The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Miami Dolphins, the defense came away looking pretty bad, and they knew that as well as anybody. They came into this game wanting to avenge their previous loss and respond to that ugly performance, which included a 200-plus-yard rushing day from running back Jay Ajayi.
They did that and then some, holding Miami to just 12 points after allowing them to put up 30 in the regular-season matchup. But how they did it was more impressive, because the Steelers defense was loaded with impact plays, which was in direct contrast to what we saw in the first game against the Dolphins.
In the first meeting, the Steelers defense wasn’t able to register any splash plays whatsoever. No sacks. No interceptions. No forced fumble, let alone recovered fumbles. Yesterday, the defense was regularly in the Dolphins’ backfield, not only containing the run—Ajayi was limited to just 33 yards on 16 carries—but impacting the passing game as well.
Of course, Miami was without Ryan Tannehill, meaning that they were playing with backup quarterback Matt Moore, and while he may have statistically played well—completing more than 80 percent of his passes for nearly 300 yards and a touchdown—he also turned the ball over three times on his own.
In fact, he turned the ball over three times, I believe, over the span of about 10 or so offensive plays. It started at the end of the first half, when James Harrison sacked him on a delayed rush, knocking the ball loose on first and goal, and the Steelers recovered.
That was the first sack the Steelers recorded in the game, but it wouldn’t be the last. On the final play of the Dolphins’ opening drive of the third quarter, safety Mike Mitchell came in on the blitz to register his first sack with the Steelers, again knocking the ball loose, and the Steelers recovered that one as well.
On his very next play, Moore threw an interception to linebacker Ryan Shazier. It was his third interception in the past three games, and the fourth overall.
In the fourth quarter, the Steelers brought Moore down three more times, with Harrison and Bud Dupree splitting the honor for the first one, putting the Dolphins into a third and 15 that they were unable to convert, on a short pass to Ajayi.
Lawrence Timmons closed out the game by sacking Moore twice at the end, dropping him on back to back plays for losses of 11 and 10 yards. By that point, the Dolphins were facing a fourth and 31, down by 18 points.
I think these numbers go to show just how differently the Steelers have been playing now in comparison to how the defense was executing in the early portions of the season. While that required a maturation of their young starters, their overall increase in both quality and aggressiveness has been impactful.