Below, you'll find my thoughts on the Dolphins and their 0-10 start. In summary, I guess I'd say the Dolphins have been beleaguered by a shoddy defense, inconsistent offensive play, injuries and other small misfortunes that most teams have to deal with, and an inability to finish close games.
Because this game is at Heinz, and because we're facing a rookie QB making only his 2nd start, it would be a stretch to say that this game will really tell us much about what progress has been made collectively. We should win handily if we merely protect the ball, tackle soundly, and make the Dolphins play catch up by scoring early.
So, while you won't find me writing tomorrow about how this team has turned any corners, or re-established itself as a legitimate title contender (I'm saving such proclamations for after our Week 15 game against Jacksonville), I would be thrilled if we could show marked improvment in the following three areas:
Sound, initial-contact tackling
For as good as this defense has been statistically this year, those of us who have watched the games closely have noticed that the Steelers have tackled fairly poorly in a number of games, especially during our three losses. Like so many of our other problems this year, poor tackling has reared its ugly head far more frequently on the road than at Heinz, where we've been physically dominant in all but the Cleveland game. Still, I'm anxious to see if this defense comes out fired up and ready to hit. Ricky Williams is back in the fold for Miami, and while I doubt many expect him to carry it more than 6-12 times tonight, he still is capable of shedding the initial tackler and falling forward for the type of 4-6 yard gains that would help take pressure off their rookie QB. Let's not get into a chest-thumping match with Joey Porter over who can make the most vicious hit. Let's just play solid assignment defense, wrap up, and force this inexperienced Dolphins offense to sustain multiple offensive drives without the aid of many big plays.
You didn't think we'd go a whole week without talking special teams did you?
There may only be two areas where Miami has an advantage over Pittsburgh, and one of them is in the special teams department. Rookie Ted Ginn Jr. showed last week why Miami drafted him in the Top-10 when he took a punt return 87 yards for the Dolphins lone score.
Ginn is only averaging 23.9 yards per kickoff return, but his 12.9 yards per punt return is good for 5th best among returners with at least 5 returns on the year. If we pooch kick to Ginn on kickoffs, I will be extremely disappointed, if for no other reason than this game provides us our best opportunity all year to try and find a substantive, long-term correction to our problems in kick coverage. Will we see more starters out there on coverage units? Not sure. My gut says no, and I hope I'm wrong, but Tomlin has yet to prove he's willing to do more than pay lip-service to the problem. Finally, here's hoping Sepulveda has a nice day at the office tonight. In no way should last week's loss be pinned on him, but we're going to need him to perform down the stretch in the NE and Jacksonville games in order to give ourselves the best chance at winning. Just realized Sepulveda has never really kicked in cold weather, having played his college ball in Texas. Time for him to prove he can produce no matter the elements, and with more rain expected in the 'Burgh tonight, Sepulveda can begin laying those concerns to rest tonight.
Is the offensive line tired of being ridiculed?
If they are, tonight provides a great opportunity to beat up on an overmatched and depleted Dolphins' front-7. Although Willie Colon provides the Steelers' line with youth, it's primarily a veteran unit. Surely Alan Faneca and Marvel Smith are sick and tired of fielding questions about the sad state of our line, right? Please?
After making the New York Jets pass-rushers look dominant, the Steelers once again face a team that has not been able to get after the QB with any sort of regularity. Free-agent acquisition Joey Porter only has two sacks on the year, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Jason Taylor, has a mere 5 sacks. The Dolphins only have 12 total for the year, so that only leaves 5 sacks to divvy up amongst the remaining Dolphin defenders. Hardly intimidating, but the fact of the matter is Taylor and Porter are still capable of going off against our line, especially Taylor who will be lined up opposite Colon at least part of the time.
The Dolphins will probably be missing DE Matt Roth, who figures to miss his second straight game with a lingering groin problem. Keith Traylor will probably play, but at limited capacity. If our line can't open up some running lanes against this Dolphins' front-7, I'll be forced to admit that we're not good enough up front to win the close, physical games that are an inescapable part of championship runs.
There ya have it. What else are you looking for out of tonight's game besides a W? Join me throughout the game here as the Steelers look to get back in the win column while extending their historically unmatched hegemony on Monday Night Football.