The Miami Dolphins visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday Night Football showdown this week. The 0-6 Dolphins come into this game looking a little better each week as they look for their first win of the year. The Steelers, 2-4 on the season, have been struggling with injuries, especially at the quarterback position, and are looking to rebound from a slow start on the year.
The Steelers are a team that has been fairly average on defense this year, while the Dolphins were able to find success against the Buffalo Bills’ top-five defense last week. Can Miami do the same against the team with the 15th ranked overall defense (354.3 yards per game), 18th ranked pass defense (244.2 yards per game), 18th ranked rush defense (110.2 yards per game), and 14th ranked scoring defense (21.8 points per game)?
Miami could struggle against one aspect of the Steelers defense, however, as they are sixth in the league with 20 sacks already this year. With an offensive line that continually has to shuffle players and has struggled this year - outside of last week’s performance against Buffalo - the Steelers could be constantly pressuring quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Monday night.
I spoke to Jeff Hartman, the editor of SB Nation’s Steelers site Behind the Steel Curtain, to get an idea of what Miami can expect from the Steelers defense:
The Steelers defensive calling card falls into two categories: Sacks and takeaways. They rank in the top three teams in the NFL in sacks, and are also near the top in takeaways, and this is all with a Week 7 bye. The Steelers will disguise their pressure, but there is no disguise with their plan -- pressure the quarterback and force turnovers. Last season the Steelers had 15 takeaways on the season, and they accomplished the same feat in six games this year. A testament to players like Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt delivering the goods on the field, but also a testament to Keith Butler’s system finally starting to come to fruition.
Not that this defense doesn’t have issues, because they do. They haven’t been a solid tackling group in the early portions of the regular season and have given up a lot of yardage on the ground. If the Dolphins want to move the ball on the Steelers they need to utilize the run game and hit play action, primarily to the tight end down the seam.
The good news for the Dolphins is tight end Mike Gesicki is starting to look like the player they expected him to be when they selected him in the second round in 2018. Could he be the key to a Dolphins win this week?
When Hartman asked me for my thoughts on how the Dolphins will attack the Steelers’ defense, Gesicki’s name came up:
Miami has been a little more difficult to read [on offense] the last couple of weeks, in part because they changed quarterbacks again and in part because players are starting to find roles for themselves. The screen pass seems like a big part of the offense, but that was under Josh Rosen - they did not seem to run it as often last week with Ryan Fitzpatrick back under center. Fitzpatrick is open to throwing the ball downfield more than Rosen, even though I feel like Rosen throws a better deep ball. We are starting to see tight end Mike Gesicki get involved in the passing game, which is a welcome addition to the game.
The team has not run the ball much, it just does not seem like an important part of the game - especially when the team has been behind as much as they have been this season. Keynan Drake is quickly disappearing from the offense, with Mark Walton sliding in as both the starter and the main runner. Drake has a role still, particularly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, but it is becoming less and less each week.
The offensive line is a concern, though they played pretty well against a strong Buffalo defense last week. The team is on to lineup six for the offensive line, so it has simply been a revolving door of players trying to plug holes from either poor play, additions from roster moves, or injuries. I would like to tell you where you can attack, but really, it is different every game, so I do not even know where to say the strong or weak spots are ahead of Monday night.
How will the Steelers attack Miami’s defense and how will the Dolphins look to slow down Pittsburgh’s offense? Check back later to read Hartman’s thoughts.