It's been eight days since the Steelers laid an egg against the New York Jets. Tonight, they return to action at Heinz Field against the only winless team in the National Football League, the Miami Dolphins. Let's take a look at some of their numbers and results in an attempt to decipher whether this team is really that bad:
First off, it's my belief that it was a huge mistake hitching their wagon to Trent Green. Green still had a plenty big arm heading into this season, but after last year's scary injury situation, it was clear that Green was one more concussion away from being forced to retire. And it showed in his play before he was lost for the season. The man's not nimble enough to avoid pressure anymore, and you could just tell he was nervous in the pocket awaiting the next big hit.
When Green went down in Week 5 and Cleo Lemon was named the starter, Miami's offensive productivity actually spiked with 31 and 28 point outputs, but has since dropped precipitously. The Dolphins have averaged just 9 points a game over the past three contests. Rookie QB John Beck was named the starter last week against the Eagles, but that didn't provide the offense with any sort of spark or emotional lift. In fact, the offense bottomed out last week with a mere 186 yards of total offense and 0 points (rookie Ted Ginn accounted for the Dolphins' only score with a punt-return TD). With stud RB Ronnie Brown out for the year, and backup Jesse Chatman out of tonight's game with ankle issues, the Dolphins will have to rely on Samkon Gado and perhaps even Ricky Williams, who is just one week removed from being reinstated. All of this means it's highly unlikely Miami is able to muster enough offense tonight to get into the W column unless they are handed fantastic field position all night long.
The offense hasn't been the main culprit however, at least for the bulk of the season. The defense is 2nd to last in points allowed per game, dead last in rushing yards allowed per game, tied for last in 3rd down percentage converted against them, and the unit has had trouble getting to the quarterback all year. With only 12 sacks for the year, only the Panthers and Bills have fared worse sacking the QB.
Miami's defense is most certainly below average, but the Fins have also been victimized to a certain degree by bad luck. You have to create some of your own luck in this league, but the Dolphins have only recovered 4 fumbles despite having forced 10 this year. No other team in the league sports a ratio under 50%. The Steelers, for comparison's sake have forced 16 and recovered 10. The Panthers and the Bengals, who both are really only marginally better than the Dolphins defensively, have recovered all 12 and all 11 of their forced fumbles respectively. A possesion here, a possesion there. It makes a difference in this league and has hurt a Miami team that has lost 5 games by 3 points.
Not much has gone to plan for Cam Cameron during his first year in Miami.
Still, there's no excuse for being this poor against the run. Here's how opposing RBs have fared against Miami's D:
Clinton Portis: 98 yards
Mario Barber: 89 yards
Thomas Jones: 110 yards
Justin Fargas: 179 yards; LaMont Jordan: 74 yards
Brandon Jacobs: 131 yards
Brian Westbrook: 148 yards
With tackle machine Zach Thomas out of tonight's game with migraines, and DT Keith Traylor not 100% with an ankle injury, there should be ample opportunity for the Steelers and Willie Parker to get the running game back on track.
In conclusion, it's been a long, tough first year for Cam Cameron. His defense couldn't stop anything to start the year while his offense was playing acceptable. And now that the defense has righted itself somewhat the past three weeks, the offense has totally disappeared. Is this an 0-10 team talent wise? Probably not, but as the saying goes, 'you are what you are'.