Miami Dolphins (0-10) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3)
Dolphins Offense vs Steelers Defense
Heading into this game on Monday night, there's actually been a bit more optimism around here than I expected. That could possibly be because the Jets were able to defeat the Steelers last week in the Meadowlands. But consider this: the Steelers are 2-3 on the road and 5-0 at home. Also, despite losing last week, the Steelers defense is the #1 defense in the NFL, only allowing 236 yards per game. That's 28 yards less than the 2nd best defense. So don't be fooled into getting your hopes up because for the Dolphins to pull off the upset on the road in the national spotlight, they will need to play nearly perfect football.
So how do you beat these guys? Well the Broncos did most their damage through the air while the Jets did theirs on the ground. For the Dolphins, I'd imagine it would have to be done on the ground. I don't think that placing the game in the hands of a rookie QB makingh is 2nd career start is the best idea. In fact, in the Steelers' 5 previous games at home, here's the average stat line for the opposing QB: 15/29, 132 yards, 0.8 TDs, 0.4 Ints. Not the best looking stat line. And take away Derek Anderson's 3 touchdown performance, and that stat line looks even worse. So what's my point? Simple. Don't expect great things from John Beck. The Steelers are ranked #1 in the league in completion percentage allowed (54.7), #2 in the league in QB rating allowed (71.5) and #7 in the league in sacks (28). I expect a lot of quick throws by Beck to counter Pittsburgh's blitz. And if he can recognize the blitz and locate the "hot" receiver, then this offense could be more efficient than we expect. Also, look for Cam to utilize John's strengths more. I'm not too sure what the means, but I'd guess we might see more rollouts, as John seems comfortable out of the pocket and throwing on the run, with Ted Ginn streaking across the middle. If Pitt is in man coverage, there isn't a corner who will be able to match Ginn's speed when he cuts across the middle. And because of the frequent blitzing, Pitt's corners will be matched up in man coverage relatively often, meaning the potential is there (especially without Troy Polamalu roaming center field) for some big plays down the field.
But I still think the key to the game for Miami will be running the ball. The Dolphins need to keep their defense off the field for as long as possible, and the best way to sustain long drives is by moving the ball on the ground. However, as of Friday, Jesse Chatman remains limited in practice and has a "noticable limp" according to one paper. If he can't go, then it'll really be interesting to see how the Dolphins utilize Ricky Williams. I'd imagine Patrick Cobbs would start and get the early load of the carries as the Dolphins look to work in Ricky slowly. But if Ricky proves to be effective, then he needs to be fed the ball consistently. He's one of those backs who gets better as the game goes on, assuming he's in the kind of shape he was when he left the NFL. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Lorenzo Booker in their on some clear passing downs, as he's got the best pair of hands among all the healthy running backs. As for what to expect from Ricky, I don't have my hopes set too high. He may look surpringly good in practice, but a game situation against this Steeler defense that is only allowing 3.8 ypc is a whole different story. I personally think the biggest issue for Ricky will be his vision relative to the speed of the game. I think he may have some issues locating the hole quickly because of how long he's been out of football. But regardless, if Jesse doesn't play, Ricky needs to get like 40% of the carries because Patrick Cobbs hasn't looked good at all from what I've seen of him.
Steelers Offense vs Dolphins Defense
Defensively for the Dolphins, the gameplan is simple. They must stop Willie Parker. In Pittsburgh's 3 losses, Parker had just 182 yards on 61 carries (2.9 ypc). That tells you how important Parker is to the offense, as the Steelers use the run to det up Big Ben and the passing game. However, that task just got harder on Friday, as Zach Thomas has again been ruled out of the game. This means Channing Crowder will slide to the middle and Derrick Pope will take Channing's starting outside spot. Last week, the Dolphins could not stop Brian Westbrook at all, as he went on to the top rushing day of his career. If the Dolphins let Parker gash them for big yards, then this game will be a lost cause.
The Dolphins, though, have dodged a bullet in the passing game, as Pitt's leading receiver, Santonio Holmes, will likely miss Monday night's game with a high ankle sprain. That's certainly good news and should provide even more confidence to a secondary that has actually, dare I say, hasn't been playing terribly the past few weeks. Will Allen has continued to impress me this year. He'll likely be matched up on Hines Ward, which is a matchup the Dolphins need to win if they want to think about pulling the upset. With Holmes out, they cannot let Ward beat them by making big plays in the passing game. Also, the other key thing for the Dolphins will be determing how they will cover tight end Heath Miller. Miller is second on the team, only trailing Holmes, with 6 touchdown receptions. In the redzone, Miller is a big weapon. He's too quick for a linebacker, so I'd imagine Jason Allen or Cameron Worrell will be matched up on him. Hopefully it's Allen, who has really stepped up his game since becoming a starter at safety. His development this year will continue to be a big thing to watch because if he can come anywhere close to his potential, he'd be a major boost to the secondary next year.
My prediction to come on Monday. Your thoughts below...