Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews can be a weapon when defenses focus on Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Dolphins have the ball: The loss of Reggie Bush in free agency has left the Dolphins without a multi-dimensional back and reduced the threat of passes to a running back. But Lamar Miller leads the team with 547 yards on 136 carries, an average of 4 yards per attempt, and has three runs of 30 yards or longer. He also has 22 catches for 153 yards. Daniel Thomas has added 279 yards on 77 carries and scored three touchdowns. But the biggest problem for the Dolphins has been protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has been sacked a league-high 45 times. Tannehill is completing 62.1 percent of his attempts (280 of 451) for 3,115 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he also has been intercepted 13 times. He has six touchdowns in the past four games. He was sacked just once a week ago against the Jets. Their best lineman is center Mike Pouncey, who plays very much like his twin brother.
When the Steelers have the ball: Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked just once in the past three games -- none in the past two -- but he could be without three offensive line starters against the Dolphins. And that's what the Dolphins like to do -- pressure the quarterback. Defensive end Olivier Warren (10) and Cameron Wake (6½) have combined for 16½ sacks. Throw in defensive tackle Jared Odrick (4½), formerly of Penn State, and that's 57 percent of the sacks from three players. But that pressure has led to some gaps in the run defense. The Dolphins rank 25th in the league against the run, allowing an average of 121.8 yards per game. In the past three games, opponents have rushed for 389 yards on 76 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. The Dolphins are aggressive in the secondary and are tied for the AFC lead with 16 interceptions. Of those, 10 have come from three cornerbacks -- Brent Grimes (4), Dimitri Patterson (4) and Nolan Carroll (2). Conversely, Steelers cornerbacks have combined for just two interceptions.
Keep an eye on: WR Rishard Matthews ... He is the third of the Dolphins receivers with 30 catches, 312 yards and two touchdowns. But Matthews, a seventh-round pick in 2012, has 20 catches in the past four games, including 11 for 120 yards and two touchdowns Nov. 11 against Tampa Bay. But Matthews' longest reception this season is 29 yards and has only three catches of 20+ yards.
Intangibles: The Steelers lead the all-time series, 13-11, and have won the past five meetings and eight of the past 10 with the Dolphins. The Dolphins have not defeated the Steelers since a 21-0 victory Sept. 20, 1998 in Miami. ... The previous time these teams met was Oct. 24, 2010, when the Steelers beat the Dolphins, 23-22, in Miami. ... The Dolphins have not played in Pittsburgh since 2007. ... Both teams have had to deal with much-publicized negative incidents -- the Dolphins with the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying case and the Steelers with coach Mike Tomlin's sideline interference that resulted in a $100,000 fine. The Dolphins are 2-2 since the incident came to light.
To win, the Dolphins must ...
1. Fish for points. They are averaging 17 points and converting just 31.4 percent of third downs (17 of 54) in the past four games.
2. Keep Brown down. The NFL's leading receiver has had at least five catches and 50 yards in every game, the longest NFL streak since Laveraneus Coles in 2002.
3. Create long Fields. Punter Brandon Fields averages a league-high 48.9 yards and has the NFL's second-highest career average (46.7) since 1939.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Ring the Bell. Rookie Le'Veon Bell has become a busy multi-dimensional threat with 70 touches (57 runs, 13 catches) and 322 yards the past three games.
2. Dislike Mike. Wallace will stretch a defense that has allowed a league-high 10 scrimmage plays, including seven receptions, of 50-plus yards.
3. Wake up. Former Penn State defensive end Cameron Wake has 49½ career sacks, the most by an undrafted player in team history.
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