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Was There Anything Else To Be Learned From Last Night's Steelers-Dolphins Game?

It's a sad day across the National Football League, as Sean Taylor has been senselessly murdered at age 24. Condolences to Sean's family, friends, and teamates.

I have a few more thoughts about last night's game that I might as well throw out there, even though most of us concur that last night's game barely resembled a football game:

  • I'll lead off with Ricky Williams' return to the league. What did you guys think about his performance? I thought he looked pretty good out there actually. He was pretty quick with his first step and he found the small creases that were available on several runs. The announcers of course, fixated on the fumble and his final line: 6 carries for 15 yards and 1 fumble, but I thought all things considered he looked encouraging. He was forced out of the game when rookie LB Lawrence Timmons inadvertently stepped on his shoulder while going after the fumble, but I wouldn't imagine that the injury will linger.
  • Speaking of Timmons, nice contributions from him last night. I'm interested to see if he is used next week in coverage packages against the pass-happy Bengals.
  • James Farrior and Larry Foote dominated this game. Honorable mention should go to Tyrone Carter, who tackled extremely well, and Brett Keisel, who continues to have what I believe is his best season as a pro. Farrior and Foote though were fantastic. 11 tackles, 7 assisted tackles, .5 sacks each, and one forced fumble between the two of them. And that's not even counting the countless other times both were able to force Beck into early, errant throws. Most everybody looked good on defense for both teams, but I thought these two guys stood out above the rest.
  • Mr. Huizenga, the Dolphins owner, has to be wondering where the Joey Porter we saw last night has been all year. Big, big night for Joey, and if he can find a way to play at that level for the next several years, maybe the Dolphins will feel they've gotten their money's worth. One of the few entertaining aspects of last night's game was watching Porter and his former teamates interact. After Hines gave Porter a little shake-and-bake over the middle and caught a first-down pass, then flashed a smile that was huge even by Hines' standards, I couldn't help but smile myself.
  • Ike Taylor dropped another INT. Tough, slippery conditions, but we may need Taylor to make that kind of play when we face superior teams. Just a thought.
  • Again, foolish to include this data point as relevant, but special teams play was solid last night. Allen Rossum broke off a nice return that should have led to points, Ted Ginn was contained all night, Sepulveda did his job, and Jeff Reed converted on the one play we absolutely had to have at the end of the game. Real quick, about the play-calling in that last series. First off, we should strike that final sack from the record. I don't think it was entirely unreasonable for Arians to want to punch it in for a score rather than rely on a FG attempt, even though it was a chip-shot. Not sure I like the calls on 1st and 2nd down, but on 3rd down, I imagine that Arians told Ben to take an initial look at what was open, and if nothing was there, to just take the sack. Of course, if his intention was to not rely on the FG and go for the TD, he needs to do a better job of play-calling. If he's going to call two crappy plays on 1st and 2nd down, don't all of a sudden risk disaster on 3rd down. He's been a bit schizophrenic lately for my tastes, and his performance, in my mind, is a bigger concern than the actual linemen themselves. He needs to mask their deficiencies better with his play-calling, and he needs to find a way to stay one step ahead of opposing defensive coordinators. For nearly a month now, we've taken the first punch rather than delivering it.
  • Let's not forget that the Dolphins have been fairly successful running the ball themselves this year. Much has already been made of our line's inability to dominate, but by now, domination shouldn't be expected from this unit. Other than Mahan and Colon, I thought all our linemen had an acceptable game in the run game, including Kendall Simmons, who's been mired in what seems like a season-long slump. Let's see how we do next week against a Bengals team we match up well with in the trenches.
  • I thought Tomlin had a shaky game with his decision making, but as has been said many times already, there hasn't been anything similar to the conditions we saw last night, and even the most seasoned veteran coach might have struggled with situational decision making. It's entirely possible we are forced to play on a similarly awful field in December or January (be it snow, or more rain), so we can only hope we took something from this game in terms of when and where to go for it, as well as what plays work in short-yardage situations on 3rd and 4th down. Here were the scenarios that kept us from putting up any points till the final seconds, even though we seemingly lived inside Dolphins' territory last night:

1)4th and 2 from the Miami 40: We go for it, electing to run Davenport up the middle.  Should we have gone for it at the risk of giving Miami solid field position? I dunno, what do you guys think?

2)4th and 2 from the Miami 26: You obviously can't punt there, but a 44 yard FG attempt on that field? Not so sure about that decision. What really irks me is our 3rd down call: another Najeh Davenport run up the middle for -1 yard.

3) Miami's decision to go for it on 4th and 15 from our 31 yard line and on 4th and 11 from our 25 yard line. Agree or disagree with those decisions?

  • The conditions forced our hand, but I was pleased to see us call more quick-hitting, short passing plays. I was nervous we might be tempted by our success against the Ravens throwing deep (also a sloppy track that night) to try it again last night. We didn't, thank God, or the sack total certainly would have been higher. Nice game by Hines holding onto the ball in traffic. Props to Cedrick Wilson as well for a solid performance with Santonio out of the lineup.
  • From the comments section of the previous post by franz - a HS football coach who undeniably has more experience watching and analyzing football than myself:
Blitzburgh tried to rationalize the sack stats as being equal due to the weather.  The reason the Fins gave up 4 sacks is because they are terrible - they are in fact winless.
Several of you have now said that I've been rationalizing the poor play of this team for several weeks. Partly true, but realize several things first: those of you that read the site last year when we were awful are well aware that I'm more than willing to be critical of this team and organization. This site is intended to be a healthy blend of homerific loyalty/support and analytical objectivity. Please continue to call me out if you feel I am not fulfilling this goal that I myself have set.

First off however, for all of Miami's travails this year, the play of the offensive line hasn't been one of them. Before last night, Miami had surrendered only 17 sacks on the season through 10 games. Even after last night, they're in the middle of the pack in the NFL. We made their line look terrible all night, and I have a hard time believing that they all of a sudden forgot how to pass-protect.  Part of the credit goes to LeBeau, part goes to the field conditions.

Now, as for 'rationalizing' the sacks from last night. 2 sacks through 3 quarters. On that field. Does that really alarm you that badly? Read above or go rewatch the tape of the final play before the FG as well to remind yourself that the 5th and final sack was conceeded by Arians and Ben, not a product of inferior pass protection.

The line is what is: not great by any means, but in my estimation, not horrible either. We're certainly stuck in an ugly three game stretch in which the line has looked horrible, but as I've stated before, there have been prolonged stretches of solid blocking by this group earlier in the season. Defenses have countered, Arians has struggled in his subsequent counter-punch, and all of a sudden we're in a long slump that has left many of us thinking that we're not good enough to get it done. Maybe so, but I still contend that there's enough time (clock's ticking though guys, better make it happen next week) to make the necessary adjustments to give ourselves a shot against the better teams still left on our schedule.


This has been an interesting season up to this point. I know many of you are upset with the coaching, the blocking, and the inability of this team to impose its will on inferior teams. All valid concerns, and unfortunately poor play by the 0-line is one of the few things that is hard to overcome.

But here we are, 8-3, with the prize-fights of our schedule still looming. We have not been bitten too strongly by the injury bug, Big Ben is not compromising our chances with turnovers, and our defense - which you absolutely can not win championships without - has been playing at an elite level for the better part of this year. I appreciate all of you who have joined in the discussion this year. It's been an up-and-down ride thus far, and I, for one, am eagerly (as well as nervously) awaiting to see how the remaining, unwritten chapters will unfold.