The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Heinz Field in a Wild Card game that will feature some very cold weather. The Steelers will look to avenge their Week 6 loss to the Dolphins and move on to play the Kansas City Chiefs next weekend in the process. Below are seven things that I believe the Steelers will need to do Sunday afternoon in order to come away with a home playoff win.
Replace When Cracked To Prevent Burning – In the first meeting between the Steelers and Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards with most of his damage being done on six carries. A few of those long runs were outside the tackles and a result of Steelers cornerbacks failing to replace a cracked safety as the force player. Rookie Artie Burns really struggled with this and you can bet he’ll be tested early again this time around to see if he learned his lesson. While the Steelers might give up an occasional 8-yard run outside the tackles. they can’t give up a 28-yard run.
Limit Landry’s YAC – Several weeks ago the Steelers defense did a great job of limiting New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to just 13 yards after catch. Even though Beckham caught 10 passes for 100 yards in that game, none of those receptions really hurt and he had earn every single receiving yard. Sunday at Heinz Field the Steelers defensive backs will have their hands full with Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who averaged 6.7 yards after the catch during the regular season. He’s sure to get his share of receptions on Sunday, so like Beckham, he must be tackled quickly.
Play-Action Action To Open Up Middle Fractions – The Dolphins secondary has changed a lot since the Steelers last played against them. Not only will the Dolphins have two different safeties on the field Sunday, they might have different cornerback tandem as well as starter Byron Maxwell is unlikely to play. The Steelers should work to establish their ground attack early if the Dolphins play both of their safeties deep and if successful, mix in some play -action in order to really open up the downfield passing game. The Steelers offense only had one explosive passing play the last time these two teams met and that didn’t come until 1:08 left in the game.
Everybody On Your Feet – The Dolphins will once again run some outside zone against the Steelers defense. In order to defend against that better this time around, the Steelers defensive linemen must first stay on their feet more consistently and stay square to the line of scrimmage while running laterally. It sounds hard, but it’s something they practice all the time. Bodies on the ground or ones easily turned inside usually results in a run of 10 yards or more just like we saw the last time these two teams met.
Manage Misdirection Moore – With veteran backup quarterback Matt Moore replacing Ryan Tannehill the Dolphins really don’t lose a lot when it comes to what they like to do offensively. Moore can roll outside of the pocket just like Tannehill and especially on misdirection plays to get an easy completion to a crossing tight end or wide receiver. The Steelers defense must be wary of this and stay disciplined on the back-side of the play.
Win The TOX Battle, Win The Game – The last time the Steelers played the Dolphins they lost the TOX battle (turnover and explosive play differential) quite convincing. In fact, it was 8-2 in favor of the Dolphins and if that wasn’t bad enough, the Steelers defense failed to register a single sack while Ben Roethlisberger was put on the ground twice. Roethlisberger threw two ugly interceptions in that game to safeties who will not be playing Sunday at Heinz Field. He must protect the football much better in the rematch.
Quick Jump Starts On Cold Day – The Steelers offense can really play great defense on Sunday if they can jump on the Dolphins early with a few quick scores. Remember the two games against the Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys ? This Dolphins team doesn’t have many players with playoff experience for starters and that could wind up being huge if they’re trailing big early. We saw last weekend what happens to Miami when they trail by 14 points in the first quarter. The Steelers defense will play much faster the sooner they can get the Dolphins away from their gameplan, which is sure to include feeding the football to Ajayi quite extensively.