It would be reasonable to look at the weather expected for Sunday afternoon and expect the worst for opening kickoff for the Steelers and the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. After all, the forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms and a high in the 80s, which shouldn’t surprise you if you’ve experienced the daily South Florida afternoon rain. But it might give you pause as for what to expect in this Week 6 matchup.
If there was a time for the Steelers to play this kind of game in these expected conditions, this is the perfect one, not because the rain would slow their offense down, but because it could be short-handed despite the return of Eli Rogers from a toe injury that held him out for two weeks. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton has been ruled out with a shoulder injury and second-year wideout Sammie Coates is listed as questionable with a broken finger.
Cobi Hamilton was added to the 53-man roster Saturday afternoon (cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz was released to make room for him, but the third-year man from Arkansas shouldn’t be expected to take on a significant role.
The good news is the running game will be well prepared with Le’Veon Bell and a presumably healthy DeAngelo Williams, who was a full participant in practice Friday (knee) and is expected to play. The two should expect to see the ball a lot against a Miami run defense that is dead last in football, allowing more than 150 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
The possible losses at the wide receiver position and the impending need to move the ball through a possible torrential downpour points to the fortuitous arrival of Roosevelt Nix to make his regular season debut after sitting out the first five games of the season with a back injury.
This is one of those times where offensive coordinator Todd Haley may not have to get very creative with his playbook. If anything, this is the perfect time for him to dust off an old concept that became more popular two seasons ago, when Bell put together the best individual rushing season of three-plus year career. In 2014, a good way to sum up the Steelers run game would be: Power right, Counter left, rinse, repeat. That formula showed strong results at times as they used it to wear teams down in the second half and secure road wins at Carolina, Tennessee and Cincinnati.
Having Nix back as the starting fullback and David Johnson able to chip in as both a second, blocking tight end (and as the blocking back in Johnson’s absence) gives the Steelers some added flexibility. Not only will they be better equipped to use both men in motion to set up blocks, but they’ll be able to do it from different personnel groupings and formations.
While the Dolphins do have a rotation of linemen led by Ndamukong Suh, we saw an example of just how much their front could be exploited, thanks to the Tennessee Titans, who pounded out 235 yards on the ground against them at Sun Life last week, but also did it using those same run concepts the Steelers could employ out of multiple tight end or “22” (two running back, two tight ends) personnel groupings.
With the strong possibility of a wet, muddy track as the backdrop for this game, the Steelers would be better equipped in terms of strategy to win this game, even if it happens in an ugly, low-scoring fashion. But their personnel and scheme give them the option to even use this particular approach to their advantage, rain or shine.