The Miami Dolphins head into a Week 6 meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers with the odds seemingly stacked against them. Miami has not been a good team through the first five weeks of the 2016 regular season, and the Steelers simply have been very good. It is not a match up that appears to favor the Dolphins in any way, but, as the cliche says, any given Sunday, weird things can happen.
If Miami is going to win this week’s game, they are going to need that funny shaped ball to bounce their way a couple of times. This year has been about underperformance and injuries for the Dolphins, and they need to end that starting now if this year is going to be about anything other than single digit draft positioning. What needs to happen Sunday for Miami to surprise the Steelers? Here are five things to watch:
Play up to the competition
Honestly, this could be the only thing listed in the ‘'what to watch’ this week, covering everything about the Dolphins, but this is specifically about the execution. Miami loves to play to their competition over the last few years - especially when they appear to be the better team, but then make mistakes and allow a ‘lesser’ opponent to hang around in games, or even steal the win. It usually shows itself in dumb penalties and sloppy ball protection. This week, the Dolphins need to play to their competition, because the Steelers are superior to Miami at this point. The Dolphins have to execute, they cannot take dumb penalties - whether that is in false starts or special teams personal fouls - and they have to secure the ball. If Miami can continue to play to the level of their competition, they have a chance at the upset.
Bring the pass rush
The Dolphins are a team built to generate pressure on the opposing quarterback. Someone needs to remind them of that this week. Cameron Wake needs to have one of his multi-sack games and maybe spark Mario Williams into being a contributor. Ndamukong Suh has to force the middle of the Steelers offensive line back into Ben Roethlisberger. There need to be bodies everywhere in the pocket, not allowing the Steelers to run their deep passing plays that demoralize teams so often. The secondary for the Dolphins has struggled, and actually bringing the pressure could be a big factor in helping the corners. Along with bringing the pressure, the Dolphins have to realize they are up against Roethlisberger, so they have to complete the tackle and not just think they can hit him and he will fall down.
Tackle a running back
Yes, at this point, just tackling A running back would be an improvement. Miami is dead last in the league in rushing defense, allowing just over 150 yards on the ground a game. Of course, this week they meet the best running back in the league in Le’Veon Bell, and perhaps the best second-string runner in the league in DeAngelo Williams. The blueprint to beating the Dolphins this year is to run the ball on nearly every play. Run outside to the left, outside to the right, or right up the middle. It really doesn’t matter because the Dolphins are going to allow you an average of around five yards an attempt. If Miami is going to have any success this week, the defense has to be disciplined (playing up to the competition), fill their gaps, and actually tackle the runner when they hit him. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has to design the game plan and call plays that focus on stopping the run, no matter how afraid of Roethlisberger’s deep ball the team might be.
Keep a clean pocket and move Ryan Tannehill
Fans are ready to pull the plug on Ryan Tannehill this year, and he has been part of the problem for the Miami offense. But that is the issue at this point- Tannehill is PART of the problem, not THE problem. Yes, he holds the ball too long at times and he does not feel pressure well, but it is also hard to have success when he is literally getting hit as he takes the third step in a three-step drop. Even quick, short, ‘dink and dunk’ type of passes do not work when the quarterback cannot take three steps without getting crushed - and make no mistake, Tannehill has been getting crushed. Tannehill has to do a better job of moving within the pocket - or getting outside the pocket - but the offensive line has to actually create a pocket and let Tannehill have enough time to make his reads. The team could actually see their ‘opening day’ offensive line play together for the first time this year as Mike Pouncey, Laremy Tunsil, and Branden Albert all appear healthy for the game.
Run the ball
Remember last season when the Dolphins would abandon the run in the second half of games, despite Lamar Miller picking up chunks of yards in the first half? Well, that is different this year - because the Dolphins just do not consistently run the ball at all. The team is not a bad rushing team, the just aren't a rushing team, period. That has to change, both to get more offensive players involved in the game plan and to take some of the pressure off of Tannehill and the passing game. Let the offensive linemen be aggressive and run block. Let the running backs do what they are paid to do. Turn some of these 3rd-and-long situations into a more manageable down with runs early in the series. Hopefully Arian Foster’s hamstring/groin injuries are healed and he is ready to return on Sunday, which could give the running game the spark it has been missing.