Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has unique challenges in front of him

Marc Serota

Entering his second year, the Dolphins' 2012 first-round draft pick has started every game the Dolphins have played. He's never played in the snow, however, and he's never played a Dick LeBeau defense.

Football in the elements is the cliche come December. Miami isn't a place that generally worries about snow, although there's a reasonable chance they'll get some of it late in the season.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a Texas product and Big 12 alum, said this week he's never played in snow, which is expected to start an hour before game time in Pittsburgh.

Along with that, Tannehill has never played against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is 28-12 since 2004 against quarterbacks making their first starts against him. However, he's 3-2 this season, having beaten two rookies (Jets' Geno Smith and Buffalo's E.J. Manuel) and Detroit's Matthew Stafford, while taking losses to Tennessee's Jake Locker and Oakland's Terrelle Pryor.

The confusion of LeBeau's defense can be tough to take for quarterbacks in their first start, but there's plenty of reason to believe it's simply the process of a younger quarterback's development, along with what's generally an outstanding defensive team in Pittsburgh. Still, quarterbacks making their first starts against LeBeau this season are a combined 81-for-158 (51.3 percent) for 931 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. Stafford's 362 yards skew the average quite a bit, but he completed only 19-of-46 in their loss to Pittsburgh in Week 11.

Tannehill is facing a tough task if he's to continue his current hot streak. Despite the fact he's thrown 13 interceptions in his team's 12 games (6-6), he's played well the last two weeks, and he has a playmaking defense on which to rely. The Dolphins have at least one interception in eight consecutive games, and have one of the most aggressive pass rushes in the league.

Like Locker and Pryor before him, Tannehill may simply be able to not lose the game for Miami to fly out of Pittsburgh winners. Neither threw the ball well at all, but trusted outstanding defensive performances (and in Pryor's case, an NFL record 93-yard touchdown run) to earn the victory.

Still, turnovers will be an issue, and if the Steelers can force them, they may be able to possess the ball long enough to eek out what looks to be a low-scoring and competitive game.

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