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Steelers Film Room: Small mistakes lead to big loss in Miami

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Despite losing to one of the worst teams in the league, the Steelers are, literally, inches away from turning that around in the future.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is, truly, a game of inches. So many plays, so many games, have been decided by inches. At the professional level, even the difference between the best teams and the worst is literally, who is able to claim a few inches of ground first.

It's within that lens that we must look at what transpired Sunday between the Steelers and the Dolphins, because the Steelers' failures, by and large, came down to a few missed inches.

In the first quarter, facing 3rd and 10, a few very, very small things went wrong for the Steelers and swung the pendulum toward the Dolphins.

Off the snap, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva set to block Andre Branch, but isn't low enough and allows Branch to knock him back on his heels with a bull rush. Simultaneously, Cameron Wake engages with right tackle Chris Hubbard, but in the process head-butts Hubbard, knocking him off balance. With both ends caving in, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has no escape route, as the only lane available has been filled in when the defensive tackles stunted. The result was a sack and a forced punt.

Near the end of the first quarter, Pittsburgh once again faced a 3rd and 10. And, once again, small mistakes and missteps led to big problems.

Yes, it's obvious from the outset that the biggest issue on this play is the poor block by tight end Jesse James. But that is compounded by Villanueva tripping over left guard Ramon Foster's foot. In doing so, he loses his base. As Roethlisberger attempts to step up and to the left in the pocket, he finds the way blocked by Villanueva. The inside is also blocked by Ndamukong Suh, whose presnap shift was enough to get right guard David DeCastro looking the wrong way just long enough, giving Suh the chance to get all the way across his face and to the right B gap. That collapsed the pocket from three directions and, once again, left Roethlisberger with nowhere to go. Sack, punt.

In the third quarter, the Steelers got a minor win out of a similar situation: they ended up with an incomplete pass instead of a sack.

First f all, credit where it's due: James actually wins his battle on this play, which is one of the keys to the pass at least being thrown. The problems all came from the left side, where Villanueva's already-bad day continued. In this case, he was simply out-leveraged again, by allowing Branch to get underneath his block attempt and into his body.

Meanwhile, Jordan Phillips gets double-teamed by Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey. Linebacker Kiko Alonso starts his pass rush just a heartbeat after everyone else, which results in Foster committing to the double-team on Phillips. By the time he sees Alonso rushing in the left B gap, it's too late for him to even get a chip on him. The result is both Alonso and Branch coming free off the left side. Roethlisberger was committing to the throw at about the same time both rushers got through, but it likely had an impact on the final placement of the pass.

In each of these cases, someone -- or several someones -- missed something by a matter of inches. The difference between the offense that dominated the the Chiefs and, on the second half, at least, the Jets and the offense that was anemic at best against the Dolphins truly came down to who was able to claim a few small inches first.