The last time these 2 teams faced was in mid-October. The Dolphins were 1-4 going into the contest and the Miami fan base was ready once again to toss in the towel early. But, the Dolphins managed to pull off an upset and beat the Steelers 30-15 at Hard Rock Stadium. It was the start of something new. Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards. It was unexpected as much as Miami’s victory. Not only would Ajayi run for 200+ yards in numerous upcoming games after that, but the Dolphins started finding ways to win ball games. When the team faced adversity instead of crumbling like the Dolphins of the past decade, the Dolphins were resilient and earned themselves a playoff spot which was yet another unexpected turn of events. Now its playoff time. Its Miami’s first playoff appearance since 2008. Can Miami pull off another victory against Pittsburgh?
1. Defensive Line
When Miami and Pittsburgh last faced off Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted twice. He was sacked 2.5 times. Big Ben also never finished the game. Ben Roethlisberger faced a brutal defensive line driven by Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh. Miami’s defense is looking a little different now. Roethlisberger was intercepted by both starting safeties Isa Abdul-Quddus and Reshad Jones in that game. Now, both players are out for the season and will not play this Sunday. Starting cornerback Byron Maxwell was able to hold the explosive Antonio Brown to 4 receptions with 39 yards. Maxwell will not play as well. It’s worth noting that Miami will be playing with their depleted line-backer group that features Kiko Alonso who still is nursing a broken hand. Miami’s defense is looking slim, but one major point of their defense still remains: the defensive line. LeVeon Bell will most definitely get his share of yards against Miami. But, if Cameron Wake, Andre Branch, and Ndamukong Suh can get after Roethlisberger just like they did in mid-October the Dolphins can upset the Steelers. They MUST disrupt Roethlisberger. With an inexperienced secondary Miami can’t afford Ben Roethlisberger to get into a rhythm. So, Miami’s hope will ride on their defensive line.
Ajayi has been the focal point of Miami’s offense the whole year. The Dolphins offense flows through the J-Train. If Jay Ajayi gets slown down the Miami offense becomes 1 dimensional and predictable. The Dolphins must set the tone of this game. Since Miami is looking slim on the defensive end of the ball when they have possession of the football they need to use up as much time as possible. Miami needs to keep Big Ben, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown off the field as long as possible. Miami’s defense most likely will struggle with the trio because of their inexperience. But if Miami can get Ajayi going early and keep feeding him the ball the Dolphins will control the clock and keep the explosive Steeler’s offense off the field. Jay Ajayi doesn’t need to have another 204-yard game, but if he can manage at least 100 yards Miami’s offense will flow nicely and will allow some big plays from Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker.
Adam Gase is wrapping up his first year as a head coach in the NFL and it has been quite remarkable. He’s changed a losing Dolphins culture that has been prevalent for over a decade into a promising future of hope. That is not easy to do. Gase has done it in 1 season. Stephen Ross finally made the right decision on the coaching end. Even though it’s his first year as a head coach he still has playoff experience. Let’s not forget when Gase was Tim Tebow’s QB coach in Denver and had successfully coached Tebow to a playoff win over the Steelers. Adam Gase is special coach. He is just what Miami needed. Mike Tomlin has much more head coaching experience and much more playoff experience. But in terms of football I.Q. I personally believe Gase has the potential to out-coach Mike Tomlin this Sunday.
It’s been a wonderful season. The Miami Dolphins fooled many. They have been resilient. They have overcome injuries. They’ve overcome a decade of mediocrity and have given hope to a thirsty franchise. Adam Gase deserves a lot of credit. If the Dolphins do not win it will be disappointing, but it will be a different kind of disappointment that were not used to feeling. In the past, disappointment to the Dolphins existed because they were used to losing and not competing. It seems the tide has turned. The Miami Dolphins have been competitive all year. When their starting Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones suffered a season ending injury Isa Abdul- Quddus and Michael Thomas stepped up. When QB Ryan Tannehill went down they rallied around Matt Moore and won the next 2 games that secured them their first playoff game in 8 years. Win or lose the Dolphins had a successful season. The Dolphins have a young team and win or lose this playoff experience is just what they need.