The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football this week, ending the league’s Week 8 schedule. The Dolphins have struggled on offense this year, but the Steelers are not much better. Pittsburgh comes into the game 28th in total offense (276.5 yards per game), 28th in passing offense (200.0 yards per game), 26th in rushing offense (76.5 yards per game), and 21st in scoring offense (20.5 points per game).
The Steelers have also been dealing with injuries this year, especially at quarterback where Ben Roethlisberger is out with an elbow injury and Mason Rudolph has had a concussion and missed playing time, with Devlin Hodges filling in.
As I did for when the Dolphins have the ball, I spoke to Jeff Hartman, the editor of SB Nation’s Behind the Steel Curtain, the network’s Steelers site, to get an idea of what to expect when the Steelers have the ball:
This Steelers’ offense is a tough nut to crack due to the instability at the quarterback position. With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback there was consistency, as well as an expectation. With Mason Rudolph, who is essentially a rookie considering he never dressed for a game in 2018, you have a young QB who is learning the ropes in the NFL on the fly.
With that said, I think the Steelers are an offense that is starting to find their rhythm and the equation for success. This starts and ends with James Conner. He is the most consistent playmaker the Steelers have on offense right now, and was an integral part of the team’s Week 6 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles. Look for the Steelers to get the ground game going early, and then to open up the intermediate passing attack to get Rudolph back in the groove after his concussion.
As for Miami’s defense, I shared my thoughts with Hartman:
Miami’s defense has been confusing - maybe even more so than Miami’s offense. The pass rush has primary been Taco Charlton and Mark Biegel, players who are new to the team and would never have been considered as a part of the pass rush plan just a few weeks ago. The defensive line is actually getting better against the run lately, so at least there is improvement there. If I were the Steelers, I would attack early with the run, forcing the Dolphins to commit to stopping it, then find the open holes in the middle of the defense.
The linebackers are playing well. Raekwon McMillan is turning into a strong run-stopping linebacker, while Jerome Baker is doing well in coverage for the most part - he will get beat, but he has success too - and he can blitz well, though he is getting hurries and hits, but not sacks. Sam Eguavoen has been a surprise, and he is playing well after coming to the team from the CFL.
The secondary has been a disappointment. This was supposed to be the strength of the defense this year, and so far it has fallen flat. Xavien Howard, if he is healthy and in the game, can be a shutdown cornerback, but he has been beaten at times this year as well. After that, it is a giant question mark. Eric Rowe has been starting, but it is more a default thing than a he earned it thing. I would love to have Codrea Tankersley get activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list, just to see if he can find his form from his rookie year two seasons ago, but that is probably at least another week away if it will happen this year. Reshad Jones has moments where he looks like the Pro Bowl strong safety, but he is not an every-down player anymore, and he has been dealing with injuries this year. Bobby McCain at free safety is transitioning to the role after playing nickel cornerback for the early part of his career, and he is playing it like a solid safety who is still learning the position.
Stay away from Howard if he is playing, and you should be able to find receivers open.
Howard has been limited in practice this week, with Saturday’s practice and final injury report still to come. Jones, meawhile, has not practiced. Will either or both of the players be on the field this week?
Come back later to get a look at who will be the “x-factor” for both Miami and Pittsburgh.