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.
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.