The Pittsburgh Steelers begin their journey on a second season today, and this time around, every game counts. The Steelers’ first playoff opponent—in fact, their three most likely playoff opponents, if they advance that far—is a familiar one, as they lost to the Miami Dolphins earlier this season.
But much has changed since then, and while both teams have statistically had a good deal of success since then, I don’t know that I can say the Dolphins are better. The Steelers most certainly are. They have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. The Dolphins will be starting Matt Moore.
While the Dolphins’ running game versus the Steelers’ rushing defense might be the highlighted matchup, the Steelers will be looking to shut down the passing game as early as possible in an effort to force Miami to rely upon the run. Neutralizing the passing game as a threat makes the task much simpler.
What I’m watching for most of all is the playoff debut of Le’Veon Bell, as it has been a long time coming. This game might mean more to him than anybody else on the field, considering that he has been forced to watch from the sidelines like everybody else the last two times the Steelers have made the playoffs.
As good as he has been throughout the year, I anticipate him to have an added motivation to make a mark in the postseason, and to drive his offensive line to help him achieve that goal. With a healthy line up front, that should be a doable challenge.
I also want to be on the lookout for how the Steeler use their wide receivers across from Antonio Brown, because they are going to have a lot of options available to them. Even though he has just started playing, it is possible that the rookie Demarcus Ayers plays a key role in this game. As will Eli Rogers out of the slot.
Defensively, the impact of having Ryan Shazier and his speed from sideline to sideline should be a pretty important upgrade in defending Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi this time around, and while there are still some issues, the Steelers’ cornerbacks have been more assignment-sound in their replacement responsibilities against the run.
Of course, we can’t forget about the potential impact of somebody like Jarvis Landry, who had some big plays for the Dolphins in the last meeting. He will probably find some success, but they must prevent him from breaking out long gains. Tackle him when he gets the ball, or you will pay for it.
The Steelers had no sacks, no turnovers, and really no impact plays of any kind on the defensive side of the ball in the two teams’ previous meeting. With a backup center snapping the ball to a backup quarterback, I would expect to see the defense take advantage of this opportunity—as the Browns did to them last week—in sending a lot of blitzes through the A Gap. Moore may have more experience than the average backup, but he can still get rattled.