The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to embark on their postseason journey, and they get to do so at home, hosting the Miami Dolphins. And for the first time since they have been playing together, the Steelers will have their offensive triplets on the field together, as Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown are all healthy for a nice change of pace.
Among those who are not healthy for the Steelers is tight end Ladarius Green, who remains in the concussion protocol after making a big catch to help cement the victory against the Bengals in Week 15. He has been out since then.
For a change of pace, Pittsburgh actually has all six wide receiver active for this game, including Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Demarcus Ayers. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are without cornerback Bryon Maxwell as a notable absence.
Coates was back to return the opening kickoff for the Steelers. Fitzgerald Toussaint fielded it, however, and returned it to just the 15. On a delayed handoff, Bell picked up 11 yards through the middle. The first pass of the game went to Brown, picking up seven yards. Another delayed draw was delayed too much and resulted in a loss of two. On third and five, Roethlisberger found Eli Rogers out of the slot down to midfield.
Roethlisberger tossed a screen pass to Brown down the left sideline, with Jesse James and Cobi Hamilton setting the perimeter for Brown to win the sideline and show his speed for the 50-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
A short kickoff was fielded inside the five and returned to the 23. Matt Moore completed to Jarvis Landry for about 10 on first down. James Harrison dragged Jay Ajayi down for no gain on the next play. On second and 10, Artie Burns bumped out the receiver after a short gain to set up third and five. William Gay nearly picked off the third-down pass to get the punter on the field, with the punt going for a touchback. Burns was flagged for holding, so the Steelers started their second drive from the 10.
Roethlisberger found Heyward-Bey at the sticks for nine yards on first down. Showing a little shake, Bell picked up six or seven up the middle on the second play of the drive. David DeCastro was flagged for a false start, risking an early drive-killing penalty. On second and eight, they stayed on the ground, with Bell limited to one yard, setting up third and long. Ayers came across the middle to pick up the first down.
From the 35, Roethlisberger threw to Bell for just a short gain of three. From the 38, Roethlisberger connected with Brown for the 62-yard touchdown, the second hook-up of the game, giving the Steelers a 14-0 lead.
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The Dolphins did get off a good kick return to around the 40, but Harrison chased Ajayi out of bounds for a three-yard loss on first down. He was limited to no gain on second down. On third and 13, of course, Kenny Stills ran an out-and-up route for a long gain down to the Steelers’ 26. Harris tackled Landry on a screen after a two-yard gain to follow. Ajayi carved his way for four. On third and four, Moore threw wide of his target for an incompletion, but the Dolphins did come away with a field goal to make it 14-3.
Toussaint fielded another kickoff and was chased down from behind short of the 20. Exciting stuff. Maybe let Coates get the ball if he’s back there. Bell picked up another eight yards up the middle from the first play. The Steelers have gotten good yardage on their first three plays to start drives so far in bad yardage circumstances. And he somehow found another five yards up the middle for the first down on second down.
Bell dragged a couple defenders with him to pick up five yards. An encroachment penalty gave them the first down. Staying on the ground, Bell continued his impressive performance with a 15-yarder. Another six-yard gain closed out the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, Bell punched forward for five and yet another first down, their 10th of the game.
The Dolphins are looking as though they simply cannot stop the Steelers so far. Bell made it look easy for another eight yards. On second down, Marcus Gilbert came across the formation for a run block to the left, freeing the All-Pro back for his longest run of the game for 25 yards. On first and goal from one foot out, Bell was held out of the end zone initially. But he got in on second down, delaying the inevitable for two plays, making it 21-3. Make that 20-3. Chris Boswell doinked it off the goal post.
After yet another short kickoff–which is clearly the strategy, the Dolphins began with good starting field position, but they also fumbled and nearly lost it. But from the 32, Ajayi was able to pick up two yards for his second-longest gain so far. On second and eight, he added three more. On third and five, Harrison dropped into coverage on Ajayi, tackling him just inches shy of the first down. The fake punt run up the middle easily converted.
Ajayi from the 44 picked up six yards off left guard. He was stuffed for no gain on second down. On third and four, Moore took a hit after the throw, but found his tight end for the conversion down to the Steelers’ 33. Harrison made the tackle on Ajayi for no gain. Bud Dupree rocked Moore after he flushed out of the pocket and drew a roughing the passer call. Ajayi drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call after the fact. So while they got the automatic first down, the two 15-yard penalties, both enforced, neutralized each other. But because the second penalty came after the play, that made it first and 25.
Moore was taken out of the game to be checked for a concussion, meaning T.J. Yates entered the game at quarterback. From the 32, Ajayi picked up eight yards. Moore checked back in after the play. On second and 17, Dupree drew a holding call. Now second and 27, facing pressure, Moore checked down to Ajayi for a short gain, with Cockrell making the tackle. On third and 22, Moore’s pass was thrown into empty space. The 47-yard field goal, however, was good, making it 20-6, a 14-point game.
Coates fielded the kickoff and took it out of the end zone, but failed to get it to even the 20-yard line. Clearly the Dolphins’ kickoff stategy is much better than the Steelers’.
A short pass to Brown picked up six yards. The draw was limited to a yard or two as Bell was grabbed by the ankle. On third down, after Gilbert checked out of the game, Roethlisberger found Bell on the short pass for the first.
The Dolphins stuffed the run and Bell couldn’t bounce it out wide behind Gilbert, back in. On second down, with a free play due to an offsides, Roethlisberger looked deep for Brown, incomplete, but that made it second and five. It was Hamilton on the outside left who converted for the first down just at the two-minute warning.
The draw for Bell was limited to two yards as Miami is showing a better front against the run since that last drive. On second and eight, Roethlisberger threw long to Heyward-Bey, but it drew a pass interference for 24 yards. At the Dolphins’ 30, Roethlisberger threw what should have been an interception to the nose tackle dropping into coverage. Instead, it bounced off of his chest and Jesse James went up to get it for a short gain.
On second and four from the 24, Ramon Foster was flagged for a hold, pushing them back out of field goal range. Roethlisberger pump faked and threw to Brown, but it went off his hands and popped up, intercepted by the Dolphins.
Taking over at the 27, Harrison was flagged for being offside. From the 32, Moore completed to Landry for about eight, with the Dolphins taking their first timeout with 45 seconds remaining in the half. From the 40, it was Landry again for another first down and getting out of bounds. From the Steelers’ 45, Moore hit Devante Parker for 37 yards. Cockrell was hit in the head by Mike Mitchell in a friendly-fire incident. Al-Hajj Shabazz replaced him. On first and goal, Harrison initially dropped off the line, but rushed late, sacking Moore and knocking the ball out of his hands, Stephon Tuitt recovering the fumble for the red-zone turnover. Roethlisberger took a knee as the Steelers preserved their 20-6 lead entering the second half.