be one of the league’s best, and could propel the Dolphins’ ninth ranked pass defense to new heights.
Miami didn’t appear to miss Thomas at running back during a solid effort on the ground in Week 13, but their inability to move the chains in short-yardage situations was a concern. The Dolphins attempted to convert two fourth-and-short plays against the New York Jets, and opted to pass on both occasions, failing each time. If the 235-pound Thomas would have been available, Miami might have tried to run.
Also for the Dolphins, free safety Chris Clemons (knee/hamstring), tight end Michael Egnew (neck), right guard John Jerry (concussion), running back Lamar Miller (pectoral), linebacker Austin Spitler (knee), and quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right thumb) are listed as “probable.”
For Pittsburgh, defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) won’t play, left tackle Kevin Beachum (knee) is listed as “doubtful,” and nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) is considered “questionable.”
The Steelers’ run defense has only been average-to-mediocre this season, and their pass rush has been nonexistent at times, so the potential loss of two starting defensive linemen is worrisome. Keisel has done a decent job of pressuring the passer in 2013 with two sacks, four quarterback hits, and 14 pressures to his name. Meanwhile, McLendon is relied upon to eat up blockers for the Steelers’ front seven. According to Pro Football Focus, McLendon is ranked 21st of all interior defensive linemen in run defense.
If cold and snowy conditions make it difficult for each team to pass, the onus will fall on the running game. Surprisingly, it’s the Dolphins who could be more equipped to run the football and stop the run.
As for Beachum at left tackle, his loss could be detrimental to Ben Roethlisberger‘s protection in the pocket. In the likely event he’s forced to sit out, Mike Adams is expected to be the fill-in. Adams started the first four games of the season at left tackle for the Steelers, but lost his spot after getting abused by pass rushers.
During those four games (all of which were losses), Adams was torched to the tune of four sacks, six additional quarterback hits and 13 hurries. The three sacks he conceded to Jared Allen in Week 4 were the final straw. Without improvement, defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan could have a field day for Miami.
Additionally for the Steelers, offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle), running back Le’Veon Bell (concussion), right guard David DeCastro (foot) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) are expected to play.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.