On a day in which the Houston Texans have fired now former head coach Gary Kubiak, the Miami Dolphins will be preparing to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday at 1 PM. Miami, now sitting with a record of 6-6, will look to not only fend off the 5-7 Steelers, but will also look to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens, whom own the tie-breaker over the Miami Dolphins for the sixth and final wild card spot in the AFC.
Miami will likely face a stiff test Sunday not only visiting Pittsburgh, but also dealing with the weather conditions as snow is in the weather forecast. Miami’s young running back trio of Lamar Miller, Marcus Thigpen, and rookie Mike Gillislee will have to step up tremendously if the conditions permit Miami from airing it out often.
If the weather conditions are so bad in this one that neither team can air it out, and both teams must resort to running the football, I’m honestly not sure which team benefits.
But, regardless, let’s take a look at the keys to victory for Miami this Sunday:
-1- Miami’s defense needs to not only play lights out, but will need to force a few key turnovers in this one.
This defense has been surprisingly aggressive this season in terms of forcing turnovers. They have accounted for 16 interceptions, ranking second overall, and have forced 7 fumbles, while recovering 5 of those.
Pittsburgh has a turnover ratio of -4, which plays out well for Miami’s aggressive defense. If Miami’s front seven can lock down on shutting down RB Le’Veon Bell and keeping “Big” Ben Roethlisberger in check, Miami’s secondary will be able to play quite aggressive against Pitt’s undersized receivers.
We’ll get to the speed pf these receivers later.
-2- Miami’s offensive line needs to continue to put forth their best effort every snap.
This offensive line actually put together quite a solid game against the league’s top ranked front against the run. Miami was able to put up 125 yards on the ground, and they will have to continue that trend in this one. As mentioned above, snow is in the forecast therefore both teams will likely have to ground and pound the football for the victory.
RB Lamar Miller needs to have 20-25 carries in this game, not only to help out QB Ryan Tannehill yet again, but to also give Miller some confidence. Mike Sherman needs to remember that Miller is perhaps this offense’s most dynamic weapon, so he needs his touches.
What also helps Miller and co. out is the fact that they’ll be facing the league’s 18th ranked rush defense allowing a smidge under 120 yards per game to opposing teams, which is a ton worse than the front this offense faced last week surrendering an average of 77 yards per game on the ground (Miami put up 125).
-3- Miami’s secondary must be aggressive, yet very cautious with these speedy receivers Pittsburgh possesses.
Miami’s cornerback duo of Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll has worked surprisingly well in recent weeks, and could receive a boost if CB Dimitri Patterson is healthy to go. Even if Patterson cannot go, Miami actually matches up quite well with these receivers.
Brent Grimes, whom is having quite a stellar season and is worthy of a pro bowl nod, will likely draw WR Antonio Brown’s card. This will be the marquee match up to watch, as the winner of this match up basically controls how Pittsburgh flows offensively. Brown has 85 receptions for 1,103 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season.
Nolan Carroll will draw Emmanuel Sanders in this one, which may be a difficult match up for Carroll if he forgets his technique. Sanders has 54 receptions for 604 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season, while Carroll has 32 tackles 1 sack and 2 interceptions on the season.
These two corners have to do everything within their power to play aggressive football against these undersized receiver, but they cannot make any mistakes, or else “Big” Ben will make them pay.
-4- Miami’s pass rush needs to be a dominant force in this one.
DE Olivier Vernon destroyed New York last week en route to 2.5 sacks and a dominant 10 tackle performance. His other defensive end mates? They were entirely quiet throughout the majority of the game.
That needs to change in this one against an offensive line that has yielded 36 sacks thus far.
Vernon, who leads Miami with 10 sacks now, will hopefully command some attention away from DE Cameron Wake who will be working on the right side of Pittsburgh’s offensive line with 6.5 sacks on the season.
The wild-card in this one should be rookie DE Dion Jordan, who has 2 sacks on the season. Jordan saw another increase in his opportunities last week and hopefully will see even more snaps this week. As I stated on our Direct Snap Radio show, I would put Jordan in as a replacement for the dinged up Koa Misi and allow Jordan to “spy” Big Ben. Anytime Ben rolls out of the pocket, let Jordan go after him.
-5- Play smart, instinctive and physical football against a Pittsburgh team which used to specialize in those areas.
Miami will need to play smart football in this one, which means making excellent decisions. This goes for QB Ryan Tannehill, as well as the coaching staff. Tannehill needs to get rid of the football quickly, while making smart decisions. Mike Sherman and Kevin Coyle both need to stick to their game plan to beat down on Pittsburgh.
This is going to be the game where we really see what Miami is as a football team. A pretender or a contender. A pretender will get their butts handed to them by this Pittsburgh team, and will likely allow Pittsburgh to run all over them. A contender, on the other hand, will either blow Pittsburgh out of the water, which is highly unlikely, or will play a good game in all three phases of the game, winning the game in the end.
Which will happen? I’m not so sure Miami is a true contender. They are very, very inconsistent and struggle to put together a solid full four quarters. But, I think Miami edges it out. It’s going to be a low scoring affair and I think that the weather conditions actually help Miami out in this one.
Miami rolls, 17-14.