Ben Roethlisberger looks poised to light up a bad Dolphins defense. (AL DIAZ/MIAMI HERALD STAFF)
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A seemingly perpectually banged-Steelers team heads to Miami this week to take on a Dolphins squad that wishes it could use injuries as an excuse for how it has played this season.
The Dolphins are not a good team. In fact, the only team they’ve beaten thus far is winless Cleveland.
Miami ranks 29th in the league in total offense. They’re slightly better, 28th, in total defense, including dead last against the run, giving up 150.8 yards per game.
Forget all that stuff Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said making the these Dolphins sound like the 1972 version of the team, these Dolphins stink.
That said, the Steelers won’t have an easy time in this game because of their injuries.
It’s not exactly how many are injured at this point. The Steelers have fewer there than they’ve had in the past couple of weeks. It’s more about who is injured.
Defensive end Cam Heyward and linebacker Ryan Shazier, the team’s two best defensive players, will sit out this game. On offense, the Steelers will be without right tackle Marcus Gilbert for a second straight week, while receiver Markus Wheaton is out and Sammie Coates is doubtful to play with the cut on his left hand that required seven stitches between his fingers.
I expect Coates to give it a go in this game, but the Steelers most certainly aren’t a full strength.
They will, however, still have Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Antonio Brown in this game. Those four are more talented than any single player the Dolphins have on their roster.
That doesn’t mean the Dolphins don’t have some individual talent. Center Mike Pouncey is every bit as good as his twin brother, Maurkice, but he’s been dealing with a hip injury that has kept him sidelined.
Receiver Jarvis Landry is above average, though he a slot guym while Kenny Stills gave the Steelers fits a couple of years ago playing for the Saints.
Defensively, Ndamukong Suh can still be a force, though Cameron Wake’s play is slipping at 34.
With the Steelers wounded, the Dolphins could win this game if Pittsburgh doesn’t come in focused on taking care of business.
But, with all of the new guys in the lineup, the Steelers figure to be just that. When you are missing key guys, it tends to cause the remaining regulars to focus that much more. And as we’ve seen for the Steelers, the backups take Mike Tomlin’s “standard is the standard” line quite seriously.
However, they can’t afford, for example, for a player such as Chris Hubbard, who will be subbing at RT for Gilbert, to have a sigh of relief after playing well last week in his first career start at offensive tackle. Hubbard has to continue to play with that frenetic edge that helped him be successful last week.
As Mike Mitchell told me this week, if the Steelers start drinking their own Kool-Aid, they’ll mess around and get beat.
Winning this game will come down to whether or not the Steelers can put pressure on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill looks shell shocked this season. He’s been sacked 17 times - once every 9 pass attempts, which is the worst in the league.
He’s also thrown seven interceptions and fumbled four times. Like Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Jets last week, he’s a turnover waiting to happen.
The Steelers didn’t force any turnovers last week against the Jets, but they didn’t need to. They were at home, where Roethlisberger has been a completely different quarterback in recent years than he has been on the road.
But, Roethlisberger has thrown three touchdown passes in two of his last three regular season road starts. The exception was in a 34-3 loss at Philadelphia three weeks ago when the Steelers didn’t show up as a team.
Pittsburgh is a 7 1/2-point favorite in this game and they should take care of business.