It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. It doesn’t help that the Pittsburgh Steelers playing on Monday pushed it back just one more day on top of the usual. But here we are, about to embark on another Steelers gameday, so let’s get ourselves prepared with some things to watch for in tonight’s game against the Miami Dolphins.
The first thing that springs to mind is the state of the passing game, with the return of Mason Rudolph and perhaps James Washington as well, and coming off the bye week to reset. The offense has played it pretty conservatively since Ben Roethlisberger was injured, being selective about their downfield shots, but we could see the playbook expand in the second half of the year.
At the same time, the Steelers have been running the ball a bit better in recent weeks, too, including a highlight performance from rookie Benny Snell, who rushed for 75 yards on 17 touches. That is vintage Le’Veon Bell levels relative to what we have gotten from the ground game so far this year.
Perhaps most important is situational football. Can they convert on third down? Can they get touchdowns once they get into the red zone? The Steelers have been sub-par in these facets for most of the year, but showed signed of progress last time out. The Dolphins are fortunately among the worst teams in this category, so perhaps they can get a boost of confidence.
Defensively, does T.J. Watt suit up, and if so, how much does he play? The Pro Bowler is working his way back from an abdominal injury, and he told reporters last week that he’s nowhere near where he wants to be physically, but he ended the week practicing fully. If he does play, his snaps could be limited.
Which means a big role for second-year Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, his first game since Anthony Chickillo was arrested and subsequently placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. in what should be the most extensive playing time of his career to date, can ‘Weenie’ make an impact—and get Mike Tomlin to call him something else?
Both of the Steelers’ starting cornerbacks ended their last game being injured, with Steven Nelson not even traveling with the team for that one. How will they hold up on their way back from injury? And will we see Cameron Sutton get additional opportunities following his big game against the Los Angeles Chargers?
With Pittsburgh’s tendency to come out of bye weeks slow—something both players and coaches have copped to this past week—special teams could play a key role in this game. Chris Boswell has been money so far this year, and Jordan Berry has had some strong performances as well. Look for them to try to neutralize the Dolphins when they’re called upon in this one.