The Miami Dolphins opened the season 3-0 and while it was only three months ago it seems like eternity. Following that opening the team lost four in a row before regaining their composure and settling down. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, settling down did not lead to a run on wins. In fact, it left the team playing a familiar tune that the Jets fans played most of the year. You win one, you lose one.
It’s a trend that has to stop if they have any intention on the post-season.
Since their four game slide which included losses to New Orleans, Baltimore, Buffalo, and New England, the Dolphins have beaten the Bengals to regain .500. They followed that with a loss to the then winless Tampa Bay Buc’s. A win the following week against San Diego put them back and .500 only to lose again to the Carolina Panthers. Last weeks visit to New York put them back at .500. 8-8 will not get you into the playoffs.
In fact a loss this week could pretty much put any real shot the team has for the playoffs on ice. While not mathematically eliminated, a loss puts the onus of luck squarely on the front burner. In other words, the Dolphins must stop this win/loss play and they need to do it this week.
Weather could be a factor on Sunday as an extreme cold front is ripping through most of the mid-west and northeast. A front that will be followed by a second sometime on Sunday. With temperatures expected to be in the the mid to lower 30’s the Dolphins will need to play on fire. All things being equal, the Dolphins lack of a rushing attack may not help the team if the passing game get’s grounded.
The upside to this game for the Dolphins is if in fact the game turns to a ground and pound, Miami is better equipped to play with a continued balance as they use a shorter passing game than the Steelers. Pittsburgh tends to play more vertical with routes intended for 10-20 yards while Miami plays a more conservative 5-10 yard route offense normally. If weather eliminates the deeper routes, Miami should still find something underneath.
A big part of this game could be the use of the screen pass. Miami has struggled at times this year with the play and part of that reason is they don’t sell it well. When they do, Lamar Miller can make things happen. Pittsburgh will likely try and use the same tactic as teams have done well against Miami’s fast paced pass rush and catching them with a screen has worked well. For the Dolphins, shadowing the Steeler’s RB may be a key to a victory. Taking away completely the option of a screen pass.
With the Playoffs four weeks away the Dolphins find themselves today in a battle for the sixth seed with Baltimore. A loss to Pittsburgh will not help that cause as a tiebreaker with both Baltimore and Pittsburgh would eliminate Miami first. For the Steelers, the game is a little more important as a loss will all but mathematically eliminate them from contention. With the Dolphins then in essence 2.5 games up with three to go, the Steelers would be in more of a position to play spoiler late in the season to someone else.
Miami has done well the last two weeks to play exceptionally aggressive football and this week can be no different. They have to find a way to get the ball into the endzone especially considering field goal opportunities with the weather may not be an option. Not that Caleb Sturgis has been Mr. Automatic this year. From the front line on the defense to the offensive front who will have John Jerry slotted at guard and Nate Garner at LG, an in your face physical approach for a full four quarters is a must.
The Steelers have struggled to open games this year but have closed them well. Miami on the other hand has done well opening game but have struggled closing them. Forget about how deep in the playoffs this team could go, if they can’t close out in Pittsburgh they won’t need to discuss the playoffs. A loss to Pittsburgh puts more stress on the following week against the Patriots. A win and the Dolphins could find themselves in a position that losing a hard fought battle to New England may not hurt their chances for the postseason. A loss to Pittsburgh and it very well may.
This is a game the Dolphins can win, should win, and frankly, they must win.