The Miami Dolphins welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to South Florida for a Sunday Night Football contest. We have discussed a lot of the storylines surrounding the Dolphins coming into this game, including the return of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa after missing two games due to a concussion and the injuries to and adjustments of the offensive line. We have not yet taken a closer look at the Steelers’ side of this contest, however.
It is now time to fix that. With a little help from Jeff Hartman over at Behind the Steel Curtain, we get some insight into quarterback Kenny Pickett, wide receiver Chase Claypool, and the Pittsburgh defense. We ended our discussion with a brief look at the relationship between two former Dolphins, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and senior defensive assistant coach Brian Flores.
[Note: Hartman and I spoke prior to Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett clearing the concussion protocol on Friday and resuming his spot as the starter for Sunday’s game.]
Let us start at probably the most obvious place to start when it comes to the Steelers. Quarterback Kenny Pickett is in the concussion protocol, but head coach Mike Tomlin seems to believe he will be cleared by Sunday and has said Pickett’s work this week will not be limited. How is Pickett, both health-wise and as the starting quarterback? How does the offense change if it is Mitchell Trubisky starting in Pickett’s place? There is a fine line sometimes between the player who gives you the best chance to win today versus the player who gives you the best chance to win over the long term. Is that the case here, where the Steelers have made the switch to Pickett, so it is now his team no matter what because you do not pull out your first-round rookie and shake his confidence like that?
Well, from a health standpoint, Tomlin is following the NFL’s protocols, and the Steelers have some world-renowned doctors who handle concussions for the league. So, I don’t think they are skirting any rules with Pickett’s potential return. Pickett, as Tomlin said, was a full participant in practice Wednesday, when this is being written, and players said he looked good in practice. As for the team turning to Pickett as their starting quarterback, there isn’t much of a difference between Pickett and Trubisky. Pickett brings a spark and an edge Trubisky doesn’t have, but the Steelers want to, and most would say need to, know what they have in Pickett for future planning purposes. Pickett hasn’t been awful in his time under center, and what most fans are realizing is how the Steelers’ offensive issues aren’t really the quarterback, but the scheme/play caller.
Four receptions for 18 yards, four receptions for 26 yards, three receptions for 35 yards, no receptions, five receptions for 50 yards, and seven receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. To say Chase Claypool has had a slow start to the season might actually be an understatement, but he seemed to break out last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What was happening with Claypool early this year and which version of him should the Dolphins expect to see on Sunday?
In my opinion, what led to Claypool’s big day vs. Tampa Bay was how the Buccaneers treated rookie George Pickens. Pickens got the WR1 treatment from the secondary, which allowed Claypool to deal with single coverage and good matchups. This is exactly what happened Claypool’s rookie season when he feasted on safeties and linebackers trying to cover him. When the Steelers' offense is clicking on all cylinders it is a pick-your-poison offense. Fans haven’t seen that as much this season but got a taste of it during the 4th quarter of the game vs. Tom Brady and the boys this past Sunday in Week 6.
This seems odd to say about the Steelers, but their defense has struggled this year. They are 29th in overall defense, allowing 398 yards per game; 30th in passing defense, giving up 277.8 yards per game; and 18th against the run, giving up 120.2 yards per game. What are the strengths of the unit and where should Miami attack in order to find success?
This isn’t the first year the defense has struggled, they weren’t that great last year either. However, not having T.J. Watt has been a big issue this season. Being placed on IR after Week 1, the defense is just now starting to figure out how to manipulate life without the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. However, if Week 6 was any indication, the Steelers are more than willing to put in a plan which doesn’t just think outside the box, but can actually be effective. The Steelers did a great job minimizing Mike Evans, and keeping Chris Godwin out of the end-zone. Will that work vs. Waddle and Hill? That’s a different ball of wax...
Who will be the unsung hero for this game on the Steelers' offense? On defense? Why?
If I had to pick an unsung hero on offense I’d have to go with Jaylen Warren. Warren is an undrafted rookie free agent running back out of Oklahoma State and has made several plays during his rookie season. He might just make a few plays in both the running and receiving games which could turn the tide. As for defense, I’ll go with Alex Highsmith. He’s leading the NFL in sacks right now with 6.5, but no one is talking about him. He hasn’t been the force fans are used to getting from Watt, but he would fall into a game-changing player category.
The Dolphins are expected to have quarterback Tua Tagovailoa back under center this week after missing him the last two-and-a-half games. The odds makers seem to believe he will be able to play and that he will be back to looking like the quarterback who played through the first three weeks of the season. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Dolphins are favored by seven points. Do you think the Dolphins should be a touchdown favorite for this game? How do you see the game playing out?
[Note: Since speaking with Hartman, the line has moved to 7.5 points in favor of the Dolphins.]
I’m not shocked the Steelers are 7-point underdogs, they haven’t been the most competitive team this season. However, I think the Steelers will play teams tough. Last week they were 9.5-point underdogs vs. Tampa Bay and won the game outright. I’m not saying I forecast that happening, but I can see this being a one-score game. Therefore, I’ll take the Steelers getting a touchdown on Sunday night.
Bonus question: There may not be a clear-cut answer here, but I think it is one Dolphins fans have thought about this year. When he was named the head coach of the Dolphins, Brian Flores did not seem to get along with the strong-personality type of players and it ultimately led to the trade of Minkah Fitzpatrick. Now that Flores and Fitzpatrick are back on the same sideline, has there been any sense of frustration or anything between the two?
To be honest, there hasn’t, but then again Flores doesn’t have to answer to the media as a defensive assistant. He has stayed out of the spotlight, only speaking to the media when the organization tells him he has to. And even then, his answers are strictly football. Fitzpatrick has been asked about it, and he says it is water under the bridge. Honestly, I believe it too. Flores has talked openly about how much he has learned from Mike Tomlin with how he manages players, and he and Fitzpatrick burying any animosity or grudge towards one another might just be an example of something he has learned from the man who has been the leader of the Steelers since 2007.