Steelers play the waiting game
Brett Keisel and Steelers receivers coach Randy Fichtner greet Santonio Holmes after his touchdown catch against the Ravens Sunday. The Steelers likely will need another big day from the passing game to defeat Miami tomorrow.
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The forecast tomorrow at Land Shark Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, is 70 degrees and Caribbean-blue skies, just the type of weather to brighten the spirit and soothe the soul. Forgive any of the Steelers, though, if they don't bask in the sunlight.
A victory against the Dolphins (7-8), who have sabotaged their own playoff hopes with back-to-back losses, will be little cause to celebrate for the Steelers (8-7), even though it will be their third victory in a row.
That's because their postseason fate will be determined by the results of games involving the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets, and maybe even the Denver Broncos. And they probably won't know the final resolution of that development until they land back in Pittsburgh sometime tomorrow night.
• Game: Steelers (8-7) at Dolphins (7-8), 1 p.m.
• TV: KDKA.
Still, if the parlay doesn't come through, there probably won't be any sense of disappointment, either. The Steelers already experienced that emotional low Dec. 10 on the bus ride back from Cleveland.
And it will be difficult to feel any worse than that.
"I'm pretty sure every guy on the team feels the same way -- we dug this hole, now we got to go get ourselves out of it," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes. "If, by the grace of God, everything works out in our favor and we get an opportunity, we got to make the best of it."
The Steelers control only one aspect of what might transpire tomorrow, and that's beating the Dolphins, who, like the Steelers, were division champions a year ago. And the prescription for how to do that probably won't change much from the manner in which the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers and Ravens the past two weeks -- throwing the ball.
If you thought the Steelers' secondary has been allowing a lot of big pass plays, consider the plight of the Dolphins, who have allowed a league-high 16 passes of 40 yards or longer and 54 passes of 20 yards or longer, third highest in the league. They also start two rookie cornerbacks, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.
What's more, the Steelers' running game has all but disappeared, whether by design or execution.
They have not rushed for more than 75 yards in any of the past three games and have combined for just 188 yards on 64 carries in those games, an average of 2.9 yards per carry. They had just 48 yards on 23 carries against the Ravens, their fewest yards since the season opener.
"I think we just got in some situations where we had to pick up our offense by throwing the ball," said right tackle Willie Colon. "But we haven't met our half of the deal up front. We have had our issues."
After he had a 60-yard run Dec. 6 against the Oakland Raiders, Rashard Mendenhall has not had a run longer than 10 yards in the past three games. He has become only the seventh back in team history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, but just barely: He has just 127 yards on 44 carries in his past three games. Mendenhall goes into Miami with 1,014 yards, 11th in the NFL.
Of course, it has not helped that the Steelers have been without guard Chris Kemoeatu (wrist/knee), who is expected to miss his third consecutive game. Kemoeatu is the pulling guard on the team's bread-and-butter counter plays.
"The plays get called in and we run them," said left tackle Max Starks. "Some of our plays, the [other] teams play our plays. Sometimes you get a little predictable with some of our formations. But it's been out of necessity. We've been successful. You can't really argue if [the running game] is struggling or not because our passing game has been successful.
"Teams we play, we've been able to take advantage of their secondary. You see that kind of vulnerability, you're going to attack it."
NOTES -- Troy Polamalu has practiced only a limited basis all week and is not expected to play against the Dolphins. He is listed as questionable on the injury report. It will be the seventh consecutive game Polamalu has missed because of a posterior cruciate ligament injury. If the Steelers make the playoffs, he is expected to be available for the postseason. ... Hines Ward (hamstrings) practiced yesterday for the first time this week and is expected to play against the Dolphins. He also is listed as questionable. ... Defensive end Brett Keisel (neck stinger) has not practiced all week -- usually a sign a player will not play -- but he insists he will try to play against the Dolphins. ... Kemoeatu had limited participation in practice and also is listed as questionable.
First Published January 2, 2010 12:00 am