Let's take a closer look at the Miami roster by position and compare it to the one that will be fielded by the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers tomorrow night at Heinz Field. I'm starting with the QBs and RBs, and will continue with the WRs, OLs, and Kicking Games this afternoon. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the Defenses.
Daunte Culpepper looks to get his career back on track after arthroscopic knee surgery last December. Prior to being shelved, he had thrown only 6 TDs to his 12 INTs, with a meager passer rating of 72. As I mentioned in my prior preview however, we should look at last season as an abomination for Culpepper. The Central Florida product has the 3rd best completion percentage and 5th highest passer rating of all qualified quarterbacks in NFL history. The man can flat out throw the ball. It is imperative that Dick LeBeau and his crew get to Culpepper early and often before he can settle into any sort of rhythm. Let's face it, he's nowhere near the runner he used to be, and he probably won't take too many chances on that not-yet-tested repaired knee of his. If Daunte is given lots of time tomorrow and does get in a groove tomorrow, the Dolphins could very well leave Pittsburgh with a victory.
Charlie Batch finds himself starting week 1 for the defending Super Bowl champions. After Big Ben's motorcycle accident in June, Batch must have had a different mindset about his potential opportunities in 2006. He came into camp focused, spent plenty of time with the first-team offense, and had the luxury of spending more time than Roeth with some of our newer offensive players like Santonio Holmes, Willie Reid and Nate Washington.
Batch did start and win two games for the Steelers last season, but if you take a closer look at his performances in week 9 and 10 against the Packers and Browns, it becomes clear that Batch did very little in both games. In week 9 against the Pack, Batch was 9-16 for 65 yards and 1 INT. Yikes. He was much better in week 10 against the Browns, going 13-19 for 150 yards, and 1 rushing TD. We all agree that Batch isn't going to win this one single-handedly for us, but Steelers QBs really aren't asked to do that anyway, even if your name is Ben.
The Dolphins believe they have a franchise type running back in Ronnie Brown. The second year back out of Auburn, had an impressive rookie season , but is expecting even bigger things this year without Ricky Williams to share the carries with. Listed at 6'0", 235 pounds, Brown is both fast and powerful. Brown better stay healthy though, because the Dolphins, in my mind, are rather limited at the position behind Brown. Lee Suggs was released this past weekend leaving Travis Minor as the #2 guy. Minor has never rushed for more than 388 yards in his first five seasons in the NFL. Fred Beasley, the veteran FB acquired from the 49ers to open up holes for Brown, had his contract terminated and will not be with the Dolphins this year. That leaves Darian Barnes as the lone fullback for Miami. Barnes did start 6 games for the Fins this past year, but he's no Dan Kreider.
If Pittsburgh is going to begin its title defense with a W, all three RBs are going to have to step up, especially Fast Willie Parker. In fact, much of our season will hinge on the health and productivity of the third year back out of North Carolina. Parker was recently rewarded with a contract extension, a reflection of the organization's confidence in him. Verron Haynes must also play well tomorrow. We're going to be somewhat limited in our passing game with Batch at QB and with Hines not quite 100%, so expect Haynes and Parker to catch some balls out of the backfield on swing passes and designed screen plays. Hopefully either Parker or Haynes will be able to break one for a big gain. Duce Staley will have his chance to spell both, and with a solid performance, he can perhaps silence many of the critics who believe he'll never regain his past form. Old faithful Dan Kreider will once again be opening up holes.