The Miami Dolphins will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, a game which does not look like a good match up, at least from the Dolphins’ sideline. Miami has struggled through the first five games of the season, while the Steelers are rounding into the form that should have them in Super Bowl contention this year. Things do not look promising for Miami this week.
To get a better idea of what exactly Miami will be facing Sunday afternoon, I spoke to Jeff.Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain, SB Nation’s Steelers blog. Thanks to Jeff for taking the time, and you can head over to BTSC for my answers to his questions about the Dolphins.
Kevin Nogle (KN): The Dolphins run defense does not exist, which is always a good situation when facing Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. Now that Bell is back, he seems to be the primary focus for the running game, carrying 20 times last week while Williams only picked up one attempt. Dolphins fans will be scared no matter who is being handed the ball, but should we expect it to be all Bell all the time? How has he looked since returning?
Jeff.Hartman (JH): Mike Tomlin loves Le'Veon Bell. He was the guy who stuck his neck out when they chose Bell over Eddie Lacy in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and his decision has paid dividends. Since then Bell has been suspended twice, and had two knee injuries. Both times when he returned it was all Bell, all the time. The team has tried to sprinkle in some 2 RB sets with Williams and Bell in the backfield, but it ultimately feels like a distraction. Bell will be the main ball carrier, and will be used as a WR on many occasions as well when the Steelers go into their empty set.
KN: Pittsburgh is allowed 379 yards per game to opposing offense, ranking them 25th in the league, but only giving up 18.6 points a game, ranking them ninth in the league. Is this the definition of a bend-but-don't-break defense? How are opposing offenses picking up all of these yards and how are the Steelers then shutting down the scoring?
JH: To be honest, a lot of those yards have come in garbage time, especially the past two weeks. In Week 4 the Steelers were up 22-0 over the Chiefs in the first quarter, so Alex Smith and company took to the air to get back into it. The Philadelphia Eagles had their way with Pittsburgh, but to give you the short answer to your question: Yes, they are the epitome of the bend-don't-break-defense. This defense thrives in the red zone, and they did this well in 2015 too. The only thing missing from the equation is red zone turnovers...hopefully they get back on track in that statistical category this Sunday.
KN: Pittsburgh is 25th in the league in sacks this year, having gotten to the quarterback just eight times this season. To what do you attribute the lack of sacks?
JH: The first three weeks of the season they had only one sack. The last two games they have had 7. They simply weren't pressuring the quarterback with more than 4 or 5 players in the first 3 weeks. This was reportedly the game plan for Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton and Carson Wentz, especially with a young secondary. Keith Butler, defensive coordinator, wanted to protect his porous secondary, and was willing to sacrifice the pass rush to do so. It worked in Weeks 1 and 2, and was exposed in Week 3. Since then the Steelers have gotten back to their 2015 selves when they had 48 sacks (3rd in the NFL). They are blitzing, but are being very creative in how they rush the passer. Not having Cam Heyward in this game will hurt, but the Steelers will bring pressure from a lot of areas to try and surprise Tannehill.
KN: What's the status of Sammie Coates? Should Dolphins fans expect to see him out there? Not that Miami's secondary scares anyone at this point, but is there a concern about depth of pass catchers for the Steelers this week?
JH: Coates is officially listed as questionable, and that should literally mean a 50-50 chance he plays. He suffered a cut on his hand during the Jets game which needed stitches at halftime. He played the rest of the game, but as the week progressed he has been dealing with pain and swelling. He practiced Friday for the first time, and says he is going to play, but the decision is not ultimately up to him. Coates brings a new dynamic to the team with his ability to take the top off the defense, and finally provides someone to take the pressure off of Antonio Brown. If I were to guess, Coates will dress on Sunday, but will be used in a limited role.
KN: Antonio Brown has 447 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns already this year, with ranks him eighth in yards and first in touchdowns. He also leads the league in receptions with 37. Yet, it seems there is some odd discussion about Brown having a "down" year and there being disappointment in his numbers. What is going on with that? How is there anything close to "disappointment" associated with Brown?
JH: I wrote an article about this Friday, and made a point toll tell readers most WRs would kill for Brown's first 5 game split in 2016, but not Antonio Brown. Brown is on pace for the least amount of receptions since 2013, and to almost 500 yards below his yardage totals in 2016. When the talk before the season was whether he could be the first WR to break the 2,000 yard mark, some are a little disappointed. However, for me, my concern isn't about the numbers, but how he and Ben Roethlisberger don't have the usual connection most fans are accustomed to seeing. It looks forced, which is not even close to what they usually resemble. Coates being in the lineup will make defenses have to think twice about rolling their coverage to Brown's side of the field on every snap, which will only make life easier for No. 84. If you ask me, he is due for a breakout.